By Earl Hendry
Ask anyone who grew up here, lived here or visited here about their most symbolic memories, and they will almost always say “the Covered Bridge” and “the Soldiers Monument in the center of Courthouse Square.”
The 1882 bridge opened the entire western shore of the Doe River to development so important that it today includes a substantial portion of our excellent National Historic District. According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia:
“As the county seat, Elizabethton grew throughout the 19th century. However, Lynn Mountain hemmed it in to the east and the Watauga River lay to the north. The Doe River flooded often and limited growth to the south. To span westward, to the site of the current downtown, the city would need a bridge over the Doe River. After extensive debate, in 1882 the Carter County Court approved $3,000 for the bridge and $300 for approaches… Most of Elizabethton’s downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its historical and architectural merits. The Elizabethton Historic District contains a variety of properties ranging in age from the late 18th century through the 1930s.”
The Elizabethton Covered Bridge is a landmark known and recognized far and wide, but so is our Soldiers Monument.
According to Frank Merritt’s “Later History of Carter County: 1865-1980,” the monument in downtown Elizabethton was started in the spring of 1912. He reported that “workmen have begun work on the monument in courthouse square ‘to the memory of the old soldiers of Carter County since the days of the Revolution.’ Acting chairman of court George Burnham recognized a motion to appropriate $500 to aid erection of a monument to the soldiers of Carter County. Driving spirit behind the project: Rev. D.P. Wilcox, minister and ex-soldier (Union) of the Civil War. Wilcox personally supervised building of the monument to which citizens of the county and city contributed.”
Historian Merritt further stated that in 1913 the “annual reunion of the 13th Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry (Fed.) coincided with dedication of the Soldiers Monument at Courthouse Square. The Hon. J.J. McCorkle, president and J.C. Burchfield, secretary, on Oct. 10, Friday afternoon dedication, Rev. J.A. Ruble delivered the main address. Building committee appointed by Carter County Court: Rev. D.P. Wilcox, G.W. Emmert [and] J.C. Burchfield. Monument accepted by town, by Mayor C.F. Carrier.”
It is in the form of an obelisk, constructed primarily from river rock collected from the nearby Doe River, and hand-mixed concrete; it has a 20-foot base, stands some six stories tall and is guarded by two short Civil War field cannons. According to a fascinating article in the Elizabethton STAR by Editor Rozella Hardin, published Nov. 11, 2011, the memorial commemorates the service of Carter County soldiers in every war from the American Revolution down to the present time. She listed many soldiers from here that paid the ultimate price — with their lives.
Editor Hardin paid particular notice to our Civil War soldiers — saying that “some heroes came out of Carter County, such men as Capt. Dan Ellis [USA], Maj. Henderson Folsom [CSA], Major General Samuel P. Carter [USA] and his brother Colonel James P. T. Carter [USA].” She further reported that “several Carter Countians lost their lives in the Civil War, among them William Brooks, Lt. Robert P. Tipton, Henry Archer, Madison Lovelace, Reese and Benjamin Bowers, sons of the Rev. Valentine Bowers and Isaac and Henry Nave. It was a war that divided families, pitted neighbor against neighbor and church member against church member in Carter County. It was the Blue against the Gray and it was a mean and cruel conflict, which saw men hanged locally.”
In the 1920s and 1930s — before radio and TV, hundreds of local residents would gather around the Monument on election night to await the results, which were read by the clerk at the courthouse.
During World War II, a special dedicatory service was held around the monument when the Silver Star was presented posthumously to Robert Lee Davis, the first Carter Countian killed in that conflict. The monument was refurbished in 1989 and dedicated to Carter County soldiers serving in all wars.
The purpose of this article is not to reprise our Editor’s excellent article entitled “Soldiers Monument represents a past to be remembered” from last year’s Veteran’s Day Edition, but rather to point out to each and every one of our citizens that the plaques on the Soldiers Monument say: “IN HONOR OF THE VETERANS OF ALL WARS.” As a historian, as a lawyer and as the Dad of a hero with two Bronze Stars in the Iraq War, your author takes that 100-year old commemoration to mean — all soldiers in every war — not just some soldiers in any war. Our century-old Soldiers Monument is a historic landmark that was built and dedicated for the purposes intended — let’s keep it that way!