Birthplace of Tennessee Ernie Ford
In 1991, the Bristol Historical Association discovered that the Birthplace of Tennessee Ernie Ford, located at 1223 Anderson Street in Bristol, Tennessee, was available for purchase. The house, while outwardly unassuming, had historical significance. The Association decided that this house was just what was needed and would be a great location for meetings and display of memorabilia.
The Ford House, as it has since become known, was ideal for the organization and provided an opportunity to preserve a bit of Bristol's history. Prior to proceeding with the plan to restore the house, Ernie Ford was contacted to determine his feelings about the project. He was elated to discover the intentions of the Association. When he returned to Bristol for the grand opening of the Paramount Center for the Arts, he met with members of the organization on several occasions. Later, upon his return to California, BHA received several phone calls from him desiring to know how the restoration was progressing.
While researching the history of the house, it was discovered that it was built in the early 1900's. Years later, following a severe fire, many repairs were necessary, thus altering the original design. Aluminum siding had been installed over imitation brick siding, which previously had covered the original clapboard siding. Inside, the house had taken on a modern look, with narrow woodwork and small windows. The two original fireplaces had been covered over following the installation of electric baseboard heaters.
Restoration of the interior began with replacing the narrow woodwork. The next big project was to uncover the two fireplaces and locate suitable mantels. These were found in a nearby old house that was being demolished. Four windows needed to be replaced and were obtained from another old house. The original pine floor, which was heavily damaged by the fire, had been covered with carpeting which was removed and a new pine floor installed.. The dropped ceiling, not original to the house, was replaced with bead board.
The property surrounding the house was in need of landscaping. A driveway alongside the house was graded and graveled. The association purchased an adjacent house and razed it to provide space for off-street parking.
All rooms have furnishings from the era when the Ford family resided there. The living room includes a Victrola, a settee and a matching chair, a rocker, and a Bible table which were purchased; and a beautiful antique piano and floor lamp, both donated. Over the mantle hangs a large oil portrait of Ernie, which was painted and donated to the Association by Patricia Woody, a local resident.
The center room houses a large collection of the star's personal memorabilia. Most of these plaques, awards, photos, and other items were donated by Mr. Ford's son Brion. One of Ernie Ford's favorite features of the house was the original clawfoot bathtub. On his last visit home in 1991, Ernie reminisced about being bathed in that bathtub as a small child.
A modern kitchen was restored as an early 1900's kitchen, featuring a wood-burning cookstove and large porcelain cast iron sink. The back room has been returned to its original use as Ford's parents' bedroom.
Much time and effort went into the entire project. The house restoration was completed in 2007. An historic marker, 1A 142, installed at the house by the Tennessee Historical Commission reads as follows:
Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Birthplace
Ernest Jennings Ford was born 13 February 1919 in Bristol, Tennessee. In 1937 he began his career at WOPI Radio in Bristol. Known professionally as Tennessee Ernie Ford, he began his rise to fame in1948 with Capital Records. The 1955 success of Sixteen Tons brought him to prime-time TV as host of the Ford Show (1956-1961) and the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show (1961-1965). His 1990 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, placement of three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his achievements in radio, television, and recordings, and receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom all reflect his status as one of America’s top entertainers.
In February of 2019, an exciting lineup of special events commemorated the 100th birthday of Bristol's most famous son, Ernest Jennings "Tennessee Ernie" Ford. Ford, who was born in Bristol, Tennessee, on February 13, 1919, went on to become an international TV, radio, and recording star in the 1950s. Ford hosted his own TV variety show and earned three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Grammy Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His song "Sixteen Tons" sold more than 20 million copies and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Congress National Recording Registry. Along with the Birthplace of Country Music and the Bristol Historical Association, a committee led by former Bristol VA mayor Don Ashley worked tirelessly to put together a variety of events that celebrated the life and legacy of "The Ol' Pea-Picker."
Festivities began on February 10th, when Anderson Street United Methodist Church, the Ford family's home church, hosted a special service followed by tours of its Ford archives. Tours of The Birthplace of Tennessee Ernie Ford, 1223 Anderson Street, were held that afternoon from 2-5 p.m. On February 12th, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum hosted the "Buck and Sid Show" in which Ernie's son, Buck Ford, reminisced about his father's career and life with long time Ford family friend Sid Oakley of the Bristol Historical Association. The program also included the screening of Ford family home movies. On February 13th, Ernie's actual birthday, the Bristol Post Office on 6th Street offered a special stamp and envelope cancellation marking Ford's birthday. Buck and Murphy Ford were the guests of honor for special events that afternoon beginning at 2 p.m. at the Paramount Center for the Arts. Episodes of Ford's TV shows and specials were shown, followed by a birthday celebration at 4 p.m. complete with birthday cake, courtesy of Food City. Local musicians performed Ford songs. During Radio Bristol's Farm and Fun Time on Thursday, February 14, from 7 - 9 pm, the "Heirloom Recipe" segment featured two of Tennessee Ernie's favorite recipes, "Betty Ford's Gumbo" and "Ernest Ford's Cornbread and Sausage Dressing" read aloud in grand style by Buck Ford. Bill and the Belles performed for the event. In addition to the events listed above, a special month-long collection of Tennessee Ernie Ford memorabilia was on display at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in addition to their permanent Ernie Ford exhibit.
BHA photographer Amy Hopper recorded some of these activities in short videos which may be viewed on BHA’s Youtube Channel:
Many photos and other links were included in the BHA newsletter highlighting this event which can be viewed here:
Also, the newsletter commemorating Ernie's 97th birthday can be read here: