Reverend to bring ministry to storytelling

Storyteller Rev. Robert Jones will perform in Jonesborough May 22-25.


As a musician, the Rev. Robert Jones has performed at the highest levels, opening for acts like Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, and Taj Mahal.

But it wasn’t until he told a story in Jonesborough, Tennessee that he felt he’d found his true calling as a performer.

“From the beginning, I was always a storyteller. I just didn’t identify as one,” Jones says. “The first time I came home from Jonesborough, I told my wife, ‘Before, I was a musician who told stories. Now I want to be a storyteller who plays music.’”

It was a seamless transition, given that Jones’s act had always been a deft blend of song and story. “I love the idea of telling stories through songs, so my songs are stories,” he explains. “Sometimes a song will inspire a story, and sometimes a story will inspire a song.” It can be difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.

As a Detroit-based minister, Jones naturally uses stories in his work on Sundays. “Jesus himself used parables,” he points out, “so basically you’re talking about the greatest storyteller.” Another important influence was Jones’s grandmother, who “had a way of painting the picture.” Jones considers himself lucky to have inherited her talent.

As a featured performer in the International Storytelling Center’s Storytelling Live! series, Jones will perform matinee concerts on Wednesday through Saturday, each beginning at 2 p.m. An exclusive nighttime show, “Lead Belly: An American Legend” is slated for the evening of Thursday, May 23. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s sort of a tribute I do for a great old folk musician,” Jones says. “The older I get and the fatter I get and the grayer I get, the more I start to look like him. So I figure I better learn some of his songs.”

Jones’s full residency is May 22-25, with all ticket sales first come, first served. Reservations are recommended, but not required. Tickets for all matinee shows are $12 for adults, and $11 for seniors, students, and anyone under 18. Tickets for the evening concert are $15. Heavily discounted season passes are still available while supplies last.

Exclusive discounts are available to ticketholders for the evening concert and matinee shows. Ticket stubs will earn a 10 percent discount on same-day dining at Main Street Café (lunch only), Olde Towne Pancake House, Texas Burritos & More, Krazy Krepes, Jonesborough Barrel House, the Icing on the Cake (lunch only), and the Corner Cup. Additionally, Boone Street Market is offering 10 percent off prepared meals and 5 percent off any other purchase.

The premier sponsor of Storytelling Live! is Ballad Health. Additional program funding comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Niswonger Foundation, Eastman Credit Union, the Mooneyhan Family Foundation, and Food City. Media sponsors include News 5-WCYB, FOX Tri-Cities, Tri-Cities CW, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News, Herald & Tribune, and Cumulus Media.

Storytelling Live! is a seasonal program that runs from April to October. 

The International Storytelling Center is open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information about Storytelling Live!, including the full 2019 line-up, or to purchase tickets and season passes, visit or call (800) 952-8392.

It’s electric: Local artist turns voltage into art

Above, Brenden Bohannon shows off a newly electrified and rinsed picture frame.


Staff Writer

Most artists use paint brushes, sculpting tools, clay or canvas to create their art. But for wood artisan Brenden Bohannon, all it takes is a hand-carved bowl — and an electric current with enough voltage to stop someone’s heart.

If you’ve perused the Jonesborough Visitor’s Center or a local craft fair recently, you’ve probably seen Bohannon’s hand-carved spoons, bowls and cutting boards with small, black, winding burns swirling through the wood grain. But before it became his passion, Bohannon got his start when his mother put him up to the task of electrifying her table.

“My mom was watching this home improvement show and they electrified a coffee table,” Bohannon said. “I came over and watched it and she said, ‘Do you think you could do that and not get killed?” And I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ I found out I really enjoyed it and kind of stuck with it.”

Bohannon can electrify anything made of unfinished, natural wood. His most common projects include hand-craved spoons, cutting boards and bowls. Bohannon said he considers the Appalachian dough bowl with handles his signature piece.

After working with local wood workers to learn how to carve and work with various wood-working tools — and after blowing the leg off of his mother’s table — Bohannon saw that his electrifying hobby could serve as more than just a pastime when a woman bought one of his first pieces on the spot. Since then, he’s sold his work across the world, added his pieces to galleries and most recently, opened the workshop in his backyard to visitors looking to learn how to make their own wood art.

Last year, Bohannon applied to become a Airbnb Experience host, which allows folks from all over tocome and learn about a person’s hobby, skill or trade. After applying on a whim, Bohannon had 64 bookings within five months.

“I only thought one or two people would want to carve a bowl or something, but people are driving from Asheville, Hendersonville, different places,” Bohannon said. “My first booking was a guy who drove nine hours from Florida, came, carved and went back the same night — just to show up and carve a bowl.”

“I think people don’t do it anymore. They don’t make things anymore. So being able to make something tangible and realize that anybody can be artistic, anyone can make something beautiful if they try — I think a lot of people connect to that and they really enjoy that.”

Bohannon has found that carving bowls and electrifying wood at his home nestled at the base of the mountains in East Tennessee is a bit more of an oddity than he might have guessed.

“I think anybody can go to Target and buy a cooking spoon. They see these wooden bowls in places like Pier 1 and they’re like, ‘This is $300 dollars.” Then they find out they can come take a class for less than $100 and make a beautiful bowl that in a lot of ways is a lot sturdier and better built and doesn’t have any harsh chemicals in it. Everything I use as far as finishes are natural finishes.

“Looking at how people who come to my class are from bigger cities and never grew up in Appalachia, to them, someone who carves bowls out in the mountains somewhere, that’s a great adventure. For me, that’s a Monday morning,” he said, laughing. “It’s been really enjoyable getting to meet people from all different walks of life.”

This isn’t Bohannon’s first experience as a teacher or an artist, however; the woodworker taught mixed martial arts and was a dancer before he began carving and electrifying wood. Though the two might initially seem unrelated, Bohannon said he sees the connection between movement art and wood art with each project.

“Movement art was my thing,” Bohannon said. “I danced professionally in a couple of ballets, I have done break dance, I taught mixed martial arts and traditional martial arts. It’s something I really, really loved and enjoyed. I apply all of the muscular control and movement isolation that I learned in mixed martial arts when I’m carving a bowl.

“I’ll lock a hip and move in a certain way and get a very controlled pass and end up with what I wanted. You get very used to feeling minute changes in muscular tension or posture or movement. That same thing applies with the wood. I can feel when the grain in the wood changes. That lets me change where I’m going and move with it and listen to it.”

Woodcarving isn’t the only technique that requires a sort of go-with-the-flow approach; though many artists have found ways to manipulate the electric currents used in electrified wood art, Bohannon believes its best to leave that all up to the current and the wood fibers.

Metal clamps allow the electric current to run through Bohannon’s wood pieces. First, Bohannon floods the wood with a solution before running the current through the wood fibers. Afterwards, he will rinse and lightly scrub the piece to reveal the winding pattern.

“It’s the same with the electrifying. Once I apply the solution and run the electricity, the electricity decides where it wants to go,” he said. “I always flood the entire surface — I want to see where the electricity decides it wants to be. I don’t try to control it. It’s really just letting it do its own thing. Magic happens. It’s like magic every time. It’s amazing, the same with carving bowls.”

There is a bit more risk involved in Bohannon’s main art form these days, however. Bohannon has two machines he uses to electrify his wood pieces. One of those machines operates on 3,000 volts at six milliamps, which Bohannon said is about seven times enough electricity to stop someones heart.

“The only way I use that amp is with wire clamps and I’m from eight to 10 feet away. I give myself some space. I don’t touch the piece when it’s working,” Bohannon explained. “I don’t trust safety switches and safety lights because all those things can fail. My safety switch is the plug being in my hand knowing that it’s unplugged.

“At all times I treat it like a venomous snake and that keeps me safe. Some people don’t do that. There are experienced people who do this that get killed. At any point that you let yourself lapse and you treat it like it’s not the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done, you’re going to get hurt. I teach (guests) my safe method. I tell them this is really dangerous, but we’re going to do this safely and you’re going to create something beautiful.”

Despite the potential danger, Bohannon said what keeps him heading out to his workshop each day is the beauty that is created from the fiery current pulsing through the wood fibers of a picture frame or wooden spoon — that and instilling the sort of satisfaction that comes from working with your hands in each person Bohannon meets.

“It’s never the same. Anytime the current goes into something, it makes something new and beautiful,” he said. “It’s the same with the wood carving. It’s seeing what’s next, seeing what’s going to happen, seeing what each thing turns into. It’s always fun.

“I like getting to share it with people and hearing them say, ‘Oh, I’m going to give this to my husband for his birthday’ or ‘My little boy will think this is really cool.’ I like thinking that people are going to have a piece of my art. Something that I made is going to bring somebody happiness. And that makes me happy.”

Bohannon will be at Jonesborough’s Art in The Park on Saturday, May 11. For more information, you can also visit, or @artisanbowlcarver on Instagram.

‘I am a storyteller’: Guild to celebrate 25th anniversary all year long

Linda Poland

Libby Tipton












Libby Shelton Tipton knows how to tell a story.

“I grew up with deaf parents,” Tipton explained. “So my career has been as a sign language interpreter.”

A Unicoi County native and current resident of Flag Pond, she recognized early on the power of the communicated word.

More importantly, she said, she understood that her Appalachian story was one that needed to be told.

“There was this whole little community that was just plopped down in the middle of the mountains that was so unique,” Tipton said of her childhood home. “I had to be the one to tell my story about my family and that culture of deaf people within Flag Pond.”

Tipton has been a practicing storyteller since 2004, sharing stories not only of her Appalachian home, but also folk tales, fairy tales and historical tales, as well as a special series on domestic violence.

She is also the president of the Jonesborough Storytellers Guild, a regional collection of storytellers that will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

“We consider ourselves the best kept secret in Jonesborough,” Tipton said with a smile.

Often overshadowed by its bigger, flashier cousin – the International Storytelling Center, with whom, Tipton stressed, they have an amazing collaborative relationship — JSG has been quietly fostering the art of storytelling since 1994.

Formed originally as a way of guaranteeing weekly storytelling performances in Jonesborough throughout the year, the guild has grown from seven to 62 members and has also broadened its impact, all the while maintaining its weekly Tuesday night storytelling performance offerings for the community.

According to founding member Linda Poland, the guild now currently does everything from mentoring to outreach.

“We have so many outreach programs,” Poland said. “ At Franklin Woods. The Crumley House.”

The guild also supports upcoming tellers through grant programs and various mentorships.

