By JOHN KIENER
Music fans who have been attending the Saturday night ‘Opry’ at the Boones Creek Historical Trust Museum at 525 W. Oakland Avenue in Johnson City should have to go to the country in the future to listen to the music.
“We have to move in 2020,” said Vicki Shell, a BCHT member and long-time advocate of a permanent site for the participatory country music venue in Washington County. The first step in the realization of a move has taken place with the Johnson City Commission agreeing to transfer two acres to the Trust containing the Keefauver family residence located at 632 Hales Chapel Road.
The house, which dates to the 1800s, is adjacent to a barn which Shell hopes can be renovated for use by the now popular Saturday night ‘Opry’ sponsored by the Trust. Acquisition of the house should receive its second of three readings before the Johnson City Commission this Thursday. The city has indicated it is willing to lease additional property containing the barn for a nominal amount. A lease including both the house and the barn in the amount of $100 a year was originally suggested.
“This is monumental for us. We’ve been at this for a long, long time,” said Susan Reid, the Trust member who led the committee charged with finding a permanent home for the non-profit organization’s museum displays and musical programming. Trust members have been working on the acquisition of a permanent museum and ‘Opry’ location for eight years.
The acquisition was greeted with applause during Commission proceedings on Thursday, Feb. 20 when the two-acre transfer of the house received initial approval. Members of the Keefauver family present at the meeting indicated that they endorsed the property transfer.
The property containing approximately 50-acres was purchased from the Keefauver Family in 2009. The land’s limited use requirements occurred in 2013 when the city transferred federal government restrictions from Optimist Park. Now the Johnson City is trying to transfer those restrictions requiring outdoor recreation use to 37-acres of city owned property on Bristol Highway. The two acres presently being conveyed to the Historical Trust were previously excluded from the federal restrictions.
Shell said, “I think this move [to the Keefauver property] has tremendous potential. We are perfectly aligned to receive this kind of building. With the barn music venue, the house and hopefully a park preserve next door, we will offer both a cultural and agricultural experiences for visitors.” Proposals for the additional land have included suggestions it would become a nature preserve.
“This will tell the story of Tennessee’s first community. The emphasis today is on cultural tourism. People want to learn about culture,” said Shell, Creative Director at Osborne, Shell & Miller Advertising, who is the exhibit designer at the current BCHT Museum.
Shell envisions the house will be used for museum artifacts dealing with the home while those in the barn music venue will be agriculturally oriented. “This really could be a beacon. We are a participatory music venue. If you can’t play music, we will teach you.”
Shell said the Trust is enjoying a continuing partnership with East Tennessee State University in its programming and plans in the future for teaching classes on-site. The barn should seat between 250 to 300 audience members for country musical performances. Classrooms will also need to be constructed.
Music groups from throughout the area are currently invited to play at the BCHT’s present location on Saturday nights. There is also an opportunity for audience members to bring their instruments and participate in the evening’s program.
Essential to the future success of the planned relocation of a museum and musical venue will be grants, public donations and volunteer assistance. Grant applications and other fund raising activities are already underway by members of the BCHT. A Saturday, March 7th Chili Supper Fundraiser featuring “Nowhere Valley” has been scheduled. The dinner at 525 W. Oakland Avenue begins at 4:30 p.m. Cost is $5.00 a person and reservations are required. Call 423-461-0105 for more information or to reserve a meal.