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Wolfe appointed to State Historical Commission


Kelly Wolfe


Associate Editor

[email protected]

Kelly Wolfe, a local developer and a former Jonesborough Mayor, has been appointed to the Tennessee Historical Commission.  Governor Bill Lee appointed Wolfe to the 29-member board recently as an East Tennessee representative.  His five-year term will expire on Feb. 11, 2024.

Wolfe was also appointed to the East Tennessee State University Board of Trustees by Lee.

“I have always had a great interest in history,” Kelly said in explaining why he accepted the Historical Commission appointment.  “Professionally, our company has undertaken several historic preservation and renovation projects and I wanted to continue pursuing something along those lines after my service as mayor.  Mark Hicks (former County Attorney from Jonesborough) helped inspire me with his service. He was a mentor of mine and he, too, served on the Historical Commission.

“In talking with Governor Lee,” Wolfe said, “I asked that if he had an opening on the State Historical Commission, to please consider me.” The commission is an independent state agency, administratively attached to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

The Historical Commission has multiple programs related to historic preservation and history. The agency is directed to preserve, interpret, and administer historic places; to encourage the inclusive study of Tennessee history for the benefit of future generations and to mark important locations, persons and events in Tennessee history. 

Other responsibilities of the commission include assisting worthy publication projects; the reviewing, commenting on and identifying projects that will potentially impact historic properties and in the process nominating those that meet National Register Standards to the National Register of Historic Places.  There is also a State Register of historic sites. 

“We meet three times a year at various locations across Tennessee,” Wolfe said.  He believes his understanding of development and construction projects plus experiences as an elected Town of Jonesborough leader give him excellent qualifications for membership on the board.  “We have been doing more (in Tennessee’s Oldest Town) longer than anyone else to preserve these older buildings and our history.  When Governor Lee visited the town he saw the McKinney Center, Farmers Market and the restoration of several homes here.”

Wolfe admits he will have challenges serving on the 29 member commission consisting of 24 members equally divided among the three grand divisions of the state in addition to five ex officio members.  The ex-official members are the Governor, the State Historian, the State Archaeologist, the Commissioner of Environment and Conservation, and the State Librarian and Archivist.

“It is hard to imagine how long this state is,” Wolfe said. “There is a lot of ground to cover.  There are three distinct regions {East, Middle and West] with both rural and urban areas. And they all three were developed during different periods of time and have unique points of interest.  What they consider old in certain parts of the state might not be that old in Jonesborough.  It’s very exciting and interesting to learn the differences. The Commission deals with anything that has been designated historic or of historic significance in the entire state.”


After attending his first meeting of the Historical Commission on June 21 at Baird Chapel on the campus of Cumberland University in Lebanon, Wolfe has a greater perspective of the staff duties and the use of financial resources in the agency’s $4,827,100.00 budget.  Included in the four-page Financial Statement was an $18,912.09 appropriation to the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia for use at the Chester Inn and $14,339.98 for support of the Tipton-Haynes Historical Association.

Capital Projects in the State Historic Sites Report included a $300,000 rehabilitation project at the Chester Inn in Jonesborough that began in August 2018 and was completed in June of this year.  The historic window reconstructions involved Spanish Cedar and restoration glass and hardware. Dan Brown, the program director, said the project “has set a new standard for the quality and detailing of all our sites windows rehabilitations.” Wolfe agreed that the work on the Chester Inn was very high quality.  The Commission also approved the Heritage Alliance Operating Budget during Fiscal Year 2019-2020 for management at the historic Chester Inn owned by the state of $45,550.

He reported that the Tipton-Haynes rehabilitation project in Johnson City with an allotment of $750,000 was scheduled for public bid in July with work beginning in August.  The project’s completion date was set for the winter of 2020. Their Fiscal Year operating budget of $68,572.73 was also approved.

A mold remediation at Rocky Mount at Piney Flats in Sullivan County has required that the six HVAC units there be replaced.  An appropriation of $125,000 will be used for the work to be completed this summer. Brown said that “Their auditorium flooring has been replaced as well as mold remediation throughout the building and on 7,000 artifacts.”  The sum of $88,526.06 for the Fiscal Year’s Budget was also approved.