That doesn’t mean it has always been easy, said Poland, who first came to storytelling by following her photographer father into the Everglades to listen to stories from the Miccosukee Indians.

“We’ve had our bumps, I’m telling you,” she said of the guild. “There have been four different times that the guild was in such a lull.”

But new blood has continued to keep the guild going, she said — that and its ongoing purpose to bring storytelling to the community.

That’s why the guild is so proud to be celebrating 25 years, members say.

Rebecca Alexander

“One of the things we’re doing for the 25th celebration is have tellers come back who have been a part of our guild at some point, but life took them somewhere else,” said Rebecca Alexander, a JSG member, inspirational storyteller and the chair for the 25th anniversary celebration. These performances will be scattered throughout the year, as will the entire celebration.

But members are especially excited about the event planned for May 7. Set on the day of their regularly scheduled Tuesday performances, the day will feature a dinner planned for 5 p.m. at the Historic Eureka Inn for JSG members, both current and former, prior to the 7 p.m. show,

After dinner, Alexander said, everyone will cross the street to the ISC for a special performance by Joseph Sobol, storyteller, music-maker, folklorist and author, who will be back from Wales to share his tales.

Cost for the performance this and every Tuesday is still just $5 for adults and $3 for students.

This week, May 5-11, has also been proclaimed by the Town of Jonesborough as JSG week.

Other upcoming events as part of the 25th anniversary celebration include:

• JSG’s participation in the Jonesborough Days 4th of July Parade

• An anniversary Tellabration on Sunday, Nov. 17,  from 2-4 at the McKinney Center.

Of course for Alexander, Poland and Tipton, the greatest part of the celebration is continuing to be able share stories and to encourage others to recognize the value of their own stories.

For Tipton, this rings true every morning as she looks in the mirror.

“I was interpreting for a class in the summer institute with Elizabeth Ellis,” said Tipton, who refers to Ellis as “the grandmother of storytelling.”

“She has lots of words of wisdom and guidance for up-and-coming storytellers,” Tipton explained.

Tipton, who was alternating with another interpreter at the event, was sitting in the back of the room when Ellis began to share the tale of a  “Tom,” who would get up each morning, look in the mirror and say “I am a musician. What do I want to do about it?”

The story, Tipton said, “was about that confirmation within yourself about what you want to be in your life.”

Ellis then went on to share that she too gets up every morning, looks in the mirror and says, “I am a storyteller. What am I going to do about it?”

“Cold chills just ran all over my body because I realized, yeah, there are lots of amazing storytellers and everyone has a story to tell even if they are not trained. We all have stories and we tell them every day,” Tipton said. “It was then that I realized that people could not tell my story.”

It was, she said, life changing.

“Now when I doubt,” Tipton said, “I look in the mirror and say, ‘I am a storyteller. . .”

For more information about the Jonesborough Storytellers Guild’s 25th Anniversary Celebration, call (423) 956-7868.

It’s back! Storytelling season’s opening act is Willy Claflin

Willy Claflin, a longtime star of the annual National Storytelling Festival, will be the 2019 storytelling season’s first teller in resident.


After a quiet winter in Jonesborough, the International Storytelling Center is throwing open its doors to welcome visitors for a fresh new season of stories.

The organization, which serves as the seat of the storytelling capital of the world, will host more than two dozen world-class performers through the end of October. Each artist will enjoy a weeklong stay in Jonesborough, offering matinee concerts to the public five days a week.

Willy Claflin, a longtime star of the annual National Storytelling Festival, will be the 2019 storytelling season’s first teller in resident. The eclectic teller is a master of many different forms, including gut-busting tall tales, haunting Old World ballads, and Scandinavian folk tales.

Claflin is perhaps best known for his family stories, which frequently feature his beloved character Maynard Moose. The furry brown puppet, which was originally a gift from a neighbor, is the star of the industry veteran’s signature stories.

“The moose kind of has his own magic,” the storyteller said. “Sometimes I find myself thinking about him as though he’s a real person.”

Claflin’s stories are packed with jokes and sophisticated wordplay, but they also have a clever way of turning child’s play into art. “When I was a kid, all my stuffed animals had adventures. I made them all talk,” he said. “In a way, I’m still doing very much what I did when I was seven years old. It’s really strange, but I feel lucky.”

Tickets for Claflin’s concerts are just $12 for adults, and $11 for seniors, students, and anyone under 18. While supplies last, season passes are available with a steep discount off the retail price of regular admission.

Exclusive discounts are available to all ticketholders, who can present their ticket stubs for a 10 percent discount on same-day dining at Main Street Café (lunch only), Olde Towne Pancake House, Texas Burritos & More, Krazy Krepes, Jonesborough Barrel House, The Icing on the Cake (lunch only), and the Corner Cup. You can also save 10 percent on prepared meals and five percent off any other store purchases at Boone Street market.

Claflin’s appearance is part of ISC’s popular Storytelling Live! series, a program designed to make live storytelling more accessible to the region. Throughout the season, matinees run Tuesday through Saturday, with exclusive evening concerts, children’s shows, and workshops also scattered throughout. Claflin’s residency will run from April 30 – May 4, and all ticket sales are first come, first served. Reservations are strongly recommended.

Claflin will be followed by 25 of the nation’s top storytellers, including Barbara McBride-Smith, Bill Harley, and Rev. Robert B. Jones.

The premier sponsor of Storytelling Live! is Ballad Health. Additional program funding comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Niswonger Foundation, Eastman Credit Union, the Mooneyhan Family Foundation, and Food City. Media sponsors include News 5-WCYB, FOX Tri-Cities, Tri-Cities CW, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News, Herald & Tribune, and Cumulus Media.

The International Storytelling Center is open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information about Storytelling Live!, including the full 2019 line-up, or to purchase tickets and season passes, visit or call (800) 952-8392. 

March Madness: Basketball team picture from 1913

Here is a blast from the past! The 1913 Glendale School Basketball Team is shown left to right: 1. Clyde Campbell; 2. Loyal Painter; 3. Elbert Glover; 4. John Martin; 5. Fred Dickerson; 6. Walter Dickerson; 7. Selmer Campbell; 8. ____ Rector; 9. John Bailey; 10. Dan Campbell; 11. Horace Martin; 12. Joe Cochran. This photo along with another 1913 Glendale photo was donated to the Washington County-Jonesborough Library Vertical File Collection by Phyllis Crain.

An artist’s journey: Students embark on ‘plein air’ adventure

Bill Bledsoe and his students spread across the plaza in Germany, trying to capture the Dome (church) at Magdeburg.



Laurel Adkins now knows what it’s like to walk the path her ancestors have trod.

Just a few short weeks ago, Adkins was able to stand upon the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin, artist tools in hand, as she walked along the area where her great-uncle, Francis Gary Powers, was swapped in the famous spy exchange of 1962.

On the famous bridge in Berlin where the 1962 “transfer of spies” occured with Francis Gary Powell, his great-niece and artist, Laurel Adkins, center, stands with fellow Tusculum students, from left to right, T.J. Minton, R.J. Brooks, Claudia Montes de Oca and Kaitlin Irvin.

“That was my initial goal,” said Adkins, a David Crockett High School graduate and Tusculum art major who recently was able to visit Germany as part of Tusculum’s plein air art seminar. “I got to go to the bridge. I got to cross it and see the plaque where they had the transfer.”

“You can sense the history here.”

It was a history Adkins had often heard about through family stories. Frances Gary Powers, her beloved grandmother’s brother, had been shot down over Russia in 1960, imprisoned, tried and convicted of espionage and then released through a prisoner exchange with the Soviet Union.

“I felt very honored and very privileged,” she said.

But as an artist, she also got the privilege to capture the scene.

It was an eye-opening experience that didn’t belong to Adkins alone; Five students in all were able to attend the seminar, led by Jonesborough’s own local artist and now Tusculum University assistant professor, Bill Bledsoe. 

Bledsoe believes that in one way or another, this relatively short trip to Germany changed each of these students’ lives.

Laurel Adkins’ The Dome at Magdeburg, done with color wash.

“They are like different people now,” he said of the three young women and two young men who were able to travel to Germany during spring break to practice plein air art. “It’s French for outside,” Bledsoe said, explaining the process.

While students can work in plein air art anywhere, he knew traveling to Europe would make a key difference.

“From a college professor’s perspective, what we want to do is pull them out of their bubble,” he said. “And when I take them outside to the campus (to paint), they say, ‘I see that all the time.’

“When you take them out of the bubble and you go to this other place, when they come back they see everything differently. It opens their eyes and it changes everything.”

Kaitlin Irvin’s Brandonburg Gate, with burnt umber wash.

The college and Bledsoe chose Germany in part due to the influence of Harold Morgan, an associate out of Pennsylvania who Bledsoe said is currently working to develop an artist’s institute in Germany. Morgan could not only speak German fluently, but was also an adept guide as Bledsoe and the students explored Dresden, Magdeburg and Berlin.

“We started painting at 7 a.m. in the morning and did not get back to our hotel until 9:30 or 10 in the evening,” Bledsoe said.

“We practiced before we went over there. They had to be able to hold their canvas in their laps with this hand, and have their palate of paint. They had to fit everything they needed in their backpacks.”

Bledsoe said he would stop and say, “‘OK, break it out.’ They just sat out there and they painted and they drew.”

Dutch Station by Claudia Montes de Oca

For students like Kaitlyn Irvin, who lives in Fall Branch, it was also a chance to stretch her own talents for the future. Irvin plans to go into advertising and/or animation, but strongly believes something on which Bledsoe is adamant.

“In Tusculum, we emphasize that regardless of what their specific directive is, they have to be able to paint and draw,” he said, stressing that this is a requirement for anyone who wishes to be an artist, no matter what form that art may take.

“This taught us how to do some artwork in the elements, which I had never done before,” Irwin said. “It was just a great overall experience.”

She said she feels stronger as a developing artist.

“It taught me to always be prepared for anything,” Irvin added. “And that a little bit can go a long way.”

And she was delighted with her first taste of schnitzel.

Irvin is also extremely proud of her artwork and those of her fellow travelers — artwork that will be on display at a special free event to be held Thursday, April 11, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Shulman Center’s Clem Allison Gallery at Tusculum.

For Adkins, this is still a story about family, even as the work from the trip is unveiled Thursday.

“Art is my passion,” Adkins admitted. “It runs in my family.”

Yet it was the memory of standing on that bridge that may stay with her the longest.

