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Chester Inn debuts new exhibit: Room dedicated to lodging in the 1800s

Last year, the Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum received two donations of bedroom furniture. These donations were much appreciated and very much needed as the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia worked to interpret a lodging room on the third floor of the Historic Inn. The room is now complete, and today visitors to the museum can travel up the stairs and view “A Place to Lay My Head,” a new exhibit that shows what a lodging room in the Chester Inn may have looked like in the late 1800s.
When Dr. Chester first opened the Inn in the late 18th century, he had five, dormitory-style rooms on the third floor. In these rooms, multiple guests, predominately men, would be accommodated.
“Sometimes where you slept depended on how much room there was, and how much you were willing to pay. Maybe you got a bed to yourself, but most likely you were sharing it with other people, and sometimes you would have to sleep on a makeshift bed on the floor,” Special Projects Coordinator Anne Mason said. “A room really was just a space where one could lay one’s head.”
How Americans traveled changed with time, though, and by the 1890s, more families were traveling, more women were traveling independently, and the concept of “vacation,” or traveling solely for pleasure, was beginning to take hold.
Through interpretive displays, “A Place to Lay My Head” takes visitors through the various stages of travel in Jonesborough and of accommodations in the Chester Inn. The room itself is set up for a family of three visiting town in the 1890s, a time when the building was known as the Planter’s House.
“The family has everything they may need for an extended stay, and based on old register books, we know that some guests did stay for longer periods of time, while others were only there for one night. Even though the rooms of the 1890s were starting to resemble hotel spaces as we know them today, there are still many differences, like the wash basin and pitcher in the corner instead of a tub or shower,” Mason said.
The furniture in the room has its own story to tell. The two beds and side table were made by James Phelps in 1893 as a wedding present for his daughter and her groom. He made them in Abingdon, Virginia, and they were shipped by rail to Jonesborough. The smaller bed is actually stamped with “Jonesboro” for the railroad. The beds then traveled to Leesburg in Washington County by wagon.
“We are honored to have the furniture back in Jonesborough, and Patricia Scott-MacLean, who donated the set, shared some wonderful memories that have become a part of the exhibit’s interpretation,” Mason said.
“A Place to Lay My Head” is a continuation of the upstairs tour of the Chester Inn Museum, which begins in the beautifully restored dining room and parlor. The upstairs has been restored to how it might have appeared during the Victorian era, late 1800s, to match the outside restoration of the building that includes the iconic, projecting porch.
The downstairs, which was always a separate, commercial business, has been home to the Chester Inn Museum since the fall of 2011.
“Come and visit the oldest commercial building in Tennessee’s Oldest Town. If you’ve toured the upstairs before, make sure you come back to see the lodging room and learn how much has changed when it comes to travel and accommodations,” Mason said.
The museum is currently open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 1-5 p.m.
For more information on the Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum, contact the Heritage Alliance at 753-9580, the Chester Inn Museum at 753-4580 or email [email protected] Additional information can also be found online at www.heritageall.org.
The Chester Inn is a state-owned historic site operated by the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. The operation of the Chester Inn is partially funded under an agreement with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Tennessee Historical Commission.
The Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia is dedicated to the preservation of the architectural, historical and cultural heritage of our region and to providing educational experiences related to history and heritage for a wide range of audiences.
“Spotlight on the Arts” is a column contributed by the Town of Jonesborough.