Downtown hosts holiday lighting for fifth straight year

By Tom Wilson

What are the holidays without light?
   Until 1998, downtown Elizabethton enjoyed some Christmas decorations, but perhaps none that sought to capture the spirit of the season and improve the identity of the town.
   "We've always had lights in the downtown in years past thanks to the Chamber of Commerce," said Joe L. Alexander of the Holiday Lighting Committee, "but about five years ago what they had been using had gotten pretty shopworn; so we decided to go in a different in direction."
   That direction began when former city councilman Harvey Anderson and his wife observed something missing from Elizabethton during the holiday season. Anderson spearheaded the effort to replace the city's existing Christmas decorations during his term on the council in the late 1990s.
   Illness forced Anderson to turn most of this year's management over to Alexander, but he remains active in developing the Holiday Lighting Committee.
   "My wife and I were driving through town one night and she said 'it's a shame a town this size doesn't have any Christmas decorations,'" Anderson recalled. "I went back to the council and brought it up and that's how it got started. The city gives and the county gave for a couple of years."
   Anderson spent time knocking on doors seeking public and private support to create the display. However, before there was light, there had to be electricity.
   "We were pretty much involved because of the electrical hookups that they were putting up," said Phil Isaacs, general manager of the Elizabethton Electric System. "The first year was a little more time consuming."
   The EES created the electrical access outlets to accommodate the ornament displays during 1998. Isaacs said many EES staffers - primarily union members of the IBEW - volunteered their time to affix the lighted "Merry Christmas" tree perched atop Lynn Mountain overlooking Elizabethton.
   "Since the community made the commitment to buy those decorations and ornaments, we felt like we should make sure there was a source of power available," said Isaacs.
   In 1998, holiday lights came to downtown in 1998 with different looks and additions each year. Modern lighting displays are made of durable vinyl and metal, which provide more durability and life, said Alexander, who added that Larry Ver Ran was instrumental in the lights' design and location.
   Anderson said the lighting décor began with 60 "pole lights" such as stars and eight lighting displays. This year the downtown area is adored with over 100 pole lights and more than 20 displays.
   Along the way, the Lighting Committee has continued to seek private donations and even battled vandalism of lights strung along the arches of the Elk Avenue Bridge.
   Public entities, including the city of Elizabethton and the Elizabethton Electric System, had made substantial monetary donations to the holiday lighting fund. Private organizations have also purchased lighting displays that carried identifying sponsorships signs.
   Alexander said the holiday lighting fund had also enjoyed significant contributions from businesses and individuals. He acknowledged the committee had not aggressively pursued private donations this year given the fundraising efforts for the veterans' War Memorial.
   "The city and Electric System have always been extremely important to making this happen," said Alexander. "They have always been instrumental in organizing things done here."
   A sentiment echoed by Anderson.
   "If it hadn't been for (City Manager) Charles Stahl and Phil Isaacs, we wouldn't have had them," he said.
   The holiday lights are installed and have been stored by Twin Cities Decorating Company based in Bristol. Alexander said the city had arranged to warehouse the lights at a separate location lowering the storage costs incurred in past years.
   "When I started with it, there was a possibility we could swap out these lights with other similar sized towns that (the Twin Cities) handles, but we never did get around to doing that," said Anderson.