Bledsoe remembers the moment with clarity as well. “We went onto that bridge in Berlin where they did the exchange,” he recalled. “We all drew it and painted it. Laurel then brought a poem for her great uncle and inserted it into the rock wall that supports the bridge.”

The poem was written by one great-uncle to another, and Adkins wanted to share it.

“It was amazing to be able to come back to such an important part of my family history,” she said. “I never met Francis. He died in the ‘70s but it kind of felt like he was there.”

For more information about Thursday’s show, please call Bledsoe at (423) 636-7300, ext. 5142.

Woodcarver works to preserve history

Woodcarver Joe Pilkenton shares his stories with audience at the BCHT event.


Associate Editor

People have forgotten history,” Joe Pilkenton said as he began his presentation to the Boones Creek Historical Trust during their March meeting at the Boones Creek Christian Church Chapel. The sculptor and woodcarver of figures of Daniel Boone set up an artist’s display to illustrate to the 40 people present the meaning of his statement.

“When I talk to an audience, I will be asked about my carvings, questions such as ‘Why does that man have a gun or knife?’ ”  Pilkenton said “There is a right way to talk to children about firearms,” he continued. “Fear is one of the worst things you can have in life – especially with firearms.”   

Coming from the coalfields of Southwest Virginia and reared at the head of “Boggs Holler,” the carver said, “I hunted for food, squirrels and rabbits. People today don’t know how to dig to make a living.  How many of them know how to clean a chicken?”

The men the audience was asking about were heroes like David Crockett and Daniel Boone, according to Pilkenton.  He admits that with early memories of coalminers, farmers and moonshiners, “These were not what I wanted to do for a living. Daydreaming and drawing was a different story.”

Before taking up his present pursuits, the artists enjoyed a long and successful career in the graphics design and illustration field.  The personal computer enabled him to discover that it is “Amazing the stuff you can create with the right tools in hand.”

That imagination has carried over into Pilkenton’s current creative work. Growing up in the “Holler,” where roads were so ruddy you had to walk or ride a mule to travel, he learned to whittle from his grandfather. “I watched; he always had something in his hands.  Then I started whittling – Cowboys, Indians and found a rock I could sit on and ride all day as if it was a horse.”

Dressed in a cowboy outfit, including a hat and a coat, today’s master carver started drawing. He said, “I learned how to draw.  I filled books, even napkins with drawings.” 

Today, Pilkenton said, “I still act if I was a child. Now I teach carving to both children and adults.” He started his present carving at night after a day filled with graphic design.  “I was tired,” he said “and it was a release from the stress of the day. 

Describing himself as a “self-taught sculptor, wood carver, illustrator, painter and semi-retired creative director in a Field of Dreams,” he is the owner of Painted Horse Studio in Kingsport.  The studio has been his place of business some 40 years – 1979 to the present day.

His projects have included work on the Kingsport Carousel, a community project that includes 32 wooden riding animals and two chariots, 24 founding boards depicting notable sites within the city and 24 hand-carved “sweep” animals around the top.  Each animal took 800 to 1,000 hours to carve and paint.

Pilkenton carved a white buffalo for the Carousel that weighed 760 pounds.  “I’d never done anything this size,” he said.   He also carved a pinto that is the lead horse of the carousel.

Of the project, Pilkenton stated, “You would be surprised what people can do.” He invited members at the Boones Creek Historical Trust to come to his studio and view the carousel.  He noted that “so many members of the older generation want to ride the carousel.  It is the most fun.  You will not leave without a smile.”

He views as part of his “functions” in life is to help carvers.  He said, “I would start teaching about shadows.  Learning to see a shadow is how to see how carving is done.”

He donated a Boone sculptor to Kingsport that is 14 to 15 feet long with a water feature.

“I’ve found my niche in the entertainment business,” Pilkenton said of his travels to talk and tell people about his occupation of sculptor and carving. He also was a photographer for many years.  Of his talents, he tells people, “Look through the artist’s eyes and you will see things that you have never seen before.  If you stay long enough and look, life is wonderful.”

He suggested, “Look at children playing and look at the trees. I’m a visual storyteller.  I don’t write books.  Art is a different thing.  You look at the detail.  When I start a piece, it is in my head.  I do a sketch and I do research.”

By way of explaining what he does currently, the artist said, “I now have spent a lot of time getting people to think creatively.  I’m worn many hats over the years.  The Hat I wear now reminds me where I came from… where I’ve been and what it took to get me where I am today.  It fits the best!”

The March Historic Trust Meeting featured the “First Homemade Chili Supper” with seven different soups.  An upcoming event of the organization is their 2019 Fundraiser, a Barbeque Supper on May 10 from 4 – 8 p.m. at the Boones Creek Christian Church. 

For details about the Trust and the Dinner, telephone (423) 461-0151.

‘Working on the railroad’: Exhibit spotlights the tools of the trade

The Chuckey Depot in Jonesborough continues to take visitors on a never-ending tour of local railroad history.


Associate Editor

America’s fascination with “working on the railroad” is getting a new look at Jonesborough’s Chuckey Depot.

An exhibit titled “Working On the Railroad” is now on display, showcasing a variety of tools used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to provide maintenance to the nation’s vital transportation system.

On a recent afternoon, Docent Rick Chinouth from Telford said of the exhibit that has been open to the public since Thursday, Feb. 7, “The response to the exhibit has been very positive.”

The largest and the most eye catching artifact in the display is a motor car, also called a speeder. In order to assist in both traveling and transporting equipment, many railroads originally developed handcars which were operated by section crews and other employees. By the early 1900s, many manufacturers of handcars began using gasoline engines to power the vehicles instead of the workers.

These vehicles became known as “speeders” due to their relative speed advantage over the older handcars — 25 to 30 mph versus 10 mph.

The vehicles also allowed workers to save their energy until they were at the actual worksite.

The speeders were eventually replaced with automobiles or trucks affixed with rail wheels which could be lowered onto the track.

The speeder in the Chuckey exhibit was originally located in a maintenance shed of the Norfolk & Western Railroad in Princeton, West Virginia. The N&W is now part of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad which runs through Jonesborough.

The speeder belongs to the Watauga Valley Railroad Museum.

Terry Worley, a Watauga Valley member, restored the car several years ago.

“We’re not sure where the motor car will end up after the exhibit ends in July,” Worley said.

In the meantime, however, “The kids (who visit the Chuckey Depot) love to sit in the motor car.”

In addition to young people including schools groups, adults also enjoy sitting in the railroad vehicle. The car contains a sign that reads, “The Speeder Car is here for your enjoyment. Please feel free to climb inside, but do so at your own risk.”

Jack Maloney from Telford, a docent at the Telford Depot, said,

“The kids love to sit in the seat of the motor car.”

Other activities children enjoy are getting a number of kids to stand on the depot’s freight scale to be  weighed. “The scale [restored to operating condition] is accurate to within three pounds,” he said. “The children also have fun playing ‘Red Light,  Green Light’ with the railroad crossing signal.”

This is the second special exhibit at the Chuckey Depot Museum. A large number of tools were loaned for the exhibit by George Holley, who for many years, along with his wife Margaret, operated the Knob Creek Historical Museum.

“We get a lot of retired railroad employees,” said Jacob Simpson of the Heritage Alliance staff when asked who visits the museum. He added, “We did research on maintenance on the railroad (in preparing the exhibit).”

A railroad tour conducted by Heritage Alliance guides can include a visit to the Chuckey Depot. Special arrangements should be made through the Alliance so that the visit can be scheduled in advance.

Co-sponsor of the exhibit is the Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum (WVRHS&M), a group whose volunteers staff the museum on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. and on Saturday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Mike Tilley, the president of the WVRHS&M, was present during the afternoon and interested in explaining the depot’s new web cam.

Tilley said, “The cameras are really popular. One visitor told me: ‘I’m from Portland, Oregon and watched the web cameras in Jonesborough. We saw your place on the web cam. I’m moving to Jonesborough.”

The cameras have had 119,694 views since they were installed at the Depot on May 28, 2018. This live stream on Virtual Railfan permits watching trains pass the depot in both directions. The operation is sponsored by the Town of Jonesborough and the Watauga Valley Chapter (WATX) of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS).

By way of an introduction to the exhibit, visitors are reminded: “I’ve been working on the railroad, All the live-long day…”

A following text then reads:” Most of us are familiar with this American folksong. First published as the ‘Levee Song’ in 1894, the lyrics described a slice of American life. The railroad was an important part of the country, and it needed constant work to keep it operating. Railroad maintenance is hard, dangerous work. Lives depend on tracks that can fully support the weight of the train and cars that can speed along the rail without breaking an axel.”

The exhibit panels go on to explain that displayed are the tools that helped keep trains running in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Included are photographs of the railroad women of Work War II. With men being shipped off to fight overseas, women were hired to work on the railroads. By the beginning of 1944, there were some 116,000 women railroad workers.

There are numerous questions about railroads that the docents and exhibits answer about railroading. For example: How much does a train car weigh?

The answer is: An Amtrak car weighs about 65 tons. One Amtrak train with six cars and one locomotive weighs about 540 tons, or 1.08 million pounds.

A second example is about the heaviest and longest train in United States History. It operated on Nov. 15, 1967 with 500 loaded coal cars weighing over 48,000 tons.

Visitors can visit the exhibit at the Chuckey Depot during museum hours from 1 until 5 p.m. on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sundays. Hours on Saturday are from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Heading to Houston: David Crockett Robotics team advances to world competition

The David Crockett High School Robotics Team clinched a spot at the world championship after placing at the Palmetto Regional in South Carolina. Now the team looks to raise funds to go the Houston Texas for the big showdown.


The David Crockett Robotics Team is headed to Houston.

The Rat Rod Robotics Team 5022 qualified for a world championship competition after placing at the Palmetto Regional FIRST Robotics Competition in South Carolina.

The group teamed up with other teams in the regional competition to clinch a spot in the Houston competition.

Now, the team will be heading to the FIRST World Championship in Houston Texas April 17.

The team will be competing with and against robots from 70 countries.

So far, John Deere has paid the team’s event fee of $5,000. The team’s preliminary cost is around $14,000 to send 20 students and five chaperons to the competition.

The team has been conducting fundraisers for the trip. To see updates and to donate to the team, visit

Alliance to offer spring homeschool options

Homeschool kids will get a chance to ‘step back in time.’


