Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 14

OUR BLUE RIDGE TOWNS

Jonesborough, Tennessee

Where 'Story'
Defines a Town
This is a story about Story. It's got unforgettable characters. A
beautiful setting. A happy ending. And the promise of more to come.
Story and photos by JOAN VANNORSDALL

I

t's my fault.
I've driven three and a half hours
to Jonesborough, Tennessee, planning to spend Sunday afternoon at
the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre
watching "The Miracle Worker."
Without a ticket.
And it's sold out.
A local play on a winter Sunday afternoon, in a town of 5,000 tucked in a
corner of Tennessee...sold out?
I leave my phone number on a waiting list and walk toward the door, where a
costumed man stops me. "You look pretty
disappointed. Tell you what: If you'll usher for us, we'll set up a folding chair along
the wall and let you watch."
I do. They do. And the play is astonishingly good.
None of this should have surprised
me. Jonesborough is known as The Storytelling Capital of the World, and each
October thousands gather for the longstanding National Storytelling Festival.
The International Storytelling Center sits
in the middle of Main Street, headed by a
world-renown champion of the power of
Story to create understanding and build
peace. (See sidebar).
There's the McKinney Center, inside the WPA-era Booker T. Washington
School, where, in addition to a full set of
art classes, the past and present stories of
Jonesborough are performed on the Jackson Theatre stage under direction of na-

