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Town looks back on past challenges

Heritage Alliance Director Anne Mason looks back on Jonesborough’s history, which includes the cholera epidemic in the 1800s. (Photos by Lisa Whaley)



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As Tennessee’s oldest town, Jonesborough is not unfamiliar with the idea of an epidemic.

According to Heritage Alliance Director Anne G’Fellers-Mason, the town has already weathered, for example, the 1873 Cholera Epidemic, as well as the 1918 Spanish flu.

And while things may have changed quite a bit in those more than 100 years, there are still some things that remain surprisingly the same.

“You see these pictures of China and Italy that are vacated right now,” Mason said. “And I thought that must have been how Jonesborough felt during the weeks during that summer in 1873.”

When cholera hit that summer, the trajectory was similar to today. Word had been spreading about a possible cholera epidemic in the nation, yet Jonesborough still felt fairly safe. 

“It’s the summer, pretty well into the summer. July through August,” Mason said. “The best source for this information is the Herald & Tribune because they kept really, really detailed accounts. 

In the July 17 edition, there were reports of cases in Nashville and Greeneville. 

A cholera notice is part of the Heritage Alliance’s collection.

“This particular cholera string is going to over through the Mississippi River Valley.”

It was following the railroad line.

“Today we get bugs on planes,” she said. “Then it was bugs on trains.”

Then came silence. The Herald & Tribune ceased publishing, re-emerging on Aug. 14. Out of a 1,000-plus population, only 100 remained. 

“Out of that 100 people, around 35 are going to die, so that’s like a third of the population,” Mason said. 

Eventually, the cases would taper off.

Strangely enough, a form of 19th century social distancing was part of the process.

“They really were already practicing a form of social distancing,” Mason said.

Cholera was caused by contaminated water and if families could get out of town before they got sick — distancing themselves from centers of illness — they might be OK. But so much of the scene was fear and confusion — a scene echoed today.

“Even though we know so much more about medical science, still how we respond is human nature,” Mason said. “Yeah we know more, but we’re still in the dark to an extent because this is so new. We don’t know the best treatment for it and all that.

“It was the same thing with cholera, where the response was ‘just don’t eat something.’” 

Two other things stand out in history, according to Mason.

First, the resilience of the human spirit was definitely apparent. Physicians stayed to help in the fight and neighbors were crucial in holding each other up.

“The people who stay, the people are sick and your amazing front line doctors,”Mason said.

Second, Mason said, there were always lessons to learn from these epidemics and pandemics. And she is eager to see how we progress.

“This definitely will be a very interesting chapter for Jonesborough,” Mason said. “I wonder what we are going to learn from this. Epidemics always teach you something. Sometimes it’s sanitation that spawned the Progressive Movement of early 20th century. Sometimes its vaccination.

“I think it will be interesting to see how this changes that process and in how we react to things. It’s going to happen. It’s going to teach us something.”

Darden to seek congressional seat

Steve Darden is eyeing a congressional seat. (Photo Contributed)


Steve Darden, former Johnson City Mayor, formally announced Monday that he will be a candidate for the U.S. Congress and will compete in the Republican primary on August 6, 2020.  

“I am a conservative Republican seeking the nomination to become our next Congressman,” Darden said.  “I want to serve in Congress for a very simple reason: To make life better for the people of the 1st Congressional District, which I consider to be the best place to live, work, worship and raise a family in our great nation.” 

Darden is a graduate of the University of Tennessee Knoxville where he received his undergraduate degree in Accounting and was named a Torchbearer.  He earned his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law.  Darden was born in Johnson City, educated in its schools and graduated from Science Hill High School. He is a lifelong member of Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church. 

“Together with Anne, my wife and partner of 30 years, we have built a great life and are blessed to have two adult children, Katie and Gus.  Both Anne and I come from many generations of patriotic Tennesseans who have fought in our wars, worked and raised their children here, and served their community. My mother’s parents immigrated to the USA from Eastern Europe and settled in Greeneville where they became citizens, built a business, and lived the American dream.   I learned a lot from my immediate family and rather amazing ancestors, and know they will be cheering me on every step of the way.” 

“Dad opened a small restaurant, the Rainbow Corner, when he returned from World War II in 1946, and Mom spent her career with the Social Security Administration.  My brother Bill and I both started washing dishes at the restaurant when we were young. We learned what it meant to serve others at an early age and it turned out to be great training in many other ways too,” Darden recalled.   

For 34 years, Darden has practiced law with Hunter, Smith & Davis, a Kingsport-based regional firm that also has a Johnson City office.  He has mostly practiced labor and employment law and is also a Listed Rule 31 Mediator. “My negotiating and mediation skills are badly needed to help address the dysfunction and swamp culture that remain ingrained in Washington,” Darden said. In his second term as the firm’s Managing Partner, Darden stated “I’ve been fortunate to work with many passionate, hard-working and community-minded women and men throughout my career.  My law practice, in which I have represented and advised businesses and individuals throughout the region, and my prior local office and other activities make me well prepared to make a full-time commitment to public service. As part owner of the firm, especially as its managing partner, I understand the challenges that business owners face.” 

Darden emphasized “I support President Trump and look forward to working with him and his administration during his second term.  I want to make sure our entire district benefits following his re-election.”  

Darden served from 2001-2011 on the Johnson City Commission, including terms as Mayor and Vice-Mayor.  “Along with Congressman Roe and other commissioners with whom we served, I made a lot of sound decisions that have helped make the City, County, and region better.  Things like getting our financial house in order, school funding and renovation, conversion of methane gas from the landfill to energy, creation of parks and other public spaces including the Tweetsie Trail, and elimination of flooding downtown so that investors would bring their money and jobs to the community.  I was also a successful hands-on recruiter of industry.  These are things that I don’t just talk about, but can point to as tangible evidence of my service,” Darden said.  

“I’m very excited about this race.  For people who don’t yet know me, I hope we get acquainted soon.  There’s a future out there and I hope to help accomplish some truly game-changing things, on the same level as our Congressmen have done in the past, such as our regional airport, interstate highways, and the med school at ETSU.  I truly care about individuals, so we will provide constituent service to equal or exceed that provided by Congressmen Reece, Quillen, Jenkins, Davis and Roe,” Darden said.  “I intend to continue Congressman Roe’s great work, especially with veterans and on mental health issues,” he added.   

“Our Founders gave us a great legacy.  In the Preamble to the Constitution, they established a government ‘to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.’  That’s a sacred opportunity but also a solemn trust.  I’m ready to help bring better jobs here and to preserve our quality of life.  Some want to turn to a failed socialist system, but I intend to show our young people why our country’s governmental and economic systems are the best in the world,” Darden said.   

Darden’s website is at