The Heritage Alliance is excited to offer two days for homeschool students this spring. On Wednesday, April 10, the Alliance will host its third Homeschool Day. History-and heritage-based activities are planned from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. that day and will offer a wide variety of experiences for multiple ages.

Students from first grade through senior year of high school are encouraged to come and experience history with their families in Tennessee’s Oldest Town.

Activities include Town Tours, an Old Jonesborough Cemetery Tour, and hands-on activities with artifacts in the Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum. In addition, students can explore primary sources at the Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum, learn all about the railroad at the Chuckey Depot Museum, and listen to a Storyteller. Oak Hill School will be open for mini-lessons on Homeschool Day, but students will have a chance to participate in a full day at Oak Hill School on Friday, May 10.   

Oak Hill School was built in 1886 to serve the community of Knob Creek. The building served local residents until it was closed in the 1950s. The school building was moved the seven miles from Knob Creek to Jonesborough and placed in its current location behind the Visitors Center. Today, Oak Hill School invites students to come for a day-long field trip and enroll in school in 1893. Reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography – even the pledge of allegiance – are all as they were prior to the turn of the last century. 

School will last from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 10. This program is limited to 26 students, grades first through twelfth graders.

Registration is now open for Homeschool Day (April 10) and the day at Oak Hill School (May 10) at The cost is $7 per student for Homeschool Day and $5 per student for the day at Oak Hill School. Students must register for both days in advance. We cannot accept registration the day of the event.

The Heritage Alliance is dedicated to the preservation of the architectural, historical, and cultural heritage of our region and to providing educational experiences related to history and heritage for a wide range of audiences.  For more information, please call our office at (423)753-9580, or contact the organization via email at Additional information can also be found online at

Jonesborough History, Part II: The Watauga Association

A portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart Williamstown


As the settlers were in Indian country, they could not be governed by either Virginia or North Carolina. Therefore, in 1772, representatives from these four settlements [Watauga River; Bristol, then called Sapling Grove; Carter’s Valley & Nolichucky River] held a meeting and entered into an agreement called the Watauga Association. It was intended to provide a government. A group of five men were chosen to govern the settlements. A sheriff and a clerk were also chosen. This was the first organized government west of the Appalachian Mountains and the first independent government organized by men born in what was later to be the United States.

There was a great deal of trouble from attacks by the Cherokee Indians. A treaty was finally made in 1775 when Richard Henderson’s Land Company bought a large tract of land from the Indians at Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River.

Considering themselves to be outside the bounds of both Virginia and North Carolina, the Wataugans organized themselves into Washington District in 1775. This was the first political subdivision named for George Washington. During Indian attacks, they petitioned North Carolina to make them a part of that colony. (It was not a state until the following year.)


This North Carolina did, and, in 1777, all of the Tennessee country became Washington County, North Carolina. Willie Jones of Halifax, North Carolina, urged the North Carolina legislature to pass the necessary laws to establish the county. For this reason, the county seat was named Jonesborough in his honor. An interesting note is that John Paul Jones of Revolutionary War fame got his last name from this same Willie Jones who had befriended him.

The act establishing Washington County appointed seven prominent citizens to “lay off and appoint the place where the courthouse, prison, and the stocks for the said Court of Washington shall be built, and then to erect or cause the same to be erected;” for defraying the expense of said buildings, “that a tax of two shillings sixpence per hundred pounds be laid on all” and that “the Commissioners appointed are hereby empowered to employ workmen to build the courthouse, prison, and stocks and immediately after the same be built shall stand adjourned to the courthouse.”

A controversy arose over which settlement, Watauga or Nolichucky, would be the county seat. After quite an argument, it was decided to select a site midway between the two. The county seat was to be on Little Limestone Creek, equally distant between the two settlements, the exact site being determined by a great number of free-running springs, assuring an abundant water supply for the town.

Ramsey, in his Annuals of Tennessee History, tells that the courthouse “was built of round logs, fresh from the adjacent forest. Was covered in the fashion of the cabins of the pioneers, with clapboards.” The first courthouse was built in the middle of Main Street and evidently stayed there until a second one was built four years later. Foundation logs and a cornerstone of the first courthouse were unearthed when ditching for sewers in 1930. These have been preserved by Mr. Paul Fink.


As the town was certain to grow at the site, the founding fathers took steps to see it would not be a haphazard cluster of rude cabins. In 1778, a tract of 100 acres was secured, a part of a 600 acre grand to David Hughes. It was evidently purchased by the commissioners, but there is no record of a deed having been made by Hughes, the cost or by whom paid. It is known that when Hughes sold the remaining 500 acres to James Allison in 1783, he excepted “one hundred acres as the same is now laid off for the use of the Town of Jonesborough.”

Major Jesse Walton was sent to Tennessee Country to fight the Cherokee Indians. In 1777 Walton bought a plantation in the neighborhood of Fort Williams on the Nolichucky River, not far above the early settlement of Jacob Brown. In November 1778, Walton was on a committee “appointed to lay off the place for erecting courthouse and stocks.” He introduced the bill to lay out a town in Washington County. The act named Walton, John Woods, George Russell, James Stuart and Benjamin Clark as Commissioners “to lay out and direct the building in said town and to cause to be made a fair plan of said town.”

The survey of the town site was made by John Gilliland who was paid $1,115.00 in part for his services in laying out the town. Records in the Registrar’s Office at Jonesboro show that Jesse Walton was the leading spirit and an active commissioner.

The act of the North Carolina assembly provided that a plot of ground sufficient for public building be set aside, that 50 other lots of 1 acre each be laid off, with necessary streets, and that the balance would be commons for the use of the town.


This done, subscriptions for the lots were to be taken at a price of $75.00 each. When all were subscribed for, they were to be awarded by ballot. The commissioners were to give titles for the lots drawn, and each grantee was required within three years to build thereon “one brick, stone or well-framed house, 26 feet long and 16 feet wide, and at least 10 feet in the pitch, with a brick or stone chimney” under penalty of forfeiting the lot.

The act calling for “well-framed houses” was evidently made by someone who did not realize that sawmills to cut timbers for “well-framed houses” were in short supply on the frontier, if existing at all. This error was remedied by an act of the legislature of the Southwest Territory in 1794, which amended this requirement to read “well-framed, square-logged, brick or stone houses.”

(To Be Continued in Part III, Town First Planned Community)

Meeting since 1898: Schubert Club continues legacy


Associate Editor

The Schubert Club was organized in Jonesborough in 1898.

“We have inherited a rich legacy, and we honor the traditions of past years while embracing the present and looking toward the future,” said 94-year-old Doris Dean, a member for more than 30 years. 

Dean is now the club’s Custodian of Records. An upcoming project is to digitize the Schubert Club’s 121 years of records, which are currently in proper archival storage at the Washington County/Jonesborough Library. Member Kathy Mays has completed much of this work.

The library has had a special place in the club’s history. Former Club Historian Audrey Kaiman explained the relationship in the “History of Washington County” (2001, Washington County Historical Society): “One of the Schubert Club’s first projects was supporting the town library, which had been started in 1896 by the local group of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Joining with the WCTU, but soon taking over the entire responsibility, the club helped in fundraising, buying books, providing rooms for the library, even physically moving books and shelves when the library had to move from one building to another, working at the desk, and seeing to it that the library was open regular hours.”

“We have always supported the library,” said Virginia Kennedy, who joined the group in 1985. She and her husband, William Kennedy, moved to Tennessee’s oldest town in 1973.  She stated that at the beginning, the library was located in the upper floors of various store buildings downtown, then at the Banking & Trust Building on Main Street, next at the new Jonesborough High School in 1926, and from 1950 until 1984 at the Chester Inn.

“Two Schubert members, Betsy Cooke and Margaret Henry, were the paid librarians,” she added.

Many members worked at the library, and librarian was an office of the club at one time. Since 1984, the library has been housed in a separate building at 200 Sabin Drive. At least three members of the club have served on the Board of Trustees of the Library and others have been active in The Friends of the Library.

Explaining the club’s origins and purpose, Kennedy said, “Afternoon teas were social events when the club was formed. The group was composed of young, mainly unmarried women who valued education and many of whom were musical. These were women who could put on musicals and plays to which they invited their friends, at a time when there was not a lot to do socially in Jonesborough.”

The club was affiliated with the Federation of Music Clubs from 1923 to 1961, and members performed music at every meeting. Until 1962, the club met twice a month, on Saturdays, permitting members who had jobs, such as teaching or clerical work, to attend.

Kennedy said early club meetings included several papers written by members along with one or more musical selections. 

“Our archive has a number of these papers,” she said. Today, a new member must present at her initiation a paper of her own research, give a talk, or perform a musical selection. The Schubert Club now meets once a month on the first Saturday of the month. The club does not meet during the months of January, February and July.

In order to accomplish the club’s purpose, soon after its formation, the women shifted the emphasis from being a purely social club to being actively and socially aware in the community.  A year after the birth of the Schubert Club on Oct. 4, 1898, they joined the Tennessee Federation of Women’s Clubs. A 1902 yearbook of the Federation lists 31 clubs in the state belonging to the organization. Later, in 1923, the club joined the national General Federation of Women’s Clubs to strengthen its commitment to be concerned in civic affairs.

In connection with the Federation, the following is a partial list of issues to which the group petitioned state and national legislators: 1903, protection of the state’s song birds; 1909, passage of a compulsory education law; 1913, petition regarding unjust laws about women; 1915, support of accurate weight and measurements; 1925, National Child Labor Law; 1927, renewed appropriations for maternal and infant care; 1930, reduction of the tariff on rayon; 1930, urged support of the World Court; 1931, wearing cotton to improve the economy of the South; 1942, condemnation of the banning of recorded music; 1950, protestation of the abduction of 28,000 Greek children by Russia, and 1956; repeal of the cabaret tax on artists.

In 1989, the group dropped its affiliation with the GFWC. Then beginning in 1997, they joined with the town’s Tuesday Garden Club, organized in 1928, in co-sponsoring a garden tour. 

The event, now called The Garden Gala, takes place on the first Saturday in June and includes a garden tea. The two clubs take turns in providing leadership for the Gala. Proceeds provide major funding for the Schubert Club and the Tuesday Garden Club to support local causes and town beautification. 

Both clubs use a large part of the funds raised to benefit the Washington County / Jonesborough Library. Other organizations receiving Schubert Club funds have included the JAMA Food Pantry, Jonesborough Repertory Theater, Senior Center, McKinney Center and the trees for the Visitors Center’s exhibit during the Christmas Holiday. In 2018, the Schubert Club donated more than $3,400 to various organizations.

