County nears 150th celebration

Workers from Lee Heights Monument Company dig up the time capsule put in the ground in 1970.

The Loudon County Sesquicentennial Committee is hoping to move forward with a community celebration June 20.

Members will discuss plans in more detail this week for marking the 150th birthday of Loudon County, but Bo Carey, committee chairman, pointed to livestreaming the “limited celebration” in the wake of COVID-19 and not having enough space for a big rally initially desired because of construction to Loudon County Courthouse.

“We knew we were going to rethink having a big rally if things didn’t change there,” Carey said of construction. “The second, of course, happened was the pandemic, but even prior to that we realized that if were going to have thousands of people come back to celebrate that one day as our time capsule both for the old and the new time capsule that we wanted to make sure that we didn’t have any lapses in our efficiency, that we didn’t have a problem that would make it an unhappy celebration.

“... It will definitely have a video done,” he added. “We’re looking into what can and cannot be done to even possibly air something live.”

Hopes are to host local mayors, current committee members and others from the past who made the 1970 capsule possible, Carey said.

The decision to move forward was made to honor the 1970 committee’s request to do something June 20.

“All I can tell you at this point is it will be a virtual or a livestream, something of that effect, that we can put out there,” Carey said. “We will try to have the contents that are salvaged to be photographed or whatever. We will probably have them in a display case. We’ll do some announcements about the ones that we can trace to individuals or families. We will announce at that time most likely a schedule of where those remains can be viewed throughout the remainder of the year as what I call a traveling road show.

“Hopefully all five communities will get them a month or six weeks to where people can come and view it,” he added.

A ceremony is tentatively planned for 10 a.m. June 20, with a weather alternative possible at Loudon High School, Carey said.

“What we’re going to do, and it definitely depends on the medical situation of how much we can do, they’re even talking about something minimal on the 20th and at a later date do a bigger presentation when let’s say the gates are open,” Dennis Preston, committee member, said.

Capsule exhumed

In March, committee members dug up the old capsule to ensure “efficiency” for the June celebration, Carey said.

“Fifty years of being underground left 80 percent of it in ruin,” he said.

Some Loudon County commissioners had hope the capsule could be dug up on the day of celebration for an “ah-ha moment.”

“Our committee decided we didn’t want it to be an uh-oh moment,” Carey said. “If we had proceeded with the plan at that time it would have been an uh-oh moment. Obviously, wanting to be efficient and work on all of the different projects we’re doing, we didn’t want to get into a public debate about it, so we used our public authority to go ahead and get the capsule out of the ground and make sure we could get it out of the ground and find out what condition it was in so that we wouldn’t have a major digging expedition on June 20 that caused thousands of people to stand around waiting and not knowing what would happen.”

Items found were taken off site to dry for about a month. Committee members have since started salvaging what they can.

“We’ve pulled out a few things so we can mount them and keep them in good shape because the paper things of course are very fragile, the ones that have survived,” Ruth McQueen, committee member, said. “We’re working on it and we’re going to make it as positive as possible. There are some things that can be displayed and reused and shared with the general public.”

McQueen chooses to stay positive and “make the most of what we have.”

“We feel very positive about it,” Carey said. “You know the old story about the phoenix rising from the ashes? That’s how we look at the disappointing results of opening the compromised vault is that we’re going to go forward, we’re going to make this an even better celebration, we’re going to learn from what happened before.”

Future plans

Carey expects more information about a new capsule in the coming days.

He went before Loudon County Commission during the May 18 meeting and discussion ensued over possibly putting the capsule above ground in a newly renovated courthouse.

“We understand that space is an issue and we understand that it can’t interfere with the vital work that’s done by the two office holders that have their offices in the ground floor of the courthouse,” Carey said. “We think it would be a wonderful result if both the old and new time capsules could be displayed in the new courthouse.”

A cabinet holding the new capsule could possibly be made of material from the old courthouse. Commissioners will consider the possibility in June.

“That’s a secondary possibility from the first proposal, which is the display in the courthouse would be instead of buying anything new, having a case built by a cabinet maker and spending a lot of money to do that, would be that we salvage old materials that were essentially demolition scrap from the old courthouse that don’t just have 50 years of vintage history, they have 148 to 150 years possibly,” Carey said.