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Historic town tours to return in March

Ever wanted to find out the history behind one of the most popular Main streets in Tennessee? According to the Heritage Alliance, many folks have taken advantage of their downtown tour offerings that began in September last year. 
The tours started as a venture between Main Street Jonesborough and the Heritage Alliance. The tours offer details about Jonesborough’s unique history, its people and the lives they built.
“The Heritage Alliance has been conducting tours for larger and school groups for years now,” Special Projects Coordinator Anne Mason said. “Offering tours on certain days of the week throughout the year was something many of us had been wanting for quite a while, and we’re thankful to Main Street Jonesborough and Melinda Copp for initiating the conversation.”
“We all felt the tours would be a good fit for the town’s heritage tourism program. It has been a long-term goal of the Heritage Alliance to provide a service weekly with no reservations required,” Heritage Alliance Executive Director Deborah Montanti said.
“When folks visit Jonesborough for the first time, they immediately want to know our story.”
According to the Heritage Alliance’s records, more than 200 people have participated in the new tour program since it began last September. The Heritage Alliance expects those numbers to increase in 2015 with tours now being offered later in the day to accommodate guests who are in Jonesborough for shopping, having lunch or attending events. And, with an increase in numbers, an increase in tour guides will follow.
“We currently have three tour guides, but as the program and tourism visits grow, more volunteers will be needed. Heritage Alliance staff provides training on multiple levels,” Montanti said. “Experience has taught us that one of the best ways to train our program volunteers is to actually have them participate in the tours.  We are always in need of volunteers.”
The tour guides are accompanied by Heritage Alliance staff until they are comfortable with the information and answering questions. This not only allows them to hear the presentation, but also gives the new tour guides an opportunity to experience ways to respond to questions and pace the tours.
“Each guide receives pictures and documents to help them flesh out the history of Jonesborough’s buildings and the people who once lived within them,” Mason said.
The tours offered by the Heritage Alliance also include an informative history of the Washington County Courthouse. 
“The Courthouse is where and why Jonesborough began, and we generally provide insight into Jonesborough’s government, education and commerce. We also spend time on topics that seem to appeal to the particular group on tour,” Montanti said. “That is the key to our tours, they cater to the specific interests of our visitors.”
“We also talk about Jonesborough as a commercial hub, and how, with the help of the railroad, the town managed to come back after the Civil War. We talk about slavery in Jonesborough and African-American history,” Mason said. “We also discuss the path of the town through the 20th century and how historic preservation and storytelling worked to revitalize the town.”
Additionally, the Heritage Alliance is always learning new information and incorporating it in the tour program, especially interesting stories and facts that are uncovered  in their collection of old newspapers and family letters.
“There are certain things that regularly tend to surprise people on the tour, such as the initial deed restrictions, or Jonesborough’s early dedication to educating young children and women. Perhaps the thing that stands out most is just how connected to the early colonies Jonesborough was,” Montanti said. “Folks have the notion that we were isolated by our location and lack of roads, but that was not the case at all. Jonesborough merchants prided themselves on offering a wide variety of goods and services. They were able to sell goods from Europe and major port cities such as Charlestown, Baltimore and Philadelphia.”
The tours also help the locally owned businesses in downtown Jonesborough. Guides tell the stories of the buildings, former businesses and include information about current businesses and owners.
“By telling visitors the history of the buildings and the people who once lived there, it makes them even more interested to go inside and imagine what the place might have once looked like. We also discuss the current businesses as we go along, make suggestions about where to eat and shop and tell about all the amazing events that are always taking place in Jonesborough,” Mason said.
Over the course of the past year, Heritage Alliance staff have monitored visitation to Jonesborough and have adjusted their hours for the tours. In 2015, town tours will be offered on Fridays and Saturdays during the months of March and April at 1 p.m., and from May to December on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 1 p.m.
“It’ll be interesting to see how many people we pick up during the spring and summer months, and whether we increase participants since the tours started in the fall last year,” Mason said. 
New types of tours are also on the schedule for the Heritage Alliance in 2015. Ventures will include Cemetery Tours based on some of Jonesborough’s most historic burial plots, Victorian cemetery customs, monument architecture and symbolism, as well as the lives of the folks buried there.
No reservations are required for the Heritage Alliance tours. To participate in a tour, tickets may be purchased at the International Storytelling Center for $5. A guide will lead a group from the International Storytelling Center at 1 p.m. on scheduled days.
For more information on the tours, contact the Heritage Alliance at 753-9580, or the International Storytelling Center at 753-2171. 
To schedule a tour for a larger group, or another day not currently offered, contact the Heritage Alliance directly.