In April 1979, a group of nine women devoted to preserving the history of Bristol VA/TN met to organize The Bristol Historical Association. The group consisted of Joyce Kistner, president; Christine Caldwell, Faith Dillow Esposito, Mary Geiger, Ann Greear, Tina Hitt, Martha Marshall, Janice Martin, and Margaret Mitchell. They chose an image from a 1930s button showing the Bristol sign and a view of State Street as the logo for the Association.
Since that beginning, the Bristol Historical Association has been dedicated to Identifying, Preserving, Interpreting, and Presenting the history of Bristol.
In 1988, a group called the Bristol Preservation Society launched a program to mark structures and sites throughout Bristol which would date back seventy-five years or more. BHA’s late historian and noted author of local history, V .N. (Bud) Phillips, initiated a search for sites which would qualify for designation and receive a plaque. The first four markers placed were at 412 Sixth Street, the Billy Wood house on the corner of Locust and Sixth Streets, East Hill Cemetery, and the Tennessee Ernie Ford House at 1223 Anderson Street.
In 1999, the Bristol Preservation Society and the Bristol Historical Association merged.
During Bristol’s Centennial Celebration, the city of Bristol, Virginia, and Bristol Historical Association jointly placed markers at important historic locations: the Bristol Virginia Courthouse; two grave sites in East Hill Cemetery (those of Col. Samuel E. Goodson, founder of Bristol, VA, and Evan Shelby); placed black iron chains around the graves of Col. James King and others in Ordway Cemetery; and installed a marker at the historic Bristol Sign.
When Michael Ainslie, then president of The National Trust for Historic Preservation, visited Bristol to present a program for BHA and a workshop for over 100 business people in 1982, he stated: “The Bristol Sign should stand as the centerpiece of downtown revitalization effort.” It is thought that his advocacy of revitalizing economic development through historic preservation led to a rebirth of the city - - business as well as residential areas.
Both sides of town have several individual properties and districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To be listed, the location must be historically or architecturally significant. BHA was successful in nominating three of them, the King-Lancaster-McCoy-Mitchell House, the Robert Preston House, and the Bristol Sign.
Bristol Historical Association has saved three historic homes from demolition: the I.C. Fowler Home, built in 1867, the oldest standing structure from the original town limits of Goodson (later Bristol, VA); the E.W. King House in Bristol, TN; and the Robert Preston House, one of the oldest homes in Washington County which the association owns and is in the process of restoring. In addition, the association restored and still owns the Birthplace of Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Once history is preserved, it must be interpreted and presented. To accomplish this, Bristol Historical Association each year takes a program to fourth grade classes in Bristol’s public and private schools which is not only educational but fun for the children. Sometimes the students dress in historic costumes portraying Bristol and pioneer people of interest, and artifacts are exhibited and discussed. Pictures and slide shows further add to the students’ knowledge.
Another educational avenue can be found in the publications by BHA. The first was in 1985, A Pictorial History; then came The Passing Years...History in Pictures ...Bristol Virginia-Tennessee 1700s to 1950s in 1993. Honoring our Heritage, Faces and Places From the Past was a Sesquicentennial Edition in 2006. Finally in 2014, Past and Repast - - A Fine Collection of Recipes was released containing recent and vintage recipes from local ladies (and a few brave men) along with pictures and stories from the BHA Archives.
The public face of Bristol Historical Association continues to be excellent programs free and open to the community. These are held at the Bristol Public Library. Also at the library, BHA maintains two showcases of theme oriented items, some historical, some whimsical, often from private collections. Past exhibits have included 1939 love letters, radio and country music memorabilia, lamps (1910-1960), political campaign buttons, antique bottles, and vintage postcards.
Since its inception in 1979, Bristol Historical Association has been collecting and preserving thousands of items for their Archives. Collections include antique and vintage as well as current items of memorabilia, photographs, magazines (especially “Bristol Magazine” from the 1940s), newspapers, maps, City Directories, post card collections, obituaries, various newspaper articles including all by Bud Phillips, pamphlets, books, scrapbooks, Kelly & Green negatives, posters, and more. The Archive Committee is appreciative of gifts from generous donors.
BHA celebrated its 40th Anniversary in 2020 with a special program created and presented by founding member and first president, Joyce Kistner. This program may be viewed at https://youtu.be/UchgpW2tFEE. You may also visit BHA's Youtube channel to view the presentation slides in greater detail at https://youtu.be/q0QDvwqWjUk
From an impressive beginning, through years of steadfast effort, The Bristol Historical Association is ready and eager to continue identifying, preserving, interpreting and presenting the history of Bristol for future generations.