Last Thursday night at the East Ridge City Council meeting, Mayor Brent Lambert made an announcement during the “Communication from Council” segment of the meeting.
The mayor, whose family’s roots go back to the late 1800s in our city, thanked city workers for taking down the “Kingwood Rexall Pharmacy” sign that had graced the East Ridge landmark for perhaps half a century.
Kingwood, as you may be aware, has shuttered its doors after 70 years of serving this city; and I might add, after the city loyally supported the business for three generations.
The sign, he said, is being kept in storage by the city and may perhaps some day be displayed in the East Ridge History Museum. The mayor chuckled as he said that.
You see, in the city’s 2016-17 budget, the one that was just passed, city father’s budgeted a whopping $635 to keep the lights on at the History Museum. The item “contract services” at the facility was budgeted for $360. An additional $125 was reserved for “office/cell phones” and 150 bucks was earmarked for “other operating supplies.”
It’s easy to say you’re “proud” of your past. It’s quite another thing to preserve it.
Many people in East Ridge don’t realize that we have a History Museum. It’s across from City Hall on Tombras Avenue in a building that was once the City Jail and the venue for Municipal Court. Less than five years ago it was staffed by a full-time city employee. There were plans for grants _ the History Museum originally came into existence after a grant from the Obsorne Foundation was secured. I seem to recall there was some outfit that was going to come in and do some sort of film related to the city.
People and organizations were calling to donate archival material to the city. Some of the founding families of East Ridge were on-board, because you know what? Our past is important.
Then, well, things just started to drift away. The full-time staffer got re-assigned. Regular hours for people to visit vanished. There was a measure to have the museum open up for several hours a day, two days a week. The city would pull an employee from the library to do that thankless duty.
Then, I was told last week, the museum doesn’t open regularly. It’s essentially a thing of the past, something that the History Museum sought to highlight and celebrate.
I sought out the whereabouts of the sign earlier this week. I ultimately found it after enlisting the help of Dan Powers our library director. Powers didn’t know anything about it, but he was game for trying to find out where it might be. We started, naturally enough, at the History Museum. It was locked up tight because the city doesn’t employ anyone to staff it. Powers and I looked around at the exhibits in the building that document the city’s long (we just celebrated our 95th birthday) history.
We asked Marilyn Tilley, whose office is right next door to the History Museum, if she knew anything about the whereabouts of the sign. She recalled something about city workers removing the sign and got on the horn. She reported back that the Kingwood sign was down at the city’s street sign department on Yale Street.
The following day I went down there and asked Jeff Crowe about the sign. He told me the sign wasn’t there, but it might be up at the ERPD impound lot. I went to City Hall and stumbled across Norman Branum, the city’s supervisor over the Street Department, who was talking with Mike Ailey, our guy in the city who presides over all signs _ street and otherwise.
They told me that city crews worked for a couple hours to remove the sign. It was a team effort involving some manpower and a hulking piece of heavy equipment to lower the sign from its perch above the sidewalk on the east side of the pharmacy. Branum told me to follow him and he would take me to it.
I found the Kingwood sign: the 23-foot long piece of orange and blue steel that was saved from an unknown fate by our city was deposited in a darkened room that was once the bustling cafeteria of McBrien School. I would venture the sign will sit there for a long, long time because I don’t’ believe our city fathers really value history.
If they did they would find the money to fund our History Museum.