During the month of February, 2019, an exciting lineup of special events commemorated the 100th birthday of Bristol's most famous son, Ernest Jennings "Tennessee Ernie" Ford. Ford, who was born in Bristol, Tennessee, on February 13, 1919, and went on to become an international TV, radio, and recording star in the 1950s. Ford hosted his own TV variety show and earned three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Grammy Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His song "Sixteen Tons" sold more than 20 million copies and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Congress National Recording Registry.

Along with the Birthplace of Country Music and the Bristol Historical Association, a committee led by former Bristol VA mayor Don Ashley worked tirelessly to put together a variety of events that celebrated the life and legacy of "The Ol' Pea-Picker."

Festivities began on February 10th, when Anderson Street United Methodist Church, the Ford family's home church, hosted a special service followed by tours of its Ford archives. Tours of The Birthplace of Tennessee Ernie Ford, 1223 Anderson Street, were held that afternoon from 2-5 p.m.

On February 12th, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum hosted the "Buck and Sid Show" in which Ernie's son, Buck Ford, reminisced about his father's career and life with long time Ford family friend Sid Oakley of the Bristol Historical Association. The program also included the screening of Ford family home movies.

On February 13th, Ernie's actual birthday, the Bristol Post Office on 6th Street offered a special stamp and envelope cancellation marking Ford's birthday. Buck and Murphy Ford were the guests of honor for special events that afternoon beginning at 2 p.m. at the Paramount Center for the Arts. Episodes of Ford's TV shows and specials were shown, followed by a birthday celebration at 4 p.m. complete with birthday cake, courtesy of Food City. Local musicians performed Ford songs.

During Radio Bristol's Farm and Fun Time on Thursday, February 14, from 7 - 9 pm, the "Heirloom Recipe" segment featured two of Tennessee Ernie's favorite recipes, "Betty Ford's Gumbo" and "Ernest Ford's Cornbread and Sausage Dressing" read aloud in grand style by Buck Ford. Bill and the Belles performed for the event. In addition to the events listed above, a special month long collection of Tennessee Ernie Ford memorabilia was on display at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in addition to their permanent Ernie Ford exhibit.

View photos and videos from this memorable week on BHA's YouTube Channel by clicking this link:

Ernie Ford House

In 1991, the Bristol Historical Association was very much in need of a meeting place in addition to a storage place for memorabilia. About this time, it was learned that a house on Anderson Street in Bristol, Tennessee was available for purchase. The house, while outwardly unassuming was actually of historical significance. It wasn’t long before the Association decided that this house, located at 1223 Anderson Street was just what was needed. This house was the birthplace of Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Ernie Ford House

The Ford House, as it has since become known was ideal for the organization. It was large enough for the needs of the Association, and it also allowed the organization to become actively involved in preserving a bit of Bristol's history. However, prior to proceeding with the plan to restore the house, Ernie Ford was contacted to determine his feelings about the project. He was elated to discover the intentions of the Association. When he returned to Bristol for the grand opening of the Paramount Center for the Arts, he met with members of the organization on several occasions. Later, upon his return to California, the organization received several phone calls from him, desiring to know how the restoration was progressing.

When the investigation of the history of the house began it was discovered, with some surprise, that it was built in the early 1900s. Its immediate former owner, a Southwest Virginia native living in Florida, had purchased the house to use when she returned to the area for visits. During one of her absences the house suffered a severe fire. Following the fire, a great deal repair was necessary, and the original design was altered during renovation. These alterations assumed several forms including putting aluminum siding over the imitation brick siding, which had previously been installed over the original clapboard siding. Inside, the house took on a modern look with narrow woodwork and small windows. The two original fireplaces were covered over as they were no longer needed when electric baseboard heaters were installed. The wooden floors were covered with carpet.

Restoration on the interior began with replacing the narrow woodwork. The next big project was to uncover the two fireplaces and locate suitable mantels. These were found in an old house being demolished, which was located just down the street. Four windows needed replacement and were obtained from another old house which was being demolished. The mantles and windows were covered with several coats of paint which had to be removed before being replaced. Later, bead board ceiling, recovered from an old house, was used in the living room and bath. Carpeting was removed from the living room floor, and a pine floor was installed.

At about this stage of the restoration, the site was visited by a representative from the Tennessee Historical Restoration department. He was well pleased with the efforts and later forwarded some literature which proved valuable in the remaining restoration efforts.
The property surrounding the house was also in need of some maintenance. A large walnut tree had to be removed as it was in danger of falling and causing damage to the house. Following the removal of the tree, the front and back yards were graded and planted in grass. A six foot board fence was constructed to enclose the back yard. Bulbs, perennials and shrubbery were planted. The driveway has been graded and graveled. A new sidewalk has been constructed in front of the house.

To meet the requirements of the Tennessee Historical Restoration regulations, several changes had to be made to the exterior of the house. The aluminum siding, as well as the imitation brick siding had to be removed. Much of the original clapboard siding also had to be replaced.

In 1995 additional interior renovations were undertaken. Old bead board ceilings were purchased and installed in the middle and back rooms as well as in the kitchen. All ceilings are now pine bead board which is consistent with the early 1900s. Carpet was taken up in the middle and back rooms and pine floors were installed. Modern interior doors were replaced with period doors from a demolished house. Lighting was upgraded in the middle and back rooms to accommodate the needs of the Bristol Historical Association. The house received a new coat of paint on the inside and outside. The driveway was paved in 1996.
Regarding the decoration of the interior the front room and bathroom were dedicated to Tennessee Ernie Ford and his family. Furnishings from the era when the Ford family resided at the house have been purchased or donated. Ernie said he could remember being scrubbed in the old original bathtub. The middle room honors the country music heritage of this region, and tile walls are decorated with plaques from the original Country Music Foundation recognizing several early musicians. The room is used by Bristol Historical Association for various committee meetings. The back room serves as a work area and has storage space for memorabilia. It is the actual room in which Tennessee Ernie was born on February 13, 1919.

Much time and effort have gone into this ongoing project. Bristol Historical Association is appreciative of individuals and businesses that have assisted in our commitment to maintain links to the past.