As most of you know, I have announced my retirement effective September 20th of this year. During my seventeen years with the Alliance, it has been my pleasure to work with incredibly dedicated and talented individuals, both staff and volunteers. I suppose it is only natural that I take a moment to look at the things accomplished through that dedication.
When I began my tenure with the Alliance, I found no effort to track the number of people served by the organization. Though not necessarily a key reason to provide a service, numbers are one way to illustrate impact and communicate value, especially to potential funders and stakeholders. Beginning in 2004, we tracked attendance for all programs and services. That first year, we provided services to 5119 individuals, most of whom were school aged children taking part in structured educational programming. These types of programming are vital and will always be an important part of the HA. However, they are only one component. Washington County’s demographics dictate a wide variety of adult and family programming and we have striven to provide those services as well. By increasing our menu of programs and services, attendance last year reached 35,073 individuals! (And we did it with fewer staff, so a deeply heartfelt thanks to our volunteers who last year alone provided over 3000 hours to the HA.)
The increased number of programs was, in part, enabled by a series of grants from a variety of sources. For me personally, I am incredibly proud to have administered two different “Teaching American History” awards through the federal Department of Education. During those seven years, in partnership with the Department of History at East Tennessee State University, we were able to work with 17 different school systems and 39 individual history and social studies teachers to increase their comfort levels with various major themes of American history….and we did it through a local lens, thereby increasing their awareness of the history right here in their own backyards. Some of these teachers earned graduate credit through these programs and they all earned professional development hours. But most importantly, they returned to the classroom with renewed understanding and enthusiasm for this important subject.
During this same period, we were awarded a “Partners in the Field” Grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This matching grant allowed us to hire a professionally trained Preservationist, who provided technical assistance, logistical support and advice to historic property owners throughout the region. Having preservation staff greatly enhanced both the scope and depth of our programs and enabled us to expand our outreach.
Two separate “Museums for America” awards through the IMLS (Institute for Museum and Library Services) helped us achieve space in the Jonesborough Washington County History Museum for changing and traveling exhibits, as well as enhanced our ability to provide educational programming. Though these two programs, as well as two awards from the Tennessee State Library and Archives, we have been able to update and secure our Collections storage and to provide more accessibility to our holdings.
During the past seventeen years we have also played a major role, partnering with the Town of Jonesborough, in the restoration and continued preservation of the Historic Cemeteries of Jonesborough. The lessons learned and work accomplished in Jonesborough has allowed us to reach out to other communities to help them preserve their own historic cemeteries. We held our first Cemetery Preservation workshop in 2004 and today this work remains one of our most important outreach projects. Other projects accomplished in partnership with the Town of Jonesborough include the restoration and interpretation of the Christopher Taylor Cabin, as well as the Chuckey Depot.
We have a long list of accomplishments and the few listed above are ones that make me very proud, but perhaps the accomplishment of which I am most proud is that of opening the Chester Inn Museum. This beautiful building was, for many years, the private offices of what became the International Storytelling Center. Indeed it was, in large part, due to their efforts that the building was initially restored and became a state owned Historic Site under the protection of the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC). In 2006, the state approached us to open the building to the public, partner with them to manage the facility and to interpret it, as well as a new museum planned for the street level. Years of planning and negotiation followed. The museum opened in September of 2011, with interpretation of both the second and third floors following shortly thereafter. The Chester Inn opened to the traveling public in 1798, offering excellent accommodations to weary stage coach travelers. The Inn’s parlor became a gathering place for visitors and townspeople both. One can just imagine the stories told in that parlor over the past 221 years; thus it is fitting and proper that we continue to share the space with the ISC!
Since opening, the Chester Inn Museum has become a major part of our outreach. It is the home of several programs, including the interpretation of the Christopher Taylor Cabin, our Town Tours and History Happy Hour. This year, we debuted a new interpretive program called Voices of the Chester. This program, another of Anne G’Fellers Mason’s history based creations, provides an inclusive look at the people who have populated the Inn over the centuries.
A lot of changes and certainly a lot of growth, but there remains one constant. That is the dedication and enthusiasm of our staff and volunteers. I have the utmost admiration and respect for these folk and look forward to the growth and changes ahead. Thank you all for the friendship and support you have shown to me personally and to this organization. Here’s to many great things to come!