A history tour, great music and delicious food combined Saturday, Dec. 3, in Jonesborough as the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia welcomed in the Christmas season by hosting their 44th Annual Progressive Dinner.

This year’s agenda included an initial event where appetizers were served at the Oak Hill School, followed by soup at Slemons House and the entrée at the McKinney Center.

Not to be forgotten was the day’s final stop for dessert at the Shipley/Helvey House.   

Phyllis Morgan from Johnson City was a first-time attendee among the 110 people attending Saturday’s event. She said the dinner “was wonderful fun.  It was full of music and merriment.”  She added she was also impressed how “the volunteers worked so hard.”  

Morgan attended the dinner with Carolyn Tomko, who many Jonesborough residents are familiar with because of her work as the former director of the Jonesborough Historic Visitors Center.   

Oak Hill School this year provided both the beginning and ending of the day’s activities. The school is a perfect example of what money raised by the Heritage Alliance supports. Built in 1886, the one-room building was part of Washington County Schools until 1952. It was moved to Jonesborough in 1990s to save it and now is the largest artifact in the Alliance’s Museum collection.

Oak Hill School Heritage Education funding supports the program started in 1999. It is the longest running educational offering of the non-profit organization. According to Anne G’Fellers-Mason, the Alliance’s executive director, it is the “only experiential learning program of its type in the area where kids take a step back to a school day in 1893.”

At Oak Hill School, guests enjoyed the appetizer course of Sweet Potato Goat Cheese Bites, Cheese Stuffed Dates wrapped in Prosciutto and Holiday Punch. The schoolhouse was recently painted through a historic preservation grant with   the   National   Society   Daughters of the American   Revolution (NSDAR).  The project was sponsored by the State of Franklin Chapter of the NSDAR.

Departing from Oak Hill School, guests then rode a bus to the Slemons House, where the soup course was served. This Greek Revival home was built in the 1850s by William C. Slemons, a local tanner. He left the home to his daughter Alice Slemons, a school teacher.  

The Town of Jonesborough purchased the house in the 1970s and restored it.  Today, it is home to the Storytelling Resource Place (SRP).  The SRP was founded in 2016 to promote the collecting and preserving of resources related to the art of storytelling as well as to establish a hub where this resource can be available to storytellers, researchers, historians, and academicians from across the country and around the world.

The Butternut Squash Soup served at the Slemons house was served accompanied by music from the Golden Heirs Choir.

Then it was time to get back on the bus for entrée dining at the Booker T. Washington School in the McKinney Center. One of Jonesborough’s adaptive reuse success stories, Booker T. Washington School was originally dedicated on October 7, 1940. The building was completed with funding from the WPA (Works Progress Administration,) 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, filmmaking, and much more.

The menu at the Center consisted of Chicken Stuffed with Brie & Apple or a Cheesy Veggie Bake, Scalloped Potatoes, and Pesto Green Beans. Diners had beverage choices of water, tea or wine. Music was provided by the Jonesborough Rhythm Express.

White Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Filling was the dessert course served at the Shipley/Helvey House. Executive Director Mason told passengers on the bus on their way to this final destination that: “This house has not been on the dinner in a number of years.”  

She continued with a narrative that stated the present brick dwelling house was constructed by Shelby T. Shipley after his purchase of the land in 1848.  Shipley sold the home to Dr. William R. Sevier in 1854. The house was set up to accommodate the doctor’s practice.

John Sevier was his grand-uncle. Dr. Sevier stayed in Jonesborough during the cholera epidemic during the summer of 1873. After the disease had moved on, he compiled his notes on the disease in a treatise on Asiatic cholera. This went a long way to understanding the disease and best treatments. After Dr. Sevier died in 1882, his widow sold the property to Nancy Stuart.

The front porch of the home was added in 1880s-1890s. The house passed through several hands before being purchased by Tobie and Baxter Bledsoe in the 1970s.  They did a large-scale restoration on the house. Tobie served as the Mayor of Jonesborough for a number of years.

The Bledsoe’s children sold the home to the Helveys, who have also done a large restoration. Mason also urged her dinner guests to “make sure to check out Dana Helvey’s photography throughout the house.”

A musical ending to the evening was provided by the Jonesborough Novelty Band.  Guests got to sing-along and “ring the Christmas bells” as the Progressive Dinner event provided a wonderful infusion of the spirit of the holiday for the 44th year.    

An appreciative Mason added, “The Progressive Dinner this year was magical. It was the perfect kick off to the holiday season. We are so thankful to the homeowners, musicians, volunteers, and attendees for making the evening such a success. This fundraiser does so much to raise money for historic preservation and history education programming.”


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