Cement Hill

One hundred years ago Kingsport’s first industry began operations downtown as the Penn-Dixie Cement Company. Our city’s landscape still has remnants of this site and last week, the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce invited its members for a birds-eye view at a rare after hours event atop “Cement Hill.”

Located behind Kingsport’s train station, this site rises slightly above the cities small town skyline. The hill got its name because it used to be a collection area for kiln dust from the old cement manufacturing process.

There are still old photos of company houses that used to stand above the cities activities near the railroad tracks. Those homes have long vanished and only exist in shadowy black and white photos in history books. Built as a “City of Industry”, Kingsport got it’s nickname as the “Model City” and the early years of Kingsport’s history wasn’t just about Tennessee Eastman. In fact, Penn-Dixie was among the larger plants of its kind manufacturing Portland Cement – a material in its time second only in importance to steel.

According to Kingsport Chamber Relations Director, Kim Jones, Charlie Floyd, the plant manager at Domtar imagined this location as an ideal spot to host a special outdoor business event.

Presented as the “Chill On The Hill” this was another imaginative event that continues to distinguish one of the state’s most impressive business organizations. Besides the  ribbon cuttings, coffees, breakfast and golf tournaments, the Kingsport Chamber holds the largest Annual Dinner each year with over 1800 attendees at MeadowView Convention Center.

“Few people have ever seen the view.” Charlie stated as he was questioned about the event.

He may be right too. Most everyone are familiar with the location, but it’s not often this property is used other than the occasional platform to launch Kingsport’s July 4th fireworks show downtown. There have been studies to consider purposes for the site, but my vote is still inspired by Norman Sobels suggestion to put a chair lift atop the hill to carry visitors to the top of Bays Mountain Park.

The Tuesday, May 24th event was threatened by a passing shower that afternoon, but the sunshine and heat quickly evaporated anything that could postpone the enthusiasm of the Chamber team.

The only access to the top of hill is a private company road and guests were invited to park at the Chamber parking lot and escorted to the top of the site by van.

A gravel road around the railroad tracks wind through an avenue of kudzu and ends with a short trek at a vantage point where you can view the rooftops of Kingsport’s historic downtown buildings. Church Circle’s steeples are cradled in a cluster of trees to the North and Bays Mountain’s distinct summit rises to the South. Tennessee Eastman’s factory is visible to the East and toward the setting sun is a mirrored Holston River that meanders through the valley toward Rogersville.

The events organizers had built a small stage for Wise Old River, a four-piece Americana band from Tazwell, Va which features singer/songwriter Jamen Denton. Their acoustic background helped frame a relaxed soulful charm for the event which included tents, tables, chairs and catering by Sagebrush Steakhouse.

About 200 people gathered atop Cement Hill for the Chill on the Hill and many newcomers joined the adventure simply for the experience.

As the event neared its close, Charlie Floyd made announcements to the gathering who were sharing drinks and burgers. We had been watching a thunderstorm brew to the Southwest on our smartphones and it wasn’t long before mother nature blew in an afternoon tempest and the clouds threatened rain and lightening in the distance which was pretty good indication that the party was over this time.

I suppose in the day of “social networks” we sometimes forget how important real-world encounters can make all the difference in the world. Sharing a few drinks with friends and associates can deepen even the casual of relationships and turn a small town into a rich society regardless of the measurements.

Kudos again to the Kingsport Chamber and Domtar for another one-of-a-kind.