Alexander's Record Statement: Celebrating the Bristol Sesquicentennial

Posted on June 28, 2006

Congressional Record Statement of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander June 27, 20005 Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I am pleased to join Senators Frist, Warner, and Allen in offering a Senate resolution that celebrates the 150th anniversary of the twin cities of Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia. Hanging on the wall of my Washington office near my desk is a painting of Bristol by George Smith called “State Street at Seventh Avenue.” This painting, which was completed around 1890, depicts the shared road that links the twin cities of Bristol and which serves as the state line between Tennessee and Virginia. State Street Church can be seen on the left side of the painting, the First Presbyterian Church is in the distance on the right, and the city saloon appears at the bottom. Thanks to continuing efforts in Bristol to preserve structures of historical significance, some of these buildings and many like them can still be seen there today. The twin cities were incorporated in 1856, the same year the Virginia and Tennessee Railroads reached Bristol. A second railroad arrived four years later. From that point on, the population grew steadily as Bristol emerged as an important transportation and commercial hub. Today, Bristol is known for a different type of transportation. Since 1961, the Bristol Motor Speedway has been host to NASCAR races and its fans. The Speedway, which began as drawings scratched on the back of envelopes and brown paper bags, can now seat over 160,000 fans at its races. The “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” is acclaimed worldwide, and I’ve enjoyed visiting the Speedway myself. But Bristol is more than just a transportation hub. It is the birthplace of country music – as declared by Congress in 1998. The roots of country music in Bristol can be traced to the influences of Scotch-Irish immigrants in the mountain regions of Tennessee and Virginia –including my own ancestors – coupled with the unique hymns of Negro spirituals and work songs. A number of early Appalachian instruments that helped spawn this new American form of music can be found on the walls of my Washington office. In 1927, Ralph Sylvester Peer arrived in Bristol hoping to produce a commercial recording of these unique mountain sounds. That’s how the recordings known as the Bristol Sessions were born, launching the careers of country greats like the Carter Family, the Stonemans and Jimmie Rogers. Those sessions are often billed as “the Big Bang” that started the development of modern and marketable country music. Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia may be two cities but they share a common spirit. You can’t help but feel that spirit each time you visit, as I have had the pleasure of doing many times over the years. Nothing says it better than the Bristol Sign, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Stretching across State Street and linking the states of Virginia and Tennessee, it declares Bristol “A Good Place to Live.” Mr. President, I extend my warmest wishes to the people of Bristol as they celebrate the twin cities’ sesquicentennial this year. ###