Past club projects and concerns have included beautifying and cleaning up the town, asking the mayor to finish the driveway to the cemetery, objection to expectoration on the sidewalks, protesting a pool room in town because “minors are using it,” purchase of a grand piano for the schools, holding a number of teas and showers to benefit home economic classes in school, purchasing new school desks for second graders, asking the highway department to route the road from Johnson City to Limestone through Jonesborough, urging that a road be built from Bristol to the Great Smoky Mountain Park, supplying a huge birthday cake with 150 candles for the town’s Sesquicentennial Celebration, endorsing local school building programs, donating money for school band uniforms and petitioning the town board to allow only small children to participate in “trick or treat” at Halloween.

Current officers of the Schubert Club are Marcy Hawley, President; Virginia (Sissy) Mattie, 1st Vice-President; Pamela Pope, 2nd Vice-president; Joletta Woodward, Treasurer; Kathy Mays, Recording Secretary; Katy Rosolowski, Corresponding Secretary; Doris Dean, Custodian of  Records. The club has three membership classifications:  Active, Associate and Honorary. 

“The object of the club shall be to bring together women interested in fine arts, music, literature, and civic and international affairs with a view of rendering themselves more helpful and useful to society,” Kennedy quoted from the club’s constitution.

Dean, Kaiman and Kennedy explained the reason the club limits membership to 35 women. It is not to be exclusive, but rather that members of the Schubert Club are committed to meeting in homes. The group’s size permits using members’ houses while a larger group would require utilizing public venues in the community.   

There was a time when meeting at locations outside private residences was attempted and attendance during these occasions declined.     

“We still have programs,” Kennedy continued.“Several members serving as hostesses provide refreshments, which can be somewhat simple or more elaborate.” 

Kennedy has for a number of years hosted the December meeting at her home. She likes to serve what she describes as a “Victorian tea” with sandwiches, cookies, fresh fruit and savory items. Other festive offerings have included a “Bouche de Noel” or Yule Log, an elaborate chocolate-filled, rolled chocolate sponge cake;  an English trifle; and “Victoria Sandwich Cake.” Kennedy customarily bakes Stollen, sweet yeast-raised German bread containing fruits and nuts. At one December meeting featuring Christmas musical traditions, a vocalist portrayed  St. Lucia, in true Swedish tradition, wearing a crown of candles on her head and carrying a tray of pastries. 

Among Historian Dean’s memories are teas that were “hat and gloves meetings.”  She has several colleagues in the Club’s 90-plus age group. Betty Neeley  is 94 and Mary Nelle Roberson is also 93 years of age. Roberson has been a member since 1960.

“We always had a project,” Dean said. Her current project is organizing the Schubert Club Records.

“I was in charge of the 100th Anniversary of the Club’s celebration at the Visitors Center. The club was 120 years old in 2018. We are going to wait until our 125th year to have another celebration,” she said. The 100th Anniversary Celebration in 1998 when Neeley was President included  papers about past club activities, a singing group, and a costume exhibit. Dean, Roberson, and Neeley have all held the office of president in the club.  At least 3 members have been active in town government: Grace Haws and Tobie Bledsoe held the office of mayor and  Charlotte Lavender was an alderman.  Recently Rachel Conger was the town’s Parks and Recreation Director.

The membership still has a ‘hat and glove’ meeting, usually in March, but these days the meetings are more relaxed. There is not as much dressing up. Since the 1960s, the organization has invited outside speakers to present programs.   

“But we still encourage members to present programs,” Kennedy said.    

Finally, in assessing the benefits of her membership in the Schubert Club, she said, “The friendships with members are a part of what is so special about the Schubert Club. It’s just a lovely, interesting group of women. We honor our past and traditions and celebrate them, not only on special occasions, but in the many ways we as women today continue to fulfill the club’s purpose.”

Research reveals true Jonesborough hero

Buffalo soldiers played a key role in historical battles.


Military Historian

Alfred Martin Ray was born to a slave (Jennie Rhea) along with a twin brother (John) on Doctor Joseph S. Rhea’s Farm in Jonesborough on *16 May 1856.  Having been raised a slave until being freed after the War Between the States, he led a typical slave’s life, but it’s believed he received some formal education from the household.  After the war ended and freedom came, he stayed here and tried to make a living, but something more was calling when he ran into an Army recruiter in Jonesborough.

Alfred enlisted in the United States Army on 17 May 1872 and was assigned to the famous and hardened Indian fighters of the Wild West. As a Buffalo Soldier with the United States 10th Cavalry Regiment stationed at Fort Concho, Texas, he fought in the Indian Wars, guarded stagecoach routes, helped install telegraph lines and protected our borders and towns from Mexican bandits. Alfred, while improving his reading and writing abilities, moved up the ranks to Sergeant. 

Alfred Martin Ray is honored by this historical sign set in downtown Jonesborough.

The year 1885 finds Alfred stationed at Fort Grant, Arizona and later in 1890 at Fort Assiniboine, Montana. Early in 1898, he and the entire 10th Calvary were moved to Florida to take part in the Spanish-American War. They were met there by three other U.S. Army black units: the 9th Cavalry, the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. These four units were designated “The Immune Regiments” due to the U.S. Government believing black soldiers would be immune to tropical diseases.  Movement orders soon came and in June they sailed for Cuba.

Upon arriving Cuba and disembarking at Daiquiri, after a couple of other failed landing attempts, action started quickly and the 10th lost two troopers. While departing the ship, they fell overboard and after several attempts to save them, they drown, becoming the first of many more casualties to come for the 10th.  Alfred, being the Regimental Color Sergeant for “F” Troop, saw action at the Battle of Las Guasimas on 24 June, but the biggest and bloodiest engagement came a week later on 1 July near the town of Santiago.   

Alfred, along with his troop, were standing waist deep in the San Juan River awaiting orders to move on the San Juan Heights. The heights are made up of two hills, San Juan and Kettle.  Kettle was so named by the Rough Riders who found an old rusted out kettle at its base. Both hills were well fortified with Spanish troops, machine guns and artillery with German advisors. Once the order was given, “Forward Skirmishers, Guide Left March,” they advanced to join the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry “The Rough Riders” and at a range of 100 yards a Gatling Gun detachment started giving them cover fire, “F” Troop gave a great war cry and the charge up Kettle Hill and the Battle of the San Juan Heights for them began. 

As they ascended the heights, Teddy Roosevelt and the “Rough Riders” intermixed with those of the 3rd, 6th, 9th and 10th Cavalry. With many of the 10th’s white officers either killed or wounded, Sergeant Ray, along with the other noncommissioned officers, rallied the troops and continued to lead the attack.  Sergeant Ray in the lead, carried the American Flag up the hill through a hail of rifle, machine gun and artillery fire to be the first American to plant our flag on the San Juan Heights. For his heroic courage and gallantry in action, he received a battlefield promotion to First Lieutenant, making him the first Buffalo Soldier to come up through the ranks to achieve officer status.  Alfred’s official commission came on 18 August 1898 after arriving back to Fort Assiniboine. After being mustered out on 8 March 1899, he joined Company L, 49th Infantry Regiment as a Second Lieutenant and continued to serve our nation in the Philippine-American War / Insurrection and retired from active service on 7 April 1903, after 31 years of almost continuous combat.

Alfred moved back to Jonesborough, purchased property and built a house with his savings on the corner of Woodrow and Second Avenue. He married Etta Smith of Jonesborough and they had four children (Alfred Jr and Margaret Ophelia), two died at or near birth.  Alfred died on 11 July 1917 at 11:30 a.m. in Jonesborough and is interred at College Hill Cemetery along with three fellow Buffalo Soldiers.  His Tennessee Historical Marker sets on the corner of Depot Street and Second Avenue. 

Alfred, Thank You and Job Well Done, Trooper!  As a Rough Rider said after the battle of San Juan Heights, “you men from the 10th can drink from my canteen anytime.”  It has been an honor getting to know you and here’s a big salute to you, a great American, Tennessean and a true hero of Jonesborough.  Nothing Is Ever Truly Forgotten…We remember!!!   


1   Spanish American War Centennial website.; 10th Cavalry Unit History and Troop Rosters

2   History of Washington County TN 1988.  Watauga Association of Genealogists,  Walsworth Press 1988, L.C. #88-51330

3   The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture website,   Spanish-American War

4   Tennessee Historical Marker.  Depot Street and Second Avenue, Jonesborough TN

5   James Brooks.  Johnson City Press.  Article “Buffalo Soldier spent much of his life in       Jonesborough”  17 May 2004

6   On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldier II: New and Revised Biographies of African Americans in the U.S. Army, 1866-1917.  Irene & Frank N. Schubert, The Scarecrow Press, Inc.  27 September 2004.  ISBN: 0842050795   

7   Alfred Greenlee.  Oral history.  23 May & 12 June 2008    

*  Seven different dates for birth:

1   circa 1849 (TN Historical marker)

2   16 May 1856 (On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldier II)

3   1867 (Gravestone)

4   Also, 1860 to 1910 censuses and military enlistment shows dates of birth as 1846,

     1848, 1852 and 1866  

Yarn Exchange to honor Black History Month

The Yarn Exchange is back with its celebration show about “unsung heroes” to honor Black History Month. The show will feature stories about local leaders throughout the region’s history and helped shape the future of Washington County.


On Monday, Feb. 25, the Yarn Exchange Radio Show will bring stories of Washington County’s “unsung heroes” to the stage in a performance that commemorates Black History Month. This story-based programs brings to life the true stories of real people from the region, and this month explores those pioneers who stood on the precipice of change.

Some of these pioneers include John Russaw, the first African American football player at East Tennessee State University, whose story is also featured in the upcoming play, The Long Trip Home. J.C. Cousins, an African American businessman who ran for office in Jonesborough just a few years after the end of the Civil War. He lost the election, but began a political trajectory that would take eighty years to fulfill, when Ernest McKinney became the first African American elected as an Alderman in 1968.

The McKinney Center also shares more of their monthly alumni stories and mysteries, offering audience members a chance to identify students in historic photos.

Two special guests will join the cast this month. Renowned poet, Langley Shazor, will perform several of his pieces at this month’s production.

Musical guests “We Four” from Bethel Church will bring their dynamic vocal performances to the stage, singing several Gospel numbers.

