Meet Josh Dacey, Site Manager for Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum
I grew up in a small mountain town at the foot of Blue Ridge. Tryon has no real claim to fame, other than being the birthplace of Nina Simone. The ancient movie theater and lone grocery store offered little in the way of entertainment. I spent most of my childhood tramping through the woods chasing dinosaurs or vanquishing monsters, kept safe by my magic armor. When my gallant services were not required or it was pouring rain, comic books took me to other worlds filled with heroes and adventure. We were not a sports family. My parents were fierce advocates of the written word. My sister and I anxiously awaited our weekly trips to the library.The mesmerizing stacks containing thousands of books tantalized our young minds with endless possibilities. The smell is what I remember the most. Not musty. Not dusty. Old. I guess I have always been attracted to old things and old stories.
The first history book I stumbled across was, like many Southern historians, about the Civil War. I devoured everything I could find about the war. My parents and sister tolerated being dragged to reenactments on the weekends, despite the deafening cannon blasts that my dad swears are the reason he has to wear hearing aids. When I was 13 my grandfather agreed to a two week sojourn to visit every battlefield and fort as far north as Pennsylvania. Rambling around in his 25ft RV with his 31 pound cat, I was beyond the words in the books. I was there. The very sites of conflict and hardship. I developed an odd habit on that trip. My hand went into every stony crevice on every battlefield. It wasn’t an impulse so much as an obsession. I was searching, driven by the book I had just finished about a VMI cadet who fell at New Market called Ghost Cadet. Before the boy died he hid his pocket watch in a pile of stones. Set in modern times, the story’s protagonist finds the watch and begins to see the specter of the fallen boy. So, to thirteen year old Joshua, I was going to find a watch and have lengthy discussions with a ghost. A perfectly normal thought for a teenager of course. It was on that trip that I realized my purpose in life. To work at one of these places.
The only subject that mattered to me in school from that point forward was history. It was my major in both undergraduate and graduate school, although it did take a turn my freshman year. That year I discovered the world of museum studies and public history. This led to a four year internship in the Special Collections and Archives at UNC Asheville. Honing my skills as a curator and exhibition designer, by the time I graduated, UNC Greensborough’s Museum Studies Master’s degree was in my sights. Joining a cohort of nine other history fanatics, we worked tirelessly, not only learning the academic skills but the personal skills of connecting with individuals and a community. The vital connections that are required to share an individual or a community’s story with the world. Our crowning achievement at the end of those two years was a panel in the traveling “States of Incarceration” exhibition. The first and only exhibition to document the myriad problems with the U.S. prison system.
After graduation, I worked several years for North Carolina’s Historic Sites Commission, creating programs and community engagement at the birthplace of a former governor. After meeting my wife, New Hampshire became our next destination. During my time with NC Historic Sites I developed a passion for historic farming methods, heirloom vegetables, and 19th century foodways. We found 12 acres and an 1882 farm house just outside Hanover. Farming itch scratched and after four years of brutal winters, my teaching contract at Dartmouth College was over. We packed up and returned south. Over the convening months, we bounced around as nomads until I landed a gig with the National Park Service at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. A season of interpretation and hiking everyday restored a part of me that had gone dormant in the frigid New Hampshire cold. We also realized the South was truly our home. It is where our families live. It is where our history lives.
When I am not at the Chester Inn, I am usually gardening, cooking groovy vegan grub, writing, practicing my longbow skills, or brewing beer. Yes, I am still an avid bookworm and love comics. Our three dogs keep me on my toes and in shape as I chase them around the yard constantly. Being puppies, they usually evade my attempts to tucker them out. The opportunity to join the Heritage Alliance family is certainly a highlight in my career. The constant support and unending encouragement, not to mention nerdy banter, are what makes this a joyful job. I hope to serve you all and the Jonesborough Community for years to come.