Historical Photo Exploration #1 – 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 photo, click HERE.



1) What is happening in this photo?

2) How many types of transportation do you see in this photo? List them.

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

4) What was the train hauling?

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) Where was this picture taken? (Hint, the location is in Johnson City.)

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


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. Clean up of a train wreck with spectators looking on.
  2. Three – horse and buggy, trains, and automobiles (This is a great opportunity to talk more about changes in transportation over time.)
  3. Telegraph poles, way people are dressed, cars, type of cars – This photo was taken sometime between 1910-1920.
  4. Coal and lumber – This can lead to further questions about coal and why a train would be hauling it. Same questions can be asked about lumber.
  5. Men, women, children, there may be some members of the African American community included in the photo, but it’s hard to tell.
  6. The people in the photo are predominantly Caucasian.
  7. We don’t know who took the picture, but it could have been taken by the newspaper, the railroad company, or a spectator.
  8. To document the train wreck, perhaps for the newspaper.
  9. This picture was taken in Johnson City on Walnut Street where the old Burlington Mills factory is located. This is before the train tracks were moved to their current location.
  10. Open ended answer, but it’s interesting to note the crowd of people just watching. Also, some of them drove their cars to watch the train wreck be cleaned up. There’s a saying about something being a “train wreck” but not being able to look away from it. Perhaps this is where that particular turn of phrase comes from?

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

Heritage Alliance Extending Closures Until Further Notice

We hope you all are doing well and staying safe. In keeping with the most recent guidelines from the CDC and the Federal Government, the Heritage Alliance has decided to extend the closure of our office and museums until further notice. If you need us during this time, we can still be reached by phone at 423-753-9580 or by email at info@heritageall.org. Continue to check our content on our website, Facebook page (Heritage Alliance and Chester Inn Museum), Instagram, and YouTube under the Chester Inn Museum.

As we have additional updates, we will post them.


Jonesborough Cholera Epidemic of 1873 Primary Source Activities

Cholera was one of the most deadly and feared diseases of the nineteenth century. An infected person could show no symptoms for several days, spreading the bacteria without even realizing it. In some cases, cholera caused vomiting and diarrhea so severe that a patient died within hours of showing signs of the illness.

In 1854, Dr. John Snow found a link between people who came down with cholera and contaminated water sources during an outbreak of cholera in London, but his theory that the disease spread through water sources was not widely accepted or well understood. In 1883, Robert Koch used a microscope and finally identified the specific bacteria that cause cholera.

In 1873, when cholera broke out in New Orleans, doctors could do little to stop the spread of the disease or treat sick patients. People could not prevent cholera, but they tracked the deaths as the disease spread along transportation and trade routes. Cholera spread up the Mississippi to Memphis, where state prisoners working on the railroad contracted cholera and carried it back to Nashville. From Nashville, the outbreak spread along the rail lines, causing deaths in Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Greeneville. In Jonesborough, anxious readers followed the approach of the disease in the pages of the Herald & Tribune.

Primary Source Activity:

You are now a history detective, use the newspaper articles from 1873 to follow along as the cholera epidemic sweeps through Jonesborough. Pick a name from the Citizens’ List below. While reading the paper, see if you can determine what happened to the citizen you picked. Were they a survivor, or were they a casualty of the epidemic? The accompanying Organizational Chart will help you keep track of the epidemic and your thoughts as you read. The Post-Activity Questionnaire will encourage you to look to other sources for additional research.

Note to parents, you can add an additional question to the Organizational Chart. You can also add two more names to the Citizens’ List.


Here are all the materials you will need to complete this activity. This activity is recommended for fifth grade and above. There are several, good vocabulary words included in the newspaper, you’ll most likely find them as you read along.

Herald & Tribune Primary Source

Citizens’ List

Organization Chart

Post-Activity Questionnaire


Some other thoughts to consider, how has our understanding of germs and diseases changed since 1873? Who were the helpers during the cholera epidemic? What is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic? How did the epidemics of the late 1800s change the United States? Are we as a society today better prepared for a massive outbreak of a disease?

