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History is hiding right in front of us

The Sesquicentennial Fountain in downtown Jonesborough was originally located right in front of the courthouse. The monument is inscribed with significant dates in the history of Washington County and the town of Jonesborough.


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On the far wall of the History Museum at the Jonesborough Visitors Center a large informational placard reads, “COURTHOUSE SQUARE MONUMENTS.”  The information is situated behind a large World War I mortar, the subject of one of the three monument descriptions.

An introduction to the display includes a poster stating, “FIGHT OR BUY BONDS THIRD LIBERTY LOAN.” A Liberty bond (or liberty loan) was a war bond that was sold in the United States to support the allied cause in World War I. Subscribing to the bonds became a symbol of patriotic duty and introduced the idea of financial securities to many citizens for the first time. The Act of Congress which authorized the Liberty Bonds is still used today as the authority under which all U. S. Treasury bonds are issued.  The Third Liberty Loan mentioned in the poster was issued April 5, 1918 and offered citizens the opportunity to purchase a portion of $4.1 billion in bonds at 4.15 percent.

A paragraph under the words “COURTHOUSE SQUARE MONUMENTS” reads, “Jonesborough is recognized as the Oldest Town in the State of Tennessee. As part of that heritage, monuments have been erected through the years to honor the town and Washington County’s past.  Today there are two different monuments on Courthouse square, the Sesquicentennial Fountain and the Boone Trail Highway Marker.  These monuments were both placed as part of the 150th Anniversary Celebration of the town on July 4th, 1930.  Thousands of people from over 25 states, including many descendants of early town leaders, reportedly attended the festivities which involved the unveiling of two monuments, speakers, songs, and a parade complete with a birthday cake.”


The first monument to be described at the History Museum is the fountain where many residents and visitors have taken a drink on a hot summer day.  The description states: “The Sesquicentennial Fountain was originally located in front of the courthouse.  Constructed of five separate pieces of Crab Orchard, TN Marble, the monument is inscribed with significant dates in the history of Washington County and the town of Jonesborough.  It was gifted by the State of Tennessee and Washington County and received by former Tennessee Governor Alf Taylor during the opening ceremony of the day.  The fountain not only marked the history of the town, but also its progress as the public water system had just been completed the preceding year.  This is why the celebration was held in 1930 instead of 1929, the actual 150th anniversary.  When Courthouse Square was redesigned in 2013, the fountain was moved to the west side of the building to open up the front step area for special events.”


The next monument appears as an arrowhead, with this explanation: “The Boone Trail Highway Marker was presented to the town by J. Hampton Rich of NC after the parade and followed by a torchlight processional and Daniel Boone memorial service.  This marker is one of many placed from 1913 to 1938 by Rich to ‘promote highway improvement, pioneer lore appreciation, patriotism, and education.’  The metal tablets in the markers were produced with metal salvaged from the USS Maine, which exploded and sank in Havana Harbor, Cuba in 1898, just prior to the start of the Spanish-American War.  Jonesborough’s marker was constructed locally of cement and includes several Native American stone tools.  It also once held an image of the Boone Tree near Boone’s Creek where Daniel Boone reportedly carved ‘D Boon cilled a bar on tree in the year 1760.’”


The presence of the mortar in front of the History Museum placard is detailed as follows: “In addition to other markers, the Newton 6-inch Mortar once sat on Courthouse Square as a monument to Washington County’s involvement in World War I.  6-inch mortars came into use at the end of the war to replace the 2-inch Medium Mortar commonly used in trench warfare.  This particular example was manufactured by Hadfields of Sheffield, England, sometime during 1917. It was transported to the United States, but records as to how and when it ended up in Jonesborough have yet to be located.  The mortar was removed and given to the Museum by the Town of Jonesborough as part of the 2013 Courthouse Square Renovations.  This mortar, mounted on its original base, is only one of a few 6 inch Mortars still in existence worldwide.”


The most photographed artifact previously located in Courthouse Square is not mentioned in the History Museum’s COURTHOUSE SQUARE MONUMENTS.  However, it sits just outside the Visitors Center in front of the parking lot nearest the Washington County / Jonesborough Library. The artifact made of wood is a pillory.  Its use is mentioned in Miriam Fink Dulaney’s “History of Jonesborough.”  A dictionary definition provides: “A wooden framework on a post, with holes for the head and hands, in which offenders were formerly locked or exposed to public scorn as punishment.” Now, with the legend “HISTORIC JONESBOROUGH, TENNESSEE” written on the wooden frame, the town’s pillory is the occasion for a souvenir photograph visitors can show the “folks back home” when they talk about their vacation in Tennessee.