I-81 runs along the western edge of Virginia, through some of the prettiest valleys as it runs parallel to the Appalachian Mountains. It’s also a main thoroughfare from Tennessee all the way north up to Harrisburg, PA so it sees a lot of traffic. Which is why you might miss the exit for Bristol, VA or Bristol, TN.
Yep, this city straddles a state line. Well, these cities straddle the line. Bristol is actually twin cities whose main street in downtown is the official state line between Virginia and Tennessee. There are 2 mayors, 2 police departments, 2 zip codes, 2 area codes plus a whole bunch of other duplicates. Yet, the Public Library is on the Virginian side while the airport is on the Tennessee side. The NASCAR race track is on the Tennessee side but the famous 1927 “Bristol Sessions” took place over on the Virginia side. It would be so trippy to live here.
But Bristol is not alone. There are other cities that straddle a state line, like Bluefield VA/WV, Texarkana TX/AR.
Even their street signs are labeled with the two different states.
(Interesting tidbit: the Burger Bar restaurant in the background for the State St. sign was the last place country singer Hank Williams was known to be alive. Mystery surrounds what exactly how he died after being here).
Besides the whole dual state business, Bristol is also home to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. The 1927 Bristol Sessions were recorded here, featuring Jimmie Rodgers the “Father of Country Music” and The Carter Family “The First Family of Country Music”. This is legit, Congress decreed it so.
One of the unexpected surprises I came across were all the murals painted on the buildings in both Bristols. They were so beautiful and kind of fun to try and spot them. Here’s a few that I captured…
Things to know before you go…
1. If you have time, stop and see the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Everyone in our group (even someone who’s on the fence about country music) found the history, old photos and exhibits really fascinating. The museum is closed on Mondays and has limited hours on Sunday so check timing before you go. Admission is ~$13.65 for adults and a few dollars less for seniors, students, military, etc.
2. A short drive north from Bristol is Abingdon, VA. It’s worth a stop to see the Barter Theatre in downtown Abingdon. Opened in the Great Depression, actors would barter their performance for food. Well-known actors such as Ernest Borgnine, Kevin Spacey, and even Gregory Peck have performed here. It’s a great side trip from Bristol TN/VA.