Steps To Relight It
BY JOHN M. JONES JR.
The flag is coming back!
Greeneville businessman and philanthropist Scott M. Niswonger, owner of the onetime First National Bank building next to the Greene County Courthouse, has initiated steps to restore and relight the electrical U.S. flag atop the four-story brick structure.
Both the building and the flag date from the late 1920s, and the bright, moving electrical flag became a distinctive and popular feature of downtown Greeneville in the following decades.
Visible at night from a considerable distance, it was a familiar, welcoming presence at night to residents -- or visitors -- coming into the downtown area from almost any direction.
Issues related to the flag's age, the impact of the weather over the years, etc., put it out of service temporarily from time to time, and relatively minor maintenance and restoration work was required.
In the early 1980s, when the flag had been dark for a period of years, the late Bob Reynolds, a noted Greeneville electrician of that time, was hired by interested citizens to thoroughly rehabilitate and restore it, and did so.
Eventually, it went dark again, however, and has remained out of service for a number of years.
Still, those who remember it, and who loved its bright presence in the downtown area at night, have remained hopeful that someday it would again return.
NISWONGER INITIATES PROCESS
The process of bringing it back to life began recently when Niswonger contacted architect John Fisher of Fisher + Associates and contractor Jeff Idell, vice president of Idell Construction, and said he wanted to restore and relight the flag.
Those conversations set the wheels in motion. Fisher is overseeing the overall project, and Idell Construction is the contractor.
Concrete action on the project began at 6 a.m. today when cranes belonging to subcontractor Limestone Construction took positions on the sidewalk and street in front of the former bank building, located next to the courthouse on South Main Street.
Mike Idell, also a vice president of Idell Construction, went up in the basket, and personally worked on detaching the electrical flag itself from the frame.
Fisher also went to the roof, and made photos of the flag and the work.
After being detached from the frame, the flag was brought down and placed in a waiting truck. By about 8 a.m. it was on its way to an area electrical shop where the actual rehabilitation work will be carried out.
PROCESS: REPAINTING, REPAIRING
Fisher said in a telephone interview this morning that the rehabilitation process would include repainting the flag, doing whatever electrical work was necessary, and replacing the bulbs.
The red bulbs on the current flag were made by Sylvania, he said, and an effort will be made to see if they are still available.
The white bulbs, he said, were actually clear bulbs painted white, and he is hopeful that an appropriate white bulb is now available.
As for the electrical work, he was glad to discover that "The sockets are porcelain." "The key thing is to get the back of it off, check the wiring, and make sure the sockets are working." Any that are not working will need to be repaired.
Fisher said that close attention will be paid to the color of the flag and the bulbs, so that it will look its best both during the day and at night.
He said an effort will be made to restore it in a way that will have long-term durability: a significant challenge because the flag is exposed to a wide variety of severe weather atop the building.
Both Fisher and Jeff Idell referred to Niswonger himself other questions -- about the decision to restore the flag, the target date for its relighting, etc.
Efforts this morning to reach him were unsuccessful.