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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Sculpture Helps Revitalize Bristol's Oldest Neighborhood

The monument will be erected at the gateway to the Solar Hill community.

By Amy Hunter | Bristol Herald Courier | March 04, 2009

*** This story was published Feb. 23, 2009 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier.***

BRISTOL, Va. It wasn't until Susan Long left her childhood town then returned 20-some years later that she felt enthusiasm or love for the place she'd always thought of as home.

"I think when you leave somewhere and come back you gain a deeper appreciation for it," she said. "When my husband retired from the military and we moved back to Bristol, it was like the grass was greener, the trees had more leaves. Bristol has so much to be proud of."

That pride, or at least one aspect that contributes to it, will become tangible soon, as a monument is erected at the gateway to the Solar Hill community where Long now lives.

"The portal monument will be at the corner of Cumberland and Johnson, portal meaning gateway," she said. "Cumberland is a gateway into the oldest part of our city, and I think this monument really means more to the city itself than it does to the Solar Hill community."

The marble, stone and brick sculpture was designed by Bristol, Va., architect Peter Lawrie five years ago when the Solar Hill Revitalization Project received a $350,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation to replace the neighborhoods "crumbling sidewalks, install period-appropriate street lighting, a dozen historic markers, a monument and some landscaping," according to a statement released by Deborah Jones, president of the Solar Hill Revitalization Project.

In the years since the grant was awarded, residents had grown impatient for the city to begin, Jones said in the statement.

According to Long, one aspect the monument will finally be installed in the next two to three months.

"The amount of money we had in 2004 doesn't go as far now as it did before," Long said. "But the city engineer, along with several others, managed to find some creative ways to shift funds around."

The monument, Long said, is "a very nice, simple design with a sort of round ball on top. Originally, it was supposed to have a representation of Bailey's beads, which are a solar phenomenon that occurs during the height of an eclipse, it looks like a long string of pearls around the eclipsed sun."

The design's significance is historical to Solar Hill, Bristol's oldest residential neighborhood named for an observatory built there in the 19th century to observe the solar eclipse of 1869, according to the community's Web site.

Lawrie, who designed the monument, is the grandson of sculptor Lee Lawrie, who designed the statue of Atlas in Rockefeller Center in New York City, Jones said in her statement.

For Long, the monument, and the revitalization project, isn't just for Solar Hill, but for all Bristolians.

"We have so much history and culture here and I think a deeper and greater understanding of our roots, I think, will mean a lot. The past of Bristol is what we need to build on for a better future," she said. "The monument, well, I think it will be a jewel in the crown of Bristol."