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!


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?

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.

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.


Heritage Alliance Executive Director Deborah Montanti Retires


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!



With great appreciation,

Oak Hill School Heritage Education Program Celebrates 20th Anniversary!

This October, the award winning Oak Hill School Heritage Education Program will be celebrating its 20th anniversary! Since 1999, the one room schoolhouse has welcomed students from across the region to a school day in 1892/1893. The Heritage Alliance is excited to celebrate the program, and we hope you will join us.


Oak Hill School served the Knob Creek Community of Johnson City from 1886 through the 1950s. It was a part of Washington County Schools, and it was moved to Jonesborough in the 1990s to save it from demolition. The heritage education program was crafted by the Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum, and the schoolhouse is the largest artifact in the museum’s collection. Today, the schoolhouse is operated by the Heritage Alliance, and students of all ages participate in the experiential learning program.


First class at Oak Hill School on October 11, 1999

When the schoolhouse reopened in its current location in 1999, Jean Smith brought her fourth graders from University School as the first group of students to attend the program. We’re excited that University School will be bringing their fourth graders again this year, twenty years to the day. What’s even more exciting, Jean Smith will be their Schoolmarm.


On October 13, we’ll be hosting an anniversary celebration for the program from 2:00-4:00 that afternoon. Stop by for light refreshments, and try your hand at the slate board or the quill pen. We are also partnering with the StoryTown Brigade that day to offer a story circle at the Jonesborough Public Library. If you are an alumni of Oak Hill School, or the family member of any alumni, please join the story circle and share your memories. It’s important that we record these stories and this history for future generations. The story circle will take place from 3:00-4:00 that afternoon.


In addition to public and private schools, Oak Hill School welcomes a number of homeschool students throughout the year. It has also hosted senior groups, foreign exchange students, birthday parties, and weddings. Jonesborough Elementary has even taught their 21st century lessons in the 19th century schoolhouse. Oak Hill School remains a vital part of the community.



Heritage Alliance Hiring for Programming Coordinator

Have you ever wanted to work in a small museum and gain experience in a wide variety of fields? Now is your chance! The Heritage Alliance is hiring for the part time position of Programming Coordinator. We are searching for an energetic person to assist with exhibits, educational programming, and other museum related activities.


Under the supervision of the Executive Director, the Programming Coordinator is responsible for exhibit planning, installation, and programing in the museums operated by the Heritage Alliance. The Programming Coordinator, working in tandem with the Chester Inn Museum’s Head Docent, is responsible for maintaining the archival collections of the Heritage Alliance using proper collections record keeping and preservation techniques. Additionally, the Programming Coordinator is responsible for collection research, exhibit planning and implementation, and coordinates with the Executive Director and museum personnel on the development and initiation of educational and outreach programs for the Heritage Alliance. The Programming Coordinator shall advise the Executive Director on the current state of the museums, and make recommendations for acquisitions and de-accession in concert with foundation and museum missions. The Programming Coordinator shall inform and advise the Board of Trustees regarding conservation needs including environmental conditions, storage, feasibility of exhibition or collections movement, and direct care of the artifacts.


The Programming Coordinator shall possess an understanding of the use of material culture to interpret history.


Programming Coordinator Responsibilities

  1. Responsible for collection security

  2. Responsible for registration and cataloguing for the collections of the Heritage Alliance

  3. Monitors collection conservation needs and keeps Executive Director informed on exhibit and collection condition



  1. Plans and implements permanent and temporary exhibits in the museums operated by the Heritage Alliance

  2. Plans and implements interpretative and educational programs for a wide range of audiences that correspond with exhibits

  3. Responsible for collection research activities

  4. Maintains a verifiable collection data base source

  5. Provides tours of the museums and the town of Jonesborough



Bachelor’s Degree in history, Museum Studies, education or related field is required. Work experience should include museum employment (at least one year) and familiarity with standard museum operation procedures, collection care. Desirable skills: carpentry, word processing, data base entry, writing, public speaking, and grant writing


How to Apply: Email Resume, Cover letter and two letters of reference to Anne Mason at amason@heritageall.org.


No phone calls please.


The Heritage Alliance is an equal opportunity employer, and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status or any other characteristic protected by law.