Historical Photo Exploration #2 – What’s Going On Here?

The archival collections of the Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum are full of historical photos from all over Washington County. When the photos are donated to the museum, sometimes the donor knows all kinds of information about the picture, sometimes the person who took the picture left a whole lot of information on the back for future generations. Usually, though, the pictures come with no information at all. As historians, we have to look at several context clues within the picture to help us date when the photo was taken and where the photo was taken. What was going on in that particular moment in time when the photo was taken? Early photographic technology was not as instant as it is today. It took time to take a good photo, so photos were usually reserved for special occasions.

Each week, we’ll be posting a photo from our archives with some questions to help you explore the photo. We’ll also include some writing prompts if you feel like going a step further and turning this into a creative writing exercise as well.

If you are doing this activity with your student(s), the answer key is provided at the end of the post.


To see a larger version of the image, click HERE.


Questions to Answer

1) What is happening in this photo?

2) What is a cornerstone?

3) Where is the Courthouse in this photo?

4) What are some clues that can help you date when this photo was taken?

5) Who is included in this picture? (Look for clues to gender, age, and race.)

6) Who is not included in this picture? (Look for clues to gender, age, and race.)

7) Who do you think took this picture?

8) Why do you think this picture was taken?

9) What is the most surprising or shocking thing about this photo?

10) Would you be able to walk across an open construction site in the United States today? Why or why not?

Additional Study Question – Why was the Courthouse so important to Jonesborough?


Creative Writing Exercise – Pick a person in the photo and write a paragraph from their point of view. What were they feeling and thinking in this moment? Do your best to write like you’re from that time period. Go a step further and write a letter as the person in the photo describing the event you saw today.


Answer Key:

1) Placing of the cornerstone for the new Washington County Courthouse on Main Street, Jonesborough.

2) The cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.

3) The Courthouse is currently just a hole in the ground in this photo. The old Courthouse had been torn down and a new one was being built.

4) This photo is actually dated, but other points of reference are the electric and telephone poles and the clothes being worn by the people in the photo.

5) There is a mixture of men, women, and children. People in the photo appear to be predominantly Caucasian. There are not many African Americans in the photo.

6) There are a few African Americans in the photo. Where are they located in relation to everyone else in the photo? (Not in the foreground) Why do you think this is? (Answers could touch on segregation and that African Americans were a minority within Washington County’s population.)

7) Possibly someone from the newspaper or a town official.

8) To commemorate the placement of the cornerstone for the new Courthouse.

9) Open ended answer, but one big surprise is the people walking over the hole in their finest attire across stacked boards.

10) Mostly no, and that has everything to do with changes in law and safety standards.

Additional Study Question – You can find the answer to this question under local history on our website, or by conducting a Google search on Jonesborough’s history.

Historians at Home: Crowd Sourcing History

The COVID-19 pandemic has created numerous uncertainties and challenges, but the Heritage Alliance is working hard to make the current “safer at home” order an opportunity to create a new type of historical record. This week, The Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia launched a crowd-sourcing collection project entitled “Historians At Home.”


Historians At Home is a letter-collecting campaign that gathers, saves, and shares first-person accounts of the COVID-19 pandemic from local residents. It allows The Heritage Alliance, a local history non-profit, to engage with the public remotely, and collect original, first person materials from this highly irregular historical moment. Contributors are asked to write a letter or email detailing their experience and perspective, and are provided with a series of starter questions to consider. Historians At Home is a great activity for all ages, and also fits well into a home-school curriculum.


In 2019, The Heritage Alliance served over 36,000 people, including local residents and out-of-town visitors. Despite museum and office closures, Historians At Home allows The Heritage Alliance to continue facilitating a relationship between history and the public from afar. So consider submitting a letter via email, including a completed Written Release, to historiansathome@gmail.com. You can also mail your letter and release to The Heritage Alliance at 212 E. Sabine Drive, Jonesborough, TN 37659. The Heritage Alliance would love to hear from you, and all of the other Historians At Home.


To access the packet, questionnaire, and release form, click HERE.

Social Media Round Up 3/30/2020 – 04/05/2020

We hope you all are doing well. The Heritage Alliance is posting a lot of content online right now, both on our website and our social media pages. We decided to do a weekly round up so you all can find what you’re looking for in a more expedient manner. This will also help you know what posts to be on the lookout for.


Website – heritageall.org

Cholera Epidemic Primary Source Activity

Historical Photo Exploration #1: What’s Going On Here?

Chester Inn Museum Coloring Book


Facebook – Heritage Alliance

Weekly posts about local businesses in Jonesborough, the history of the buildings, and what the businesses are offering now in the midst of Covid 19.

Weekly posts about recreation through time, including bicycling and hiking.

Photos and posts from our archival collection.

Sears Modern Home Historic House Hunt – Round One 1908-1914


Facebook – Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum

Weekly posts reflecting back on the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918 with primary sources from Washington County.


YouTube – Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum

Social Distancing with the Victorians – Video series examining how the Victorians would have practiced social distancing.

Make Your Own Buzz Saw Toy Video


You can also follow the Heritage Alliance on Instagram @heritage_alliance. Check back here every week for another recap!


Chester Inn Museum Coloring Book

The Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum is currently closed to the public, but we wanted to offer our coloring sheets to you for free! Seven coloring pages featuring some of Jonesborough’s historic landmarks are available to download and color! We could all use a bit of bright color in our lives right now, so feel free to share your finished work with us on the Chester Inn Facebook page with the #historyart


Coloring Book Download