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Preservation Celebration: Heritage Alliance honors past, looks to the future

Three Heritage Alliance directors reunited on Jan. 30 at the annual Heritage Alliance Membership Meeting. Above left to right, Deborah Montanti, and Randy Sanders pose with current executive director  Anne G’Fellers-Mason. (Photos by John Kiener)

By JOHN KIENER

Associate Editor

[email protected]

The Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia “showcases what is best in our community,” said Board of Trustees President Gordon Edwards during his Welcome and Invocation to 100 members and guests on Thursday, Jan. 30, at the Jonesborough Visitors Center. The Alliance’s Annual Membership meeting included a covered dish meal, election of trustees, and staff reports detailing a look back at the year’s accomplishments and an action plan for 2020.  

As they signed in, members were also given a copy of the Heritage Alliance’s 2020 calendar “Celebrating Historic Jonesborough with a look back at History” published by the Herald & Tribune

This year’s  plans include coordination with the Washington County government to apply for placement of the Ashe Street Courthouse on the National Register of Historic Places and student outreach with programs like the “History Detective” game played by members Thursday at the close of the evening’s two-hour program.

Edwards praised the organization’s volunteers who he said “were proud to use their talents in history and heritage” before conducting a short business meeting in which four new trustees were elected to the Alliance Board of Trustees. They are Walter Buford, Mark Edwards, Cari Jarman and Kati Jenkins. Those named are all serving their first three-year term on the board. Retiring board members receiving recognition were Sharon Boles, Donna Cox Briggs, Melinda Copp, Jules Corriere, Tony Keck and Nansee Williams.     

Alliance members try out the “detective game.”

Executive Director Anne G’Fellers-Mason then took over as the evening’s master of ceremonies. She introduced Joe Spiker, head docent at the Chester Inn Museum, a State Historic site managed by the Alliance.  

HISTORY HAPPY HOUR

Spiker gave the audience a preview of the History Happy Hour schedule for 2020.  The first program on March 26th will be held on the fourth Thursday instead of the third Thursday as are all the other offerings. While the March program is yet to be announced, the remaining programs have all been scheduled. They are one-hour presentations beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Chester’s upstairs conference room. Happy Hour programs for August through November will take place at the International Storytelling Center.

On April 16, Dr. Bill Kennedy from the Historic Zoning Commission will speak on “Jonesborough’s Historic Masonry”; May 21 will be a presentation by Dr. Kyle Osborne from King University on “Secession and Southern Views of Lincoln”; on June 18  author Lynn Drysdale Patterson will talk about “The Tennessee Historic Site Cookbook”; on July 16  Tusculum Professor Dr. Angela Keaton will tell the audience about “Post-World War II Food Production and Women”; the Aug. 20 program’s speaker will be from the Birthplace of Country Music on “Bristol Sessions Guitar Styles”; the Sept. 17 program will be by Gary Purchase of  David Crockett’s Birth Place State Park on “Appalachian Guerrilla Warfare”; with the Oct. 15, topic by Kelsey Solomon from Walters State on “Mildred Haun, Appalachian Writer.”  The final program of the year on Nov. 19, will be a lecture on the Langston Centre in Johnson City.  

Spiker pointed out that there were five new organizations represented in the 2020 History Happy Hour presentations.  He also told the Alliance members a variety of storytellers and artisans would use the Christopher Taylor House next to the Chester Inn for programs throughout the year.  

INTERACTIVE PROGRAMS Pointing out the success of last year’s Jonesborough Photo Studio exhibit and the Whoville Christmas program, Spiker said he plans to have more interactive exhibits and programs at the Chester Inn Museum this year.  The museum has the most visitors each year during Jonesborough Days.  He also hopes to get more Alliance programs into local school systems and provide interested computer users with more YouTube content on the Chester Inn’s YouTube page.

In closing remarks, Spiker said “We need museum docents and tour guides to continue our work. The Alliance is always looking for volunteers. We are hoping for additional volunteers before the museum opens up again in March.”

MORE DIVERSITY 

Megan Cullen Tewell, a recent addition to the staff as programming coordinator, told of her 2020 vision of offering more diverse programs and outreach along with an emphasis on preservations efforts. She stressed that a new association with Washington County Government will hopefully lead to inclusion of the Ashe Street Courthouse on the National Register of Historic Places. She is working with County Mayor Joe Grandy and the County Commission to preserve the building at 401 Ashe Street in Johnson City.

Tewell will also assist with an historic quilt exhibit at the McKinney Center, a Fun Run. and the Taste of Jonesborough. Other projects involve efforts to preserve the region’s heritage and history with programs at the Langston Centre, the Washington County-Jonesborough Library, and the Johnson City Public Library.

BECOMING A DETECTIVE

 Those attending Thursday’s dinner were entertained with a ‘History Detective Kit” created by members of the staff.  The challenge saw 13 different items identified as historic objects from the past used to give members a glimpse of how Alliance staffers conduct programming  when making presentations in the schools. 

The “Wild Women of Jonesborough” are assisting with the funding of the History Detective Kits.  Wild Women representative and Heritage Alliance member Nancy Kavanaugh presented Megan Tewell with a check for $300.   The kits will allow the Alliance to take their artifacts into the classroom and have students interact with them in an appropriate fashion. The money will be used to purchase the supplies needed to assemble the kits. During the last 14 months, Kavanaugh said the Wild Women of Jonesborough have donated $16,000 for a variety of community projects. 

Executive Director Anne G’Fellers-Mason received a special presentation of flowers as a “thank-you” for her work since she took over the leadership of the Heritage Alliance in November. In the audience and posing for photographs during the evening with G’Fellers-Mason were past Directors Randy Sanders and Deborah Montanti. 

A SUCESSFUL YEAR

 In her Executive Director’s report, G’Fellers-Mason said a record 36,112 people interacted with the Alliance during 2019. Volunteers contributed a total of 4,525 hours to the non-profit organization. She said the organization is looking forward to a new decade of serving the public and communities in the region.  

“We need to communicate the importance of our mission of enhancing the heritage and history of the area while preserving historic buildings,” she said.

Mentioned for preservation were the Ashe Street Courthouse, continued work on the Christopher Taylor House, and the restoration of an old loom that is now used inside the Christopher Taylor House. She also described continuing Alliance programming at the Chucky Depot Railroad Museum and the Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum, along with the Oak Hill School Heritage Education Program, which turned 20 years old in 2019. Other successful events included the group’s major fundraiser, the Progressive Dinner, and the play “Voices of the Chester.”  

  “A lot changed in 2019, but the mission of the Heritage Alliance remains the same. 2020 will feature new programs for the Alliance and a newly updated website, “G’Fellers-Mason said. In thanking those in attendance, she added, “We all have a choice in what we invest our time and energy into. Thank you for investing in the Heritage Alliance. We do not take it lightly. Here’s to 2020 and beyond.”