For additional research, this is a great link – https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/history-of-cholera

Above all, remember that historians are here to remind you that a future is possible. Moments such as the cholera epidemic might be difficult to look back on and study, but they teach us so much. Historians look to the past to give context to the present and to help inform the future.

Virgil Peters: Through the Eyes of an Appalachian Country Boy

Mr. Peters was scheduled to be the presenter for our first History Happy Hour of the 2020 season, but we have had to postpone his program due to the current health crisis. When we have the reschedule date, we will let you all know. In the meantime, we wanted to share a part of Mr. Peters’ story with you. Click here (Virgil Peters) to read about his service in the Navy during WWII, including his experience of seeing the American flag raised after the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Mr. Peters also wrote a book about his life titled World War II and Beyond: Through the Eyes of an Appalachian Country Boy. The book is available from Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/World-War-II-Beyond-Appalachian/dp/B084DFZRH8

Here are some other sources that illuminate Mr. Peters’s life.




Heritage Alliance – Updated Statement Covid-19 and Necessary Closings

The health and safety of everyone that visits the Heritage Alliance and our museums and attends our programs is our top priority. Over the past week, we have been monitoring the Covid-19 situation closely. Effective immediately, the Jonesborough Visitor’s Center is closed to the public for thirty days. They plan to reopen on Friday, April 17. In keeping with the Town’s and the Nation’s efforts to encourage social distancing, Executive Director Anne Mason, with full support of the Board of Trustees, has decided to temporarily close the offices of the Heritage Alliance and the Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum.

Our office will be closed to the public from Thursday, March 19 through Monday, April 20. Staff will stagger time in the office and museums with time working remotely from home. We will still be available by phone and by email. In the coming weeks, the Heritage Alliance will be increasing its online content with digital exhibits and more YouTube videos on the Chester Inn’s YouTube page.

The Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum will reopen on Saturday, April 18. Town Tours will also be suspended until April 18. The Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum and Archives will be closed to the public as long as the Visitor’s Center is closed. The Architectural Salvage Warehouse will reopen for the season on April 18 and be open from 8-12. The History Happy Hours scheduled for March 26 and April 16 have been cancelled. We will work to reschedule those programs for later this year. All school programming has been suspended through the end of April. As we get closer to these dates, if we need to reevaluate the situation and extend closures for safety’s sake, we will do so and keep you all up to date.

We want to assure our members and community that the Heritage Alliance is still here, and we will be working on creative ways to share history with all of you from afar. This is a challenge for us to rise to. Your continued support will be invaluable now more than ever. If you are able to, please renew your membership or make a small donation. Membership fees and donations help us grow our educational programs, even if we’re growing them digitally.

If you have any questions or concerns or ideas for fun videos, please reach out to us via email or by phone. We are still here. If history has taught us anything, it is that there will be turmoil, but there will also be a time after the turmoil. We look forward to being on the other side of this current challenge, and we look forward to evaluating the lessons we will have learned. We encourage you to keep a journal during this time, to write letters, to take photos of what’s going on around you. I promise you that further down the line, some historian will really appreciate it.

Above all, stay safe and healthy. We wish nothing but the best for you all.

Heritage Alliance Covid-19 Action Statement

We hope you are doing well. The health and safety of everyone that visits the Heritage Alliance and our museums and attends our programs is our top priority. We have been implementing additional policies and procedures to keep everyone healthy and happy. We are committed to providing a safe and comforting environment where staff, members, visitors, and our community can join together to experience history.

We have always cleaned our offices, museums, and public spaces, but we are making an increased effort to clean and sanitize heavy traffic areas with disinfectant spray and wipes. We will be placing hand sanitizer at our museums. Touchable exhibit pieces and activities, such as the coloring table at the Chester Inn Museum, have been removed for the foreseeable future.

Heritage Alliance volunteers are asked to use their own discretion in volunteering at the museum and for our programs. Staff and volunteers should stay home if they feel ill or if they need to care for a family member. The Heritage Alliance’s Executive Director, in communication with the Board President and the Trustees, will determine if the office needs to close and if staff members need to work from home.

