Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How Riverview got its name, even though there’s no view of river


Contact Vince Staten at vincestaten@timesnews
Voicemail may be left at 723-1483. His blog can be found at vincestaten. blogspot.com.

If you live in Riverview or if you’ve driven in Riverview, you’ve probably noticed one thing about Riverview: Riverview does not have a river view.

It was Calvin Sneed who first pointed this out to me. Calvin grew up in Riverview. He says that even when it was a “new” community back in 1939, “There was no view of the river from where we lived. ... There was never even a road over to it. Wheatley Street is the connection now — but even today, you still can’t see the river from the community.”

So how did Riverview come to be named “Riverview.”

Calvin told me the story and I dug up the details.

Slum housing, behind 746 East Sevier Avenue, 1935

Riverview grew out of an omnibus slum clearance program that targeted the destruction of more than 201 substandard “white homes” and “Negro homes” in Kingsport in 1939, to be replaced by 128 “white homes” and 48 “Negro homes.”

The city brought in the United States Housing Authority to recommend homes to be “cleared.” In return the federal government would provide funding for the new housing.

Things really started rolling in June 1939.

This newspaper wrote, “A new development for housing Kingsport’s increasing Negro population will be submitted for consideration to the United States Housing Authority before the last of the week, according to Walter F. Smith, chairman of the Kingsport Housing Authority for slum clearance.”

The city and the federal government would share the costs for construction of streets and a pedestrian underpass under the Clinchfield railroad tracks.

Federal Dyestuff and Chemical Company, 1916 - Current Site of Riverview.  Photo Courtesy Archives of Kingsport

Chairman Smith told the newspaper he had taken “a selected group of Kingsport Negroes to the site which is to be located south of the Clinchfield railroad tracks in an area composed of approximately 50 acres between the old dye plant and the property of the General Shale Products company.”

The original plan would use only five or six acres for construction of houses with plenty of room for expansion.

“It is estimated by the authority that under the present housing setup between 35 and 50 dwellings will be constructed on lots measuring 50 feet by 150 feet.”

The Housing Authority decided to involve local citizens by holding a contest to name the new Negro development as well as the white project. Contest winners were announced Dec. 5, 1939.

“The project for white residents has been officially named ‘Robert E. Lee Homes’ and the Negro project will be called ‘Riverview.’ ”

Riverview Apartments

Charles B. Leonard, 214 Millpond St., had submitted the entry for the “white project.” And Mrs. James (Bessie) Hipp, 914 Oak St., entered the Riverview name.

Each won $5, which would be about $80 today.

But that name. “I’m guessing that nobody else had a name to submit,” says Calvin. “Mama Jill Ellis couldn’t even think of anybody else who had a suggestion. We all loved Miss Bessie. ... She was one of many older members of the neighborhood always revered as mothers of the community, with all the honor and respect that comes with that. Us young ’uns always respected the name she gave our community. But we sure did have a hard time explaining it!”