Washington County’s history can help connect us to our roots.

From the desk of CHAD BOGART

Celebrations come and go in Washington County, from birthdays to anniversaries to weddings and engagements. It seems at times, we can find any number of reasons to celebrate.

The year 2019, itself, seems to be a year of events. Johnson City leaders and community members are celebrating all year for the sesquicentennial of the city’s first charter in 1869.

Many churches in Johnson City are also celebrating turning 150.

In Jonesborough, the Herald and Tribune is celebrating the 150th year of the publishing of their newspaper.

Yet, Washington County itself has many significant event anniversaries in its history as well.

The county will turn 242 this year. The county seat, Jonesborough, turns 240. The Battle of Kings Mountain will have taken place 239 years ago in October.

It’s been 235 years since that Battle of Franklin took place at the end of the lost state at the end of February.

The state of Tennessee itself will turn 223 years old. The Emancipator was first published in 1820, and is almost at its 200th anniversary.

By the 1860s, schools were already established and some’s memory are becoming quite old as well. Washington College Academy turns 239, while Langston High School would be 126 years old this year. The remaining WPA schools will also turn 80 this year.

I could go on an on about historical events, social sites, and cultural memories that connect the county to its roots.  As I said at the beginning, we can always find something to celebrate. So why not?

The Washington County, Tennessee Heritage Fair scheduled for Friday, May 17, in the town of Jonesborough is no different.

In essences, it is a celebration of who we are, what we were, and how we have always overcome. It’s a celebration of our cultural and heritage selves as we look back, but most important take it forward to the next generation.

The Heritage Fair began as an idea of the Jonesborough Genealogical Society board in 2018, but has inevitably become a partnership of organizations to bring heritage and cultural meaning to the next generation.

With that in might, the event has become a three-part event with a 5th-8th grade poster competition, individual/organization exhibitions, and a living history timeline.

Each part has its own meaning and connection to the next, but most of all it brings students face-to-face with the county’s past, present, and future. It shows them that they have a place and a meaning here in this county and region. That we need their ideas, questions, and expertise to advance our county as we move forward into the future.

I, myself, have taken on that passion and ideology that the next generation should see the county through their own eyes as I have at times, through the expert eyes of those who have come before to mentor and teach me about my own surroundings. Many may not have ever heard of me or my story, which is ok. I don’t care for the limelight or even being put in front of people, but my passions always seem to bring me with a big idea that takes me back to my roots. 

I grew up here in Washington County, in what I later learned was called May Day or Mayberry Community, which is a subset of a larger district called Lamar. Not a mile from where I grew up and still live, is Jacob Brown’s grave. Still not a mile the other direction is the site of the Old Dutch Meeting House and a little further is the site of Cherokee Meeting House or Cherokee Baptist Church. Yet growing up I knew these sites were important, but did not know why. I went to Lamar School from K-8th grade, yet still didn’t know much about my area. Yes, I knew a lot of older people in my community because they knew my parents, but yet old buildings, old tales, and sites were not always my favorite thing. I even remember being on the playground at Lamar when the old Lamar School was torn down and bats filled the sky. But to move forward in time, I had a teacher who had us do a little book in my 6th grade year. I did mine on my family, which spark a little bit of an interest in learning who I am. Asking family members about our family I got a lot of different responses and some very wrong information. Yet, by 7th and 8th grade, another teacher had taught a genealogy project, which got me interested in research. I went on to David Crockett High, and graduated from there in 2009. Still I didn’t care much about my surroundings. I would go on to East Tennessee State University, but as I grew older, things began to mean more to me, so in 2010, I went to a genealogy workshop hosted by the JGS. Yet, it took my grandmother’s death to really get connected in what really mattered most. After which, I went to a Washington County Historical Association meeting, where I met a mentor named Elaine Scott Cantrell, which has become more than that in my genealogical and historical endeavors.

A lady who had known the region and its past, Cantrell was born in 1928. She lived through the depression, she knew many of the oldest generations and yet she also was researching the same family I was. The Huffines… my mother’s family. If you have ever been on Huffine Road, you know where they lived. Yet, on April Fool’s Day in 2011, I went with another genealogist and friend, Barbara Hilton, to Cantrell’s home. After letting us into her home, Cantrell took us upstairs and pulled down book 10 of her Huffine research. Turning through the book, I could see hours of research, time, and love put together to present a story of people and generations that seem to have passed, but their presences still remained all over a county that surrounded us. Finally, I got about half way through the book and I get to my family and thought well she won’t have much, yet I was very surprised. There laying in front of me, was my mother’s picture in her wedding dress. Elaine had the newspaper clipping of when my parents got married. Just think, here I am sitting in her living room 22 years later, after the event and she already knew about me. Yet, she didn’t know me. See my parent’s DNA are in my veins and their parents before them. Those people’s work ethic connects me to a story of a past of community, of a county and of a region.

After that meeting, I began to learn more about my roots here in this county, my grandmother’s family, the Hughes dates back to 1776, even owning property in the town of Jonesborough. I’ve learned how they go here, where they lived, and how their influence brought about everything set before me. Still, just doing genealogy was a hobby, but Cantrell took me all over the county. Seeing old buildings, cemeteries, and places of meaning that have a story, play into a story, and when weaved together create a story, provide a realm of history, culture, and heritage that creates meaning in each of us.

Still, I went on to complete two bachelor’s degree at ETSU, not wanting to go into history, until I met a professor who convinced me to do a history degree. Yet, I did, going even a step further to complete a Master’s degree in Archival Studies because of my passions for this county and wanting those who are here to also know what I know, that we have a rich story to tell here in Washington County, and the next generation needs to hear it as well. Because of this passion and experiences, I don’t want to go anywhere else because of my ancestors’ influence, can also be mine and many others who see a future where kids know their story and place in this county as well.