The Heritage Alliance’s Executive Director, in communication with the Tennessee Historical Commission, Board President, and the Trustees, will determine if the Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum needs to close. We will follow THC and State protocol with the Chester Inn Museum.

The Heritage Alliance is monitoring the situation closely and will determine cancellation of programs well in advance of the event. Our March 26 History Happy Hour has been canceled. We will reschedule with Mr. Peters for a later date.

The Heritage Alliance will adhere with Town, State, and Federal protocols as they are handed down. If cancellation is necessary, we will do our best to reschedule the program for a later date. If the program is ticketed, the Heritage Alliance will work with ticket holders to reschedule or refund tickets to the best of our abilities. At this time, we are working to increase our online offerings in the form of YouTube videos and digital exhibits.

We encourage our staff, volunteers, and visitors to follow the hygiene practices suggested by the Center for Disease Control and other outlets. Covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands regularly, and other common sense precautions.

Thank you.
Anne Mason
Executive Director

Anne G’Fellers-Mason New Executive Director

From Board President Gordon Edwards,

On behalf of the Heritage Alliance Board of Trustees, I am privileged and pleased to be able to announce the appointment of Ms. Anne G’Fellers Mason as Executive Director of the Heritage Alliance.

I want to extend to each and every one of you my appreciation for all your support in everything that the Heritage Alliance does. We cannot do what we do without you. The Board of Trustees is excited about our future and believes that Anne will lead the organization with enthusiasm and vision.

To learn more about Anne and her new position, read this write up in the Herald and Tribune.

Christmas at the Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum

Come and celebrate Christmas at the Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum!

On Saturday, November 30, you can take a free Town Tour at 1:00 or Railroad Walking History Tour at 2:30. Both tours depart from the Chester Inn Museum. At 11:00 and 1:30 that day, head docent Joe Spiker will be reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas in the restored parlor room.

The upstairs dining, parlor, and lodging rooms will be decorated for Victorian Christmas from December 7 – December 30.

On Saturday, December 14, stop by the Museum from 11-3 and make a Victorian Christmas card.

42nd Annual Colors of Christmas Progressive Dinner

The magic of Tennessee’s oldest town comes alive during the Colors of Christmas Progressive Dinner hosted by the Heritage Alliance. This year’s dinner takes place on the evening of Saturday, December 7th. Multiple seating times are available at 4:00, 6:00, and 8:00.

Now in its 42nd year, the Progressive Dinner is a unique event, combining fine food, rich history, and great entertainment. Proceeds from the Progressive Dinner help ensure that the educational programs of the Heritage Alliance remain accessible to a wide range of audiences. Proceeds from this year’s event will help us grow our Hands-On with History initiative to bring artifacts and programs into the classroom.

This year, the evening begins at the historic Oak Hill School, this one room schoolhouse serves as the heart of the Heritage Alliance’s educational programs. Each of the following courses are set in a former school, including Academy Hill, now remodeled condominiums, the McKinney Center at Booker T. Washington School, once a school for the African American community during segregation and now an arts center for the region, and the Warner Institute, an 1850s brick structure that is now a private home. Two of the locations have not been featured on the dinner in over ten years.

The Colors of Christmas Progressive Dinner has become a traditional start to the holiday season for many people throughout East Tennessee and surrounding states. Seasonal music by several of our area’s finest musicians, including the ever popular Jonesborough Novelty Band, gourmet food, memorable camaraderie and great fun are the hallmarks of this popular event.  One seating time has already sold out. Make sure you get your tickets today!


Ticket price is $85.00 per person and proceeds go toward the educational programs of the Heritage Alliance. Seating is limited. On-line ticketing through the Town of Jonesborough is available at jonesborough.com/tickets. You can also make a reservation by calling (423) 753-1010. If you would like to make a reservation for a table of 6 or more, please contact the Heritage Alliance directly.