A historic paint finish conversation project in the kitchen at the Sabine Hill Historic Site in Elizabethton revealed that a second phase was needed, according to the Sites Report. “The work on the second phase should begin this fall,” Brown said.


Numerous Marker Recommendations were approved at the meeting. Of local interest was a “Birthplace of Mountain Dew “marker in Knoxville. The Commission report stated: “Mountain Dew was born right here in Knoxville at 1921 East Magnolia Avenue. This is the former home of Hartman Beverage, owned and operated by Barney and Ally Hartman. Here in 1948 the brothers created and trademarked the soft drink Mountain Dew as a clear lemon-line drink.”

The Marker continues: “The first franchise for Mountain Dew was issued in 1954 to Charlie Gordon’s Tri-City Beverage of Johnson City, Tennessee.  In 1958 Tri-City Plant Manager, Bill Bridgforth, developed a new citrus-lemonade flavor for Mountain Dew, which is the taste of Mountain Dew today.

“The Tip Corporation of Marion, Virginia obtained the rights to this formula. William H. ‘Bill’ Jones of the Tip Corporation further refined the formula launching a new version of Mountain Dew in 1961.  Three years later in 1964, the Pepsi-Cola Company acquired the production rights to the Mountain Dew brand from the Tip Corporation. Pepsi expanded distribution across the nation and it became the third biggest soft drink in the U.S.” [Coca-Cola and Pepsi–Cola are the number one and two soft drinks.]

The East Tennessee Historical Society in Knoxville, which is receiving $14,415.18 from the Historical Commission in an annual publication grant, is currently sponsoring a Mountain Dew exhibit in the Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery of the organization at the East Tennessee History Center.   The museum display includes 232 artifacts that highlight the drink’s history.  Titled “It’ll Tickle Yore Innards,” the exhibition will run through Jan. 20, 2020.

On July 19 in Johnson City, at the corner of West Walnut and Cherokee Streets, a dedication of a Tennessee State Historic Marker naming Johnson City the “Home of Mountain Dew” took place.  Fred Sauceman, Associate Professor of Appalachian Studies and Director for WETS-FM, presided at the unveiling.  Chuck Gordon and Bill Bridgeforth, Jr. uncovered the marker that was followed by with a reception at the Carroll Reece Museum on the East Tennessee State University campus. The museum staff at the reception previewed an upcoming exhibit titled “The Tri-City Beverage Story: A history of Dr. Enuf and Mountain Dew.” 

Wolfe said he was fascinated by a number of other markers approved at the meeting, including one for Dixie Lee (1909-1952) who was Harry “Bing” Crosby’s wife and the mother of their four sons.  The marker is being placed in front of the house where she was born, Wilma W. Wyatt, in Harriman.

He also learned about the Middle Tennessee site of what was called the “Tennessee Maneuvers” by 850,000 soldiers under the direction of General George S. Patton who practiced for the invasion of Sicily starting in 1941.  The Wilson County Veterans Museum had an exhibit that extensively detailed this training operation.  “A Veterans Museum would be great for Washington County,” Wolfe said.


  A Tennessee Wars Commission Report was included in the June meeting.  Wolfe said he anticipates discussions and action on the movement of Confederate monuments in Tennessee will be the subject of discussions at future meetings. Between Jan. 1 and April 31, Historic Preservation Specialist Jane Coleman-Cottone visited Jonesborough to conduct a formal four-year review of the town’s participation in the Certified Local Governments program.  Elizabethton in April submitted the necessary paperwork for designation as a CLG. A Tax Credit in the sum of $1,200,000 was applied for on behalf of the former Massengil Department Store, 244 E. Main Street, in Johnson City.   

Wolfe said he hopes the fact that Tennessee lacks state tax credits for preservation grants will be corrected while he is on the Historical Commission.  “History is a matter of perspective and we need to preserve it,” he noted.  “We assume that just because we may know our Tennessee history – that everybody does.  Part of our job as [Commission members] is to continually promote and tell the story of our unique Tennessee history so that future generations will have the benefit of the knowledge that we have been given.