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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Historic Riverview Apartments Demolition Ceremony

The spirits of togetherness, friendship, comradery, and love brought the former residents of the Historic Riverview Apartments together on Saturday, February 2nd to watch the demolition process begin, that will replace them.


As much as the event was held to celebrate the legacy of the Apartments, it also served as a means of just getting the folks in the Riverview-South Central Kingsport neighborhood in one room for an ole-fashioned get-together, reminiscent of the community activities we all had, in times gone by.

Spirits were high, laughter was plenty, and many thoughts were shared on the histories of the Apartments during the program at the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Community Center in Riverview, with an eye toward the future.

The Douglass High School Alumni Chorus got the standing-room only audience of over 200 people get the mood in a festive mood with songs that included "This Little Light of Mine," a favorite of Mrs. Gladys Bly, another long-time Apartment resident. The Chorus capped off with the singing of the Douglass School Song, always a crowd favorite.

The presentation of a beautiful plaque was presented to your website manager by Mrs. Louetta Hall. The plaque was given by Helen Bunting and Raymond Helton, appreciative of the Sons and Daughters of Douglass website (Thank so much, Helen & Raymond!--Calvin)

Among the people who could not attend, was Mrs. Mamie Gillenwater, the Riverview Apartments' oldest resident. She sent a note that was read to the group, saying she misses the friendships in the Apartments, and cried when we took her picture for "The Archives For Riverview" at Thanksgiving. She says, she is looking forward to moving back into her new home in Riverview when it is finished. Statements were also read from Tennessee State Representative Nathan Vaughn, who had a prior commitment. He told the group "I am very proud of the community and its move forward to making Kingsport the best place to live for all of its citizens." The Shirley Powers family of Chattanooga, also sent greetings through thoughts, prayers, saying it was a blessing and a privilege to have lived among the good friends and neighbors in the Apartments. Former Riverview resident Donald Hickman of Knoxville sent a very heartfelt note, that mentioned the importance of remembering the "small things" sometimes overlooked in life, like loving your children, supporting your grandchildren.. taking time to get medical checkups, stay in touch with friends and family, and keeping the legacy of Riverview alive.

Executive Director Terry Cunningham with the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority thanked the group and the community for all of its support during the HOPE VI revitilization process. He also spoke of the sometimes difficult relocation process and how returning families will be able to enjoy the new homes they'll be occupying in the future.

Kingpsport Mayor Dennis Phillips told the group the Riverview Community has been ignored long enough, in the history of Kingsport. He said residents can always look back on the legacy of the Riverview Aparments, but at the same time, look forward to living in homes built to today's standards. He also of his upbringing in a small North Carolina community, saying he could relate to the giving spirit of the Riverview Community reaching out to help one another.

Dean Reynolds, field representative for U.S. Congressman David Davis, R-1st District Tennessee, told the group the congressman is very proud of the Riverview Community, saying with the building of 120 new housing units with the HOPE VI grant, "there are 120 opportunities for residents to enjoy." He promised the community that any questions they have about the project, Congressman Davis will get the answers they need.

The New Vision Youth presented a meaningful and moving sketch, that chronicled the evolution of the Riverview Community. Riverview's future generation proved that it is getting itself ready to pick up the torch of the community's heritage and run with it, through renditions of home life in the Apartments.

After a moving number "I Cried My Last Tear," by Dana Skaggs dedicated to the legacy of the Riverview Apartments, the group adjourned to Booker Street, to await the Beginning of the End for the Historic Riverview Apartments.

It was a slow march across the street. Folks at the beginning of the group sang "Amazing Grace" as they walked.. others just tried to remember the many times they walked this same route through the apartments to go outside and play when they lived there.. to go next door to another apartment to visit a relative, or an ailing neighbor.. to go next door to borrow some sugar, or to take some canned tomatos or pickles to a neighbor.

After a short speech saluting the Historic Apartments and the significance of the occasion in the history of Kingsport and the Tri-Cities, the experienced demolition crew from the D.H Griffin Wrecking Company swung into action..

The demolition crane engine was turned on, and the wrecking bucket was aimed at Apartments 26 and 27. The roof was the first to be punched in, then ripped out. Dust flew everywhere. Some folks who knew of the asbestos the Apartments contain, promised not to stay on site long; their fears were later dashed, when they learned that a required asbestos removal and safe transport away, had already been conducted on this particular unit. As a result, no asbestoes was released into the air, because it was not present here anymore.

The children, especially the boys, marveled at the destructive power of the demolition crane, completely unaware that they were witnesses to history. Boys are always fascinated by cranes, wrecking balls and bulldozers; many girls could care less. Their parents and the adults present, were also fascinated by what they were witnessing, but the historic significance was not lost on them.. they had known people in Apartments 26 and 27.. many times, they had visited them there.

The words "sad occasion" was a familiar refrain from people, as the moment sank in.. the Historic Riverview Apartments were indeed coming down. None present thought they would ever see this moment, after it had been talked about for years, finalized the past few months, and finally memorialized at this very moment.

Although tears were plentiful, smiles of hope were even more prevalent. Folks talked about the good times they had here, and also talked about the new homes to be built for the low income residents returning. Of course, the rumor that the homes would only be available for Eastman employees once again surfaced, BUT THIS RUMOR IS NOT TRUE. Only residents who have moved out and would like to return, once their low income and work status is verified, are eligible to return, THUS, EASTMAN EMPLOYEES WILL NOT QUALIFY FOR THE NEW HOUSING, BECAUSE THEY MAKE TOO MUCH MONEY.

Although conversations continued during the wrecking crane's work, those talks were interrupted whenever the crane bucket found a soft spot in the unit, where the bricks would tumble, the lumber would crunch, and the scrap metal would clank. All eyes would then be focused on the demolition area, until the noise subsided.

The demolition crew from D.H. Griffin was, and is being very careful in leaving some bricks intact, for folks who want them. In fact, all during the demolition process, the crew will be collecting bricks for residents and interested people who have requested them; that number now stands at a thousand requests so far! Johnnie Mae Swaggerty, who has been collecting names, says she has gotten requests from as far away as California, Oregon, Atlanta, New York, and North Carolina for bricks.. Everybody from former residents, to Kingsport residents, to Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips, to local city, state and federal legislators, to executives from Kingsport's business community have requested bricks from the Historic Riverview Apartments. The Douglass High School Alumni Association has requested 200 bricks to be engraved with the names of local pillars of the Riverview Community.

Many people seemed to not want to leave the demolition site, even after the crane ended this first run at tearing down the Apartments. It's no secret that the Apartments were a gathering place for residents, friends and neighbors, and even at this historic time, that fact was not lost on folks who just wanted to linger a while longer.

Menawhile, others had already gone back to the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Community Center, the Douglass Gym, to have cake, chips and refreshments, and reflect on what they had just witnessed. The stories of the Apartments and the community continued to circulate among the people, as they will for many years.

"I cried my last tear..
For Riverview was home.

And now it will be missed..

So Dear God we pray,
when the last brick is down..

There will be still be,
a new Riverview around..

--Johnnie Mae Swaggerty, Apts. 79 and 46