Tickets for this performance, held at the International Storytelling Center on Monday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. are only $5. They are available by calling (423)753-1010 or online at The Yarn Exchange Radio Show is a StoryTown production, sponsored in part by the Tennessee Arts Commission and Ballad Health.

Namaste y’all

Kiran Singh Sirah

Contributed by JEFF RUBY, Photography by IAN CURCIO

Editor’s Note: This story is reprinted with permission from The Rotarian, Feb. 2019 publication.

In August 2017, a small group of white supremacists planned to stage a Confederate rally in Knoxville, Tennessee. It had been two weeks since violence erupted at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and people’s anger had not cooled.

When Kiran Singh Sirah checked his Facebook feed, he found much boasting about going to the rally to “beat up Nazis.” Unimpressed, he posted a long and persuasive comment urging a different kind of action. “Channel that anger and figure out your own best alternative-non-violent means, skill set, talent to contribute to a better world,” he wrote. “Activism also means writing, telling or collecting stories, mobilizing, working on policy, offering a service, writing a letter, getting educated, educating oneself, being part of a community garden.”

In the blustery, knee-jerk world of Facebook, this proposal sounded a lot less sexy. It also sounded like a lot more work. One commenter snapped, “Well, if you don’t want to go, we’ll fight your fight for you.”

Sirah, who has 26 stitches on his face from multiple attacks during his childhood in southern England — the earliest at age five when a neo-Nazi knocked him from his bike — did not much care for that response. “I can defend myself,” he told the commenter. “And if you’re willing to take an oath of non-violence, I will stand on the frontline with you. Even if they beat you up, I will join you.” His words did not appear to sway anyone.

A few days later, Sirah made the 107-mile trek from his home in Johnson City, Tennessee, to Knoxville. But while 3,000 protesters amassed to counter a group of roughly 35 nationalists at a Confederate memorial, Sirah attended an alternative interfaith rally that celebrated diversity.

“It was a great event,” he said, “the perfect response to the other rally,” at which, it turns out, there was not a single act of violence. “At the very least, you’ve got to know you’ve done the right thing yourself.”

Ask Kiran Singh Sirah how he’s doing, and he will tell you. Honestly. Deeply. Lengthily. Every human interaction is a sacred thing to him, a chance to know another person on this earth. To hear their story. And his insatiable curiosity draws people in. “Kiran doesn’t do small talk,” says one friend. “He comes up to you and says, ‘How’s your soul?’ And he really wants to know.”

As president of the nonprofit International Storytelling Center in the small Appalachian town of Jonesborough, Tennessee, Sirah, 42, is constantly talking. Whether at the Library of Congress, at the Kennedy Center, or in a bar over a couple of beers, the goal is always the same: to get people to listen, not necessarily to him, but to one another. Because in Sirah’s world, listening — really, honestly listening — leads to understanding, understanding leads to connection, and connection leads to peace. “Storytelling is not meant to be a sound bite,” he says. “It’s not 140 characters. It’s about filling the completeness of who we were and what we can be, and it can help us to change the world.”

When Sirah talks about storytelling, he doesn’t just mean Grandma spinning yarns from her rocking chair. Nor is it necessarily the open mics, slam poetry competitions, and slew of spoken-word podcasts. It’s all of the above and everything else. To Sirah, storytelling encompasses everything about who we are, what we believe, where we’ve been, and where we want to go.

Take Sirah’s story. The son of a Kenyan-born mother and an Indian-born father, he grew up in the coastal town of Eastbourne, England, where his family landed after being forced at gunpoint to flee their home in Uganda. As a member of the only Sikh family in Eastbourne, Sirah immersed himself in the cultures of other religions. His mother — who took him to synagogues, mosques, and churches of all denominations — once made him clean the hundreds of pairs of shoes congregants had left outside a Sikh temple in London. “She was teaching me the act of seva, which is community service,” he says. “I learned that as long as you are serving society, then you are doing good.”

When the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened, Sirah was a student and slam poet living in a hippie commune in Edinburgh, Scotland. “That was the moment I woke up and realized I was a citizen of the world,” he says. He began to organize festivals, including a diverse, faith-based gathering for 6,000 people at the National Museum of Scotland. He wrote in his blog: “Coptic Christians sang songs of resurrection in Arabic. Sikhs wore the Scottish Sikh tartan and performed traditional bhangra with bagpipes. Jewish Scots performed music that combined the Scottish Celtic and klezmer traditions.” In other words, each group told its stories.

After graduating from Wolverhampton and Newcastle universities with multiple degrees, Sirah spent nearly seven years as the learning and access curator at the St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow, where he created programs on human rights and led an African-based exhibition/community partnership. He also hosted anti-sectarian debates with gang members and former members of paramilitary groups. His résumé lists numerous acts of social justice and conflict resolution, painting the picture of an indefatigable global humanitarian. In 2011, Sirah moved to North Carolina, where he attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s department of American studies folklore program through a Rotary Peace Fellowship. His master’s thesis, “A Stone in the Brook,” explored notions of home as expressed in the life stories of men he met at a local shelter.

On Nov. 3, 2012, Sirah was slated to speak at Rotary Day at the United Nations. Days earlier, Hurricane Sandy had flooded New York. Much of Manhattan had gone dark, but as Sirah wandered the city the night before his appearance, he saw cafés welcoming people of all cultures, who talked through the night by candlelight. He incorporated their tales into his speech, “Telling Stories That Matter.”

“Many people are of the belief that discrimination against people is wrong,” he told a crowd of 1,300 at the UN. “However, discriminating between people, looking at how we are all different and belong to unique stories, is an intelligent approach to developing … a world based on mutual respect and discourse — and one without conflict.”

Around that time, the International Storytelling Center was in transition. A modest nonprofit organization, ISC had evolved over five decades from a grassroots organization into a genuine cultural movement that hosted folklorists at a 3-acre campus devoted solely to the art of storytelling. Its annual National Storytelling Festival, which began in 1973 with a wagon and a bunch of hay bales parked beside the Jonesborough courthouse, had ballooned into an enormous three-day celebration that drew visitors from all 50 states and several continents. The festival, which doubled the town’s population every October, had basically revived Jonesborough, which renamed itself the “storytelling capital of the world.” Despite those successes, ISC had filed for

Heritage Fair to remind us of who we are

Washington County’s history can help connect us to our roots.

From the desk of CHAD BOGART

Celebrations come and go in Washington County, from birthdays to anniversaries to weddings and engagements. It seems at times, we can find any number of reasons to celebrate.

The year 2019, itself, seems to be a year of events. Johnson City leaders and community members are celebrating all year for the sesquicentennial of the city’s first charter in 1869.

Many churches in Johnson City are also celebrating turning 150.

In Jonesborough, the Herald and Tribune is celebrating the 150th year of the publishing of their newspaper.

Yet, Washington County itself has many significant event anniversaries in its history as well.

The county will turn 242 this year. The county seat, Jonesborough, turns 240. The Battle of Kings Mountain will have taken place 239 years ago in October.

It’s been 235 years since that Battle of Franklin took place at the end of the lost state at the end of February.

The state of Tennessee itself will turn 223 years old. The Emancipator was first published in 1820, and is almost at its 200th anniversary.

By the 1860s, schools were already established and some’s memory are becoming quite old as well. Washington College Academy turns 239, while Langston High School would be 126 years old this year. The remaining WPA schools will also turn 80 this year.

I could go on an on about historical events, social sites, and cultural memories that connect the county to its roots.  As I said at the beginning, we can always find something to celebrate. So why not?

The Washington County, Tennessee Heritage Fair scheduled for Friday, May 17, in the town of Jonesborough is no different.

In essences, it is a celebration of who we are, what we were, and how we have always overcome. It’s a celebration of our cultural and heritage selves as we look back, but most important take it forward to the next generation.

The Heritage Fair began as an idea of the Jonesborough Genealogical Society board in 2018, but has inevitably become a partnership of organizations to bring heritage and cultural meaning to the next generation.

With that in might, the event has become a three-part event with a 5th-8th grade poster competition, individual/organization exhibitions, and a living history timeline.

Each part has its own meaning and connection to the next, but most of all it brings students face-to-face with the county’s past, present, and future. It shows them that they have a place and a meaning here in this county and region. That we need their ideas, questions, and expertise to advance our county as we move forward into the future.

I, myself, have taken on that passion and ideology that the next generation should see the county through their own eyes as I have at times, through the expert eyes of those who have come before to mentor and teach me about my own surroundings. Many may not have ever heard of me or my story, which is ok. I don’t care for the limelight or even being put in front of people, but my passions always seem to bring me with a big idea that takes me back to my roots. 

I grew up here in Washington County, in what I later learned was called May Day or Mayberry Community, which is a subset of a larger district called Lamar. Not a mile from where I grew up and still live, is Jacob Brown’s grave. Still not a mile the other direction is the site of the Old Dutch Meeting House and a little further is the site of Cherokee Meeting House or Cherokee Baptist Church. Yet growing up I knew these sites were important, but did not know why. I went to Lamar School from K-8th grade, yet still didn’t know much about my area. Yes, I knew a lot of older people in my community because they knew my parents, but yet old buildings, old tales, and sites were not always my favorite thing. I even remember being on the playground at Lamar when the old Lamar School was torn down and bats filled the sky. But to move forward in time, I had a teacher who had us do a little book in my 6th grade year. I did mine on my family, which spark a little bit of an interest in learning who I am. Asking family members about our family I got a lot of different responses and some very wrong information. Yet, by 7th and 8th grade, another teacher had taught a genealogy project, which got me interested in research. I went on to David Crockett High, and graduated from there in 2009. Still I didn’t care much about my surroundings. I would go on to East Tennessee State University, but as I grew older, things began to mean more to me, so in 2010, I went to a genealogy workshop hosted by the JGS. Yet, it took my grandmother’s death to really get connected in what really mattered most. After which, I went to a Washington County Historical Association meeting, where I met a mentor named Elaine Scott Cantrell, which has become more than that in my genealogical and historical endeavors.

A lady who had known the region and its past, Cantrell was born in 1928. She lived through the depression, she knew many of the oldest generations and yet she also was researching the same family I was. The Huffines… my mother’s family. If you have ever been on Huffine Road, you know where they lived. Yet, on April Fool’s Day in 2011, I went with another genealogist and friend, Barbara Hilton, to Cantrell’s home. After letting us into her home, Cantrell took us upstairs and pulled down book 10 of her Huffine research. Turning through the book, I could see hours of research, time, and love put together to present a story of people and generations that seem to have passed, but their presences still remained all over a county that surrounded us. Finally, I got about half way through the book and I get to my family and thought well she won’t have much, yet I was very surprised. There laying in front of me, was my mother’s picture in her wedding dress. Elaine had the newspaper clipping of when my parents got married. Just think, here I am sitting in her living room 22 years later, after the event and she already knew about me. Yet, she didn’t know me. See my parent’s DNA are in my veins and their parents before them. Those people’s work ethic connects me to a story of a past of community, of a county and of a region.

