Jonesborough’s old homes opened doors to holiday guests this past weekend as part of “The Colors of Christmas.”

By JOHN KIENER

Associate Editor

jkiener@heraldandtribune.com

Tour visitors and dinner guests experienced an event that has ushered in the area’s Yule season for 42 years as they participated in the “Colors of Christmas” event on Saturday, Dec.1, in Tennessee’s Oldest Town. A total of 82 guests enjoyed a delicious meal and entertainment at the McKinney Center. Many dinner guests also joined other visitors by embarking on a tour that provided a peek inside Jonesborough’s most treasured homes and historic structures.

This is the second year that the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia has partnered with the Town of Jonesborough by merging the Holiday Tour of Homes and the Progressive Dinner into one elegant evening.  The home and historic structures tour lasted from 3 until 7 p.m.  There were two dinner presentations at 4:30 and 7 p.m.

THE DINNER

Diners sit down in the McKinney Center for a festive holiday dinner.

After checking in at the Historic Visitors Center, dinner guests went to the Chester Inn Museum for “Festive Starters” and Holiday Punch. A second set of appetizers was available across the street at the Historic Eureka Inn – Butternut Squash Soup Shooters and Wassail.

Deborah Montanti, executive director of the Alliance, welcomed dinner guests at the McKinney Center, praising the 100 volunteers who made the “Colors of Christmas” event possible. Her introduction was followed by a toast from Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest who spoke about Jonesborough’s history while thanking those in attendance for enabling this historic legacy to continue through their financial support.

A modified serving arrangement this year assured guests a hot meal.  A buffet line enabled those in attendance when called by table number to immediately receive their food – chateau briand, garlic roasted fingerling potatoes and roasted local root vegetables.  An alternate vegetarian meal was also available.  When seated, guest listened to the music by The Tusculum Jazz Trio while dining on a holiday salad.  By the time dessert featuring an Italian rum cake with cream cheese was served the music was being provided by the Jonesborough Novelty Band. In additional to traditional Christmas songs, audience participation with the ringing of bells lifted holiday spirits.

Each of the venues experienced by dinner guests has a unique history.  The Chester Inn State Historic Site was constructed by William Chester in 1797, making it the oldest commercial building on Main Street.  Managed by the Heritage Alliance, it now houses a museum offering a wide range of exhibits and programs throughout the year.

Katelyn and Blake Yarbrough are innkeepers at the Historic Eureka Inn, originally built as a private residence in 1797 before opening as a hotel in 1900.  The Yarbroughs have introduced new traditions to the hotel, including Eureka Bites for breakfast or brunch and Murder Mystery dinners.

The McKinney Center served as Booker T. Washington Elementary School after its dedication on Oct. 7, 1940.  The building was completed with funding from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and it served African American students until the local schools were integrated in 1965.  Today, it is a cultural arts center that teaches classes to students of all ages in dance, theatre, art, and filmmaking.

After the event, Montanti said, “I think the people who came to this year’s event had a spectacular time. Functions at the Chester and Eureka Inns added to the celebration.  Music at the McKinney Center was absolutely delightful.”

HOME AND STRUCTURE TOUR

“You’re about to embark on the ultimate Christmas experience” visitors on the Home and Historic Structures Tour were told Saturday. The tour guide given to patrons at the Historic Visitors Center continued: “You’ll discover the stories of years past as you tour private homes and historic buildings.  Along the way enjoy live music and the sights of the season.”

Sponsored by the Town of Jonesborough, nearly 300 people purchased tickets for the tours. Cameo Waters, the Town’s Tourism and Main Street Director, said “It was great.  We had a great turnout.”

After checking in and while waiting for a tour shuttle bus, tour guests could view six trees from the Celebration of Trees exhibit at the Visitors Center.  The tour included seven stops: The Slemons House; Christopher Taylor House; Naff-Hensley House; Febuary Hill; Beale-Kavanaugh House; Tennessee Hills Distillery and the Chuckey Depot. Each venue displayed elaborately prepared Christmas decorations.

The Slemons House (109 Fox Street) is a Greek Revival home built about 1860 by William Chester Slemons. It is now the location of the Storytelling Resource Place, a location dedicated to the celebration and preservation of Storytelling.

Originally built between 1776 and 1778, the Christopher Taylor House (124 West Main Street) is one of East Tennessee’s best examples of pioneer architecture.  Faced with demolition in 1974, the structure was moved from its original location to serve as the centerpiece of Jonesborough’s early preservation efforts.

The Naff-Henley House (127 East Main Street) is the only remaining private residence in the downtown business section of Main Street.  Another Greek Revival home, it was built in 1840 by local tailor, Jacob Naff.  The Henley’s purchase the home in 1986 and updated the residence where Sue Henley now lives.

The stately house known as Febuary Hill (102 West College Street) was built about 1840 for John Blair, an early Congressman representing Tennessee.  It still retains its original lot size.  Listed on the National Historic Register, it has housed some of Jonesborough’s most influential families, including those of Jacob Adler, J A Febuary (from whom the structure gets its name) and Burgin E. Dossett, third President of East Tennessee State University. 

The Beale-Kavanaugh House or Andes-Kavanaugh House (112 East College Street) represents a common architectural style in the 1930s and 1940s around Jonesborough.  It has only had three owners, all listed in this article. It represents a simpler lifestyle on a smaller scale when compared to the Victorian styles popular in the late 18th century.

The location of the Tennessee Hills Distillery (127 Fox Street) has been known as the Salt House since the Civil War when the county authorized the purchase of salt to counter a salt shortage.  The building was also occupied by Rhea Lodge No. 47, a Masonic lodge from 1873 until 1905.  Today, you can taste and purchase products produced onsite by the Distillery.

The Chuckey Depot (110 South Second Avenue) was constructed in 1906 by the Southern Railroad in nearby Chuckey, Tennessee.  Now located in WC Rowe Park, it is the site of the Chuckey Depot Museum and is owned and operated by the Town of Jonesborough with the assistance of volunteers from the Heritage Alliance and Watauga Valley Railroad Museum.  Music during the tour of the museum was provided by singer/songwriter Scott Wild.

Montanti said comments about the Colors of Christmas Dinner and Tour can be made by telephoning (423) 753-9580 or at the Alliance web site at  www.heritageall.org.