By JOHN KIENER
The evening started out with a site visit scramble but finished with a flare as the Heritage Alliance celebrated 40-years of serving Christmas dinners in Jonesborough. The event this year was titled “Colors of Christmas: Tour & Dinner.” Participants’ first destination was at the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center to pick up cloth tags patterned after those at the Storytelling Festival. This involved our first parking venue of the day at the Washington County / Jonesborough Library Parking lot.
Our arrival at the visitors center was just after 3 p.m. My wife Belinda went inside to get the patches while I parked. There was a line to board the buses so we drove to our second parking place of the day, the lot next to the Chester Inn where our instruction sheet indicated buses would pick us up at 3:40 p.m. to take us to dinner.
There were eight numbered destinations during the evening. Near the visitors center, the first numbered attraction was the Oak Hill School at 212 E. Sabin Drive. This venue featured Storyteller David Miller. The building, relocated to Jonesborough from the Knob Creek Community, was built in 1886. Closed to students in 1952, it was threatened with demolition in 1996 when the Heritage Alliance began a three-year restoration process. Today, the building houses the award winning Oak Hill Heritage Education Program based on experiences of rural Washington County students in the year 1892.
We decided to delay visiting the second tour stop, a Victorian cottage, likely built at the turn of the century. The Adams-Lyons Home at 269 E. Main Street is representative of the architectural trends seen in Jonesborough in the early 1900s. The house, presented by Jonathan Adams & Sherril Lyons, clearly shows the transition away from the more elaborate Victorian details of the later decades of the 19th century.
The Chester Inn is the oldest commercial structure in Tennessee’s oldest town constructed in the 1790s by Dr. William P. Chester. Saturday it served as the meeting place for diners. The building served as a hotel and once accommodated United States Presidents Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk and Andrew Johnson. It has been restored and contains a museum and this year has served as the location of History Happy Hour, a monthly program that shares local history on a wide range of topics. The Colors of Christmas brochure promised that the Happy Hours would return in 2018.
Our Chester Inn stop, listed as site no. 3 at 116 E. Main Street, was brief so that we could tour site no. 4, the Historic Eureka Inn at 127 W. Main Street and site no. 5, the Blair-Moore House at 201 W. Main Street, before dinner. Notice that these tour stops are close to each other. If the tour hours would have been extended an hour earlier, visitors could have walked most of the route before the 4 p.m. dinner. One person at the McKinney Center did say that she walked the entire distance between the eight tour locations. The mild weather made for a pleasant walking tour in visiting sites on Saturday.
Katelyn and Blake Yarbrough hosted visitors at the Eureka Inn, originally built as a private residence in 1797. In 1900, it opened as a hotel. The structure was restored beginning in 1997 and is now open to guests with a full Southern breakfast served in a dining room renovated in 2014.
Owners Tami and Jack Moore hosted tour visitors in their bed & breakfast, the Blair-Moore House. The architectural genealogy of the home is complex beginning with John H. Crawford’s ownership in 1865. One owner of the brick bonded building was Robert Dungan, a former principal of the Holston Male Institute and Graded School. When the school closed, Dungan accepted the position of editor and business manager of The Jonesborough Journal.
We boarded the bus at 3:40 for dinner at the McKinney Center along with a collection of guests. To our surprise, not only were we served a delicious dinner featuring holiday punch, apple squash soup, fillet of pork with a cherry plum sauce, and duchess potatoes followed by a dessert of chocolate raspberry truffle cake, but there was also a full evening of entertainment. The two hours scheduled at the center ably rewarded guests for this year’s format change. Mayor Kelly Wolfe was a hospitable emcee as he introduced the Harrington Music Studio, singers from the Jonesborough Repertory Theater and entertainers from the Jonesborough Novelty Band. The Heritage Alliance Christmas crew of Jules Corriere, Anne G’Fellers-Mason, Joel VanEaton and Kyle Mason provided an enjoyable review of the past 40-years of Progressive Dinners with vignettes interspersed between the musical players. Together with lively conversation from our table guests, all too-soon the festivities at the center were completed and we caught the bus back to the Chester Inn.
There were still stops to complete our tour. Back in our car we drove and parked near site no. 6, the Chuckey Depot at 110 S. Second Avenue, a destination not to be missed by visitors to Jonesborough interested in railroading. Constructed by the Southern Railroad in 1906, it has been rebuilt in Jonesborough. Scott Wild, an American singer/songwriter, provided entertainment at the depot while visitors looked at a host of exhibits prepared by the Heritage Alliance and the Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society. The Railroad Society also restored a red caboose adjacent to the depot and provides docents when the museum is open weekdays.
The most charming surprises of the evening were sites no. 7, the Eggplant Cottage and no. 8, the Floyd Home. Jeff Dupre and David Phillips own the cottage at 204 W. Woodrow Avenue, believed to have been built around 1930. You can’t miss the house driving down the Avenue – it is painted purple. The original building was one large room, 28 feet by 14 feet. Perhaps it was used as a Fellowship Hall for the AME Zion Church established in 1904. However, during most of its existence it has been used as a residence. The modern restoration of the cottage makes it a “must-see” on any future tour of homes.
Anna Floyd’s home at 200 W. Woodrow Avenue is next door to Eggplant Cottage. The home is circa 1820s built by Samuel Lyle. At one time the home consisted of a log cabin and the logs are visible when inside the home. The exterior is now painted yellow. A written commentary presented to visitors on the tour read: “The Floyd home is a prime example of current restoration projects in town and a wonderful demonstration of how houses should be preserved, not just the grand Victorians. Every house has a story to tell.”
The Floyd house visit was our last of the evening. It had been a day when we drove to three different parking locations in town and took two bus rides. The experience was worth getting in and out of these conveyances to look and see, eat and listen. We look forward to next year and hope the Alliance continues with this new format but undertakes several modifications aimed at moving tour and dinner visitors more conveniently around Jonesborough.