Preserving the Past - One Story and One Building at a Time
Nestled in Northeast Tennessee’s scenic mountains is a town with so many firsts that it can be a challenge to name them all. Jonesborough was the first town founded in the region (1779), the first capital of the “Lost State of Franklin” (1784), the first town in the new state of Tennessee (1796), site of the first regularly published abolitionist periodical (1820), the first Tennessee town listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1969), site of the first National Storytelling Festival (1973)…and the list goes on.
What Happened Next
Lifelong resident Jimmy Neil Smith (who served as mayor from 1978-1984 and today is president of the International Storytelling Center) recalls that as residents searched for ways to save their community, assistance arrived in an unexpected way – through a grant application for sewer line repairs.
Smith explains that in working with the nearby Johnson City Office of the Tennessee State Planning Commission, Jonesborough’s leaders learned:
- They had to have their own Planning Commission in order to receive the grant.
- The commission’s formation propelled Jonesborough to begin a planning process that focused on restoration and preservation.
- Continued support from the State Planning Commission helped Jonesborough to build its capacity and find the necessary financial resources.
As Jonesborough’s reputation has grown among travelers:
- Local residents have benefited with the creation of jobs including owning or working in a bed and breakfast, retail store or restaurant.
- Jonesborough is the nation’s mecca for storytelling began growing more than 30 years ago, and today the town has a unique attribute as home of the National Storytelling Festival and the International Storytelling Center.
- About 100 acres, with the heart in the downtown district, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the first community to receive this designation in Tennessee.
- Jonesborough was awarded the designation of Dozen Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2005.
- The National Storytelling Festival began in 1973 with an audience of 60 people. Today, the festival draws a crowd of 10,000 to this small town each year.
- The International Storytelling Center opened in 2002, creating a year-round destination for visitors who enjoyed storytelling. An ongoing slate of programs, including the Teller-in-Residence program, attracts visitors to Jonesborough throughout the year.
- Jonesborough’s cultural heritage tourism program has generated jobs for residents including more than two dozen shops, six bed and breakfasts (all in historic buildings) and several tour companies.
- 1960s – Planning Commission and Jonesborough Civic Trust established
- 1969 – National Register of Historic Places designation
- 1973 – First National Storytelling Festival
- Late 1970s – Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association forms
- 1982 – Jonesborough Visitors Center and History Museum constructed
- 1990-1992 – Jonesborough participates in National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Heritage Tourism Initiative
- 2001- Jonesborough Civic Trust, Historic Jonesborough Foundation and Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum merge to become the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia
- 2002 - International Storytelling Center opens
- 2005 – National Trust for Historic Preservation awards Dozen Distinctive Destinations
- 2006 – Preserve America awards grant
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National Trust for Historic Preservation ®