After that meeting, I began to learn more about my roots here in this county, my grandmother’s family, the Hughes dates back to 1776, even owning property in the town of Jonesborough. I’ve learned how they go here, where they lived, and how their influence brought about everything set before me. Still, just doing genealogy was a hobby, but Cantrell took me all over the county. Seeing old buildings, cemeteries, and places of meaning that have a story, play into a story, and when weaved together create a story, provide a realm of history, culture, and heritage that creates meaning in each of us.

Still, I went on to complete two bachelor’s degree at ETSU, not wanting to go into history, until I met a professor who convinced me to do a history degree. Yet, I did, going even a step further to complete a Master’s degree in Archival Studies because of my passions for this county and wanting those who are here to also know what I know, that we have a rich story to tell here in Washington County, and the next generation needs to hear it as well. Because of this passion and experiences, I don’t want to go anywhere else because of my ancestors’ influence, can also be mine and many others who see a future where kids know their story and place in this county as well.


I was very interested in the article and illustration in (the Jan. 9 paper, titled “Searching the Map.” My great-grandfather, James Tennessee Adams, born 1833 or 1835 in Carter County, was at various times throughout his life a miller.

In the 1850 census of Washington County, he is shown living with the Wm Duncan family in the Knob Creek area as a student. I believe the “student” part was him learning the miller’s trade at the Bashor mill on Knob Creek. (See photo above.) He also obviously had some regular education as well. For certain, he was a miller in Virginia for 10 years in the Stickleyville area. He returned to the Johnson City area in the early 1880s and lived a number of places in Washington and Carter County before and after that date. I have copies of the deeds to his properties and am having trouble finding the exact locations, due to being unable tospecifically ID the metes and bounds.

One I can identify is a lot on the Watauga River adjacent to the St John’s mill. In fact. both he and one of his sons purchased property from Mr. St John. Tennessee, as he preferred to be called, may have worked part time at the mill.

I believe that he also either operated or worked at a mill in the Milligan vicinity. He did purchase a property on Kings Spring Road (from Mrs. King) along Sinking Creek. I believe the house is still standing and was a mill, although the wheel has long since disappeared.

I would like to get a close look at the map featured in your article. Would you please tell me where it is located and how I can gain access?

Dear Mr. Stroupe,

From your letter to the H&T, I did some “Digging” based on the information you provided. I did not find a complete answer, but hope to give you at least some hints that might bring about an answer. First, Henry Bashor owned many mills in Washington and Carter Counties including Dungan-St. John’s Mill in Watauga, Knob Creek Mill (or Bashor-Denny Mill), Pleasant Valley Mill, Dungan Mill (or the Blue Springs Mill) in Siam, and many others. It seemed throughout history, the Bashor Family were the milling family of the county. The Bashor family, originally from Germany, came to Washington County from Brock’s Gap area of Rockingham County, Virginia, and were of the Brethren faith – hints where many of the county’s brethren churches are also located are around a mill owned by the Bashor family. My great great great grandfather Isaac Bashor was a nephew of Henry Bashor making this family a very interesting one to study.

Second, you mentioned Tennessee Adams living on or near Kings Springs Road in Johnson City, so I looked up the 1860 Census and searched for neighbors of Tennessee Adams. A rule we always try to encourage genealogists to use frequently. In 1860, a Tennessee Adams is listed just below Joseph Wolf on the same page. A Captain Joseph Wolf(e) built his home along Kings Springs Road in 1856, this home still stands at 1506 Valley View Drive, Johnson City, and has been restored and modernized. Wolfe is mentioned in one court case held in September 1870, between D. W. Carter and Wolfe, over debts owed by James T. Carter, who died in 1859. This home was featured in the society’s county tour last fall.

From these two tidbits of information, I went back to the mill map today, which can be found at the society’s website, or at the Washington County-Jonesborough Library’s genealogy/history collection. From a review of this map and an additional Carter County map- I made a copy of while researching for our last tour at the Washington County-Jonesborough Library- you might want to consider looking at the following mills in Carter County: Chapp’s Mill and Hughes Mill at Sinking Creek Baptist Church and Hyder-Williams Mill (originally built by Daniel Krause), Turkey’s Mill, and People’s Mill around Milligan College. Hughes Mill was owned and operated by my great great great grandfather Joseph Hughes, but I don’t know much more than he owned the mill along with other property including a home that is no longer standing up behind Sinking Creek Baptist Church.

Another mill that stood near Woodlyn Road in the Barnes Community, 1 mile upstream from Dungan-St. John’s Mill was Allison Mill or the Star Mill or White Star Mill. This mill was also owned by Henry Bashor as well as James M. King (maybe the husband of the Mrs. King you mentioned in your letter). Henry Bashor built this grist mill on Brush Creek in the 1850s/60s, just before selling Dungan-St. John’s Mill to George St. John. A photo of the Star Mill can be found on page 717 of the History of Washington County, Tennessee, ed. 2001, ed. By Eugene and Joyce Cox. Others to own the mill, according to TNGENWEB, were John T. Hodge, Charles G. Lilly, Landon C. Allison, Dr. J. H. Preas, and Dr. Smathers.

If I was a betting man, I would do some digging around the Star Mill as this mill fits well with the location of Kings Springs Road, which is about 4 miles away. In addition, it fits well with the location of St. John’s Mill, being 1 mile upstream from Dungan-St. John’s Mill and about 2 miles driving from the St. John’s property at Watauga Road and Steam Plant Road.

I look forward to hearing what you might find in this endeavor and hope to see another letter in our weekly column soon.

Chad Bailey, JGS President

Tea for two (or more): New old-time ‘social hour’ settles in at the Barrel

Amanda Burchett, Candy Massey and Teresa Burchett enjoy tea time.



If you step into Jonesborough Barrel House on a Thursday afternoon this month, don’t be expecting barbecue.

While favorite items from this popular Main Street restaurant are always available, from barrel-smoked meats to soup beans, cornbread and chow chow, chef Dawn Heaton has a new idea for January — old-fashioned tea gatherings.

Chef Dawn Heaton shows off the new offering

“When I started thinking about it, this seemed to be the perfect venue for it,” said Heaton, looking around the downtown historic brick building that houses this restaurant she co-owns with business partner, Ben Dean. “As far as the area and what Jonesborough represents in general, because of the surroundings we are in. We are in Jonesborough. Most of the buildings in this area, especially the one we are sitting in now, are historic.”

And tea, she said, was the social hour of its time.

Enter the Barrel House’s latest offering — afternoon “tea time.”

Set for each Thursday throughout January, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., “Tea Time,” was initially launched as a way to offer local residents a regular opportunity for hot (or cold) tea, good food and good conversation. After the Jan. 24 tea, the event will move to the first Thursday of each month.

Poppyseed muffins tempt diners

The idea of “tea time” is certainly not new, Heaton acknowledges, though she believes it has fallen by the wayside in recent years.

“First of all, there is a big coffee craze around,” she said. “Coffee is booming. And I think people have a tendency to miss out on what tea can actually bring.”

Tea, for example, from herbal to black and green teas, often carry various health benefits.

“There is so much tea can bring to the table literally,” Heaton said —  from soothing a sore throat to helping calm a stressful day.

At Barrel House Tea Time, diners pay a $9.95 cover charge, then are led to a buffet adorned with a First Course, Second Course, Third Course and,  finally, a selection of assorted teas from which to sample.

Previous tea time offerings have included sandwiches of chicken salad, egg salad or cucumber. Scones with Devonshire cream, lemon muffins with fruit preserves and strawberry shortbread cake have also put in an appearance.

“The first course is always supposed to be savory. It’s just tradition,” said Heaton, who recalls having her own imaginary tea parties as a child.  “The second course is supposed to be a little bit light with some sweetness. For instance, last time I did an apple pie biscuit. And of course, the third course is sort of your decadent, rich course.”

Guests have a wide variety of teas from which to choose.

Heaton tries to put extra thought into each of these dishes in keeping with the restaurant’s theme. “We pride ourselves in serving an old style menu in a modern way,” she said. “It’s cooked in that modern way but it still has an old feel to it.”

That might mean a red pepper pesto spread on traditional cucumber sandwiches or a special light homemade vanilla cream on a seasonal fruit dish. She wants to offer her diners something new and make them very glad they came to tea.

So far it seems to be working. Local Washington County Archives volunteer Shirley Hinds raved about the vanilla cream on the menu when she stopped by one recent Thursday afternoon.  And Teresa Burchett, her daughter Amanda Burchett and friend Candy Massey were thrilled to find a tea offering.

“There has been nowhere local,” Amanda Burchett said of their newest drop-by tea place.

“It’s a girls’ date,” her mother, Teresa Burchett, agreed happily. “You always have finger food. And it’s dainty and pretty.”

But more important than the food and the atmosphere, Heaton believes, is this time spent with friends away from the more hectic aspects of life,

“I want this literally to be a social hour,” Heaton said. “I want you to come in and meet people that you’ve never met before. That’s the whole point of it.

“We are so busy with these things,” Heaton added as she points to a cell phone, “and electronics, and so much other stuff that’s going and flashing and lighting up. I just thought it would be nice to have a place to come and put your cell phones away and actually look at each other and talk at the table.”

For more on tea at the Jonesborough Barrel House, visit Facebook  or call (423) 747-0511.

Volunteers play vital role


Associate Editor

“For us, the volunteers are invaluable,” said Washington County Archivist Ned Irwin on a recent afternoon. Three individuals were working on records at the county facility located at 103 West Main Street in Jonesborough.  “They allow me and Donna [Briggs, Archive Assistant] to accomplish more than we could do alone.”


The President of the Friends of the Archives, Betty Jane Hylton, was working on “Judicial Loose Records” from 1815 when asked to describe why she started volunteering and the process she went through in acquiring her expertise in records preservation.

She said family history curiosity began by talking with her Grandfather William Usary. “He told stories about our family.  Then I got interested in how everyone was related.”   

Now a State of Tennessee Certified Archives Manager, Hylton said, “I had a real good history teacher in high school, Cecil Whitlock.

“I grew up in Broylesville where I was in the middle of history. Later, a noted librarian and genealogist employed at East Tennessee State University, Pollyanna Creekmore, noticed that I was checking out all the library’s books on genealogy.  She got a group of us together to talk about genealogy.  At our first session, she said, ‘bring a friend with you to our next month’s meeting.’”

These informal get-togethers became the impetus for organizing in October 1971 The Watauga Association of Genealogists – Northeast Tennessee (WAGS).  By the Spring-Summer of 1972, the group was publishing a genealogical bulletin.  Today, the group meets the first Tuesday night of the month at the Johnson City Public Library.

Ann Gentry and Louise Beasley helped get the organization started along with Eddie Walker who became the Cocke County Historian. When Dr. Graham Landrum of King College joined the group WAGS began to have programs.

In researching her own personal genealogy, Hylton uses a computer. Her database collections began in the 1990s.

“Every night I would spend a little time looking at material on the Internet,” Hylton said.  “If something caught my eye as useful, I sent it on to members.”

At this point, “I tried to tell everybody that we (members of WAGS) were interested in a county archive. Part of the reason for my interest resulted from a trip down to the County Court Clerk’s Office to find out information about cemeteries.”  Hylton joined with Archive Assistant Briggs in listing people buried in county cemeteries. She indexed Washington County while Briggs concentrated on Sullivan County.    

She met Margaret Hougland at a Mac computer users group meeting. A computer expert, Hougland helped with the cemetery project which continues to this day under the title of “Washington County TNGenWeb.”  Hougland is also a volunteer in the archives.

Hylton has attended conferences of the  National Genealogical Society and the Federation of Genealogical Societies.   She has also attended several sessions of the North Florida Genealogical Conference. The friends’ president is proud of “Working with the county’s records before the archives opened. I helped with the archives’ inventory and moved records from the Court House to the Archives Main Street location.”

She has discovered Washington County records about her own family dating back to the 1700s. Hylton said “People are really going to be surprised when all of these records get organized.”


Volunteer Georgia Greer was spending the day working on marriage license records. The county archive has a total of 35,596, by exact count, according to Archive Assistant Briggs. Greer worked with Archivist Irwin at the East Tennessee State University Archives of Appalachia.  She was an ETSU employee for 25 years.  She originally was hired after explaining she knew how to operate a “new type of typewriter” the school had acquired.

Now she is working on the last six boxes of the marriage records, typing up alphabetical indexing records. In the process, she has “discovered my grandfather’s first wife. I did not know when he got married. I got very excited when I found her maiden name of ‘Shelton’ in the 1914 records.”

Greer said she had excellent instruction in the maintaining of archival material from Archivist Irwin and former department head Norma Myers.

“I was considered a typist,” she said.  “Then one day, Norma said, ‘You are going to have to use a computer.’”

Greer said now she has over 5,000 names in her personal genealogical database. “I did a book with cousins. We traced our family from Virginia to Texas and then all over the United States, naming our volume ‘Reflections of a Housewright Journey.’

“We are getting ready to re-issue and update the book.  There are seven brothers that form the beginning of our research – and we will add to each of their family lines.”


While Hylton was working on 1815 records, Janette Guinn, a retired teacher, was erasing grime from a series of 1814 “Loose Judicial Records.” She said, “I have been cleaning records. A few records have mold on them. The records are dirty because they were exposed to coal dust. In pioneer times, there was smoke everywhere.

“After I clean the records, I put each case in a folder identified by the names of plaintiff and defendant case numbers. I then place them in file boxes in alphabetical order. Reading various student handwriting for 35 years helps me decipher some of this old handwriting in these documents.

“I got involved with genealogy at a young age with help from my aunt who was a librarian and school teacher. I became a math and science teacher in the county, with pupils like Jimmy Neil Smith (founder of Storytelling) Joe Spiker (head docent at the Chester Inn Museum directly across the street from the Archive) and the father and his brothers of Anne G’Fellers Mason (Heritage Alliance playwright).”

Guinn  has a graduate degree from ETSU, a masters degree from Tusculum and an EdS degree from Lincoln Memorial University.  She is a member of the Watauga Association of Genealogists – Northeast Tennessee, National Genealogical Society and the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

She has known Betty Jane Hylton all of her life. They were classmates at Washington College for 12 years. She taught for 35 years in the Washington County School System, including a position at Jonesborough High School.

“By the time I retired,” she said, “I was teaching the grandchildren of my first students. I taught at Jonesborough High and then Middle School, both held in the same school building.

“I knew that Betty Jane had been helping with the Archive. I joined WAGS in 2009 and had assisted her with projects in the past.  In 2017, I started helping with wills and began making some notes. I’m related to Jacob Brown the Wagonmaker and all the Broyles. I’ve enjoyed getting into family references and also to those of some of my neighbors. I’ve been working with Jewell Susong. If I found a reference where I did not know the family, she knew them.”

Guinn has discovered that she is also related to Betty Jane through the Snapps who emigrated from Germany in 1733.

“One will I discovered I found very interesting. It was Rhea Wells will, the children’s author who helped fund the Washington County /Jonesborough Library.”

Guinn said she did not know she was related to the Henleys until just a few years ago. “They came to Washington County at Clark’s Creek in 1793. My sons are related to the Tiptons and to John Sevier. That means there is always a conflict going on.”

Guinn has also found reading lawsuit records most interesting. “Some of the lawsuits go on for years and years,” she said.

Guinn now lives in Johnson City but her home place is some two miles from Washington College. She is kin to many of the folks in that area of Washington County.

She said, “I wished I had listened more to the history of Washington College from the staff. Much of what they told us went in one ear and out the other.”   

She also has Civil War ancestors on both sides of the conflict. Records during that period of time are yet to be fully organized at the Archive

Besides the three individuals mentioned in this story, other volunteers at the archives are Margaret Hougland, Shirley Hinds, Kari Rouche, Lisa Shockley and Kyle Johnson.

Helen Keller’s story coming to JRT

Olivia Castillo plays Helen in the upcoming play.


The Jonesborough Repertory Theatre is pleased to present “The Miracle Worker,” running Friday, Jan. 25, through Sunday, Feb. 10. This classic, intense, yet heartwarming story about Helen Keller and her extraordinary teacher, Annie Sullivan, will give audiences a deeper understanding of the trials and complications of Helen’s childhood.

“I think that most people know who Helen Keller is,” explained the director, Janette Gaines, “but to be able to actually see the real life story of what the family went through brings it to a different level for the audience.”

Helen Keller was born in Alabama in 1880. At 19 months of age, she contracted an unknown disease (possibly scarlet fever or meningitis), which left her blind and deaf. This, of course, broke down any normal communication with the child, so the family spent years not knowing the best way to handle this.

Gaines said she can relate. “My daughters are hard of hearing,” she said. “They don’t hear the same things we do. They also have autism, which is a lot like being deaf since they may not be aware of what’s going on around them. I had to unlock communication and understanding with my girls.”

That’s the bottom line of “The Miracle Worker” — unlocking the communication of Helen Keller. The title character is Annie Sullivan, who truly does work miracles for the family. She had been blind and underwent surgeries that helped her to see. She was only 20 years old when first employed by the Keller family. And she went to extreme lengths teaching Helen how to communicate.

“It’s amazing how Helen Keller went through all this,” said Olivia Castillo, who plays Helen in the show, “and how Annie didn’t give up.”

Annie Sullivan refused to treat Helen like she had disabilities. Unlike the child’s family, she didn’t give in to her tantrums or allow her to act disrespectfully. She pretty much “took the bull by the horns.”

“Annie never just gives up,” said Hope Hiester, who portrays Annie Sullivan. “And I’m a lot like that. Her story has helped me personally get through things in my own life. I have gastroparesis (a condition that affects the normal spontaneous movement of the muscles in your stomach) which makes everyday things difficult, so everything most people take for granted is a challenge. And Annie didn’t let anything stop her, so I’ve learned from her.”

Hiester’s character is not only physically challenged by working with Helen, but also emotionally and mentally challenged, and she perseveres through it all. “If you want to see a story that defies all odds and teaches you the value of hard work and perseverance, that’s what this show is. And trying to make the best of any situation.”

The story conveys just why Annie needed to persevere. Helen presented so many challenges for her family. “I’ve been around those with physical and mental disabilities,” said Mike Ellis, who plays Helen’s father, “so I can relate a little knowing how the parents struggled. I’ve been involved with The Arc (an organization that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families) so I see how and why the parents would need some assistance, and that helps me understand why Helen’s parents need a break.”

The show takes an honest look at family relationships and the struggles they have because of such a demanding child. It also reveals their love and commitment, though at times very strained, to not only Helen, but to each other. Each person in this show has his or her own “demons” to overcome, but those challenges are what make each character so special.

Emma Montag, who plays one of the blind students, is hearing impaired, so she understands the strong messages of this show. “Everyone’s beautiful and unique in their own way. I like to use that as awareness for other people to let them realize that just because they’re different or have something that makes them stand out doesn’t mean they should feel insecure about themselves. And that’s what makes ‘The Miracle Worker’ such a loving story, for all families, for all generations.”

Annie totally believed that —  for both herself and for Helen. They each had something to give. She helped to find the beautiful and the determination and the courage in both of them. She went way beyond what Helen’s family had ever thought possible.

Hope said it best. “Annie didn’t just give Helen a few words and say, ‘You live within your means; this is how you have to be.’ She said, ‘I can unlock the whole world for you.’ ”

And so she did.

“Theatre is about communicating a story,” Gaines said. “This particular story is about the importance of communication in everyone’s life. It’s got a good message that everyone can connect with. Audience members will find moments that will touch them and moments that will make them laugh. It’s a wonderful, triumphant story that will make people feel good.”

“The Miracle Worker” is by William Gibson and directed by Janette Gaines. The sponsors are Ballad Health, Ignacy Fonberg, the Law Offices of James R. Wheeler, and Sonia King/Mary B. Martin.

Rounding out the cast are Auggie Carver, Lorianne Carver, Lucy Carver, Renee Hickman, Pam Johnson, Charles Landry, Chloe Ledes, Kyle Mason, Kalliopi Papas, and Caroline Peccia.

Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 general admission, $14 for students and seniors. The theatre is located at 125.5 West Main Street, Jonesborough. To purchase tickets, call the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center at (423) 753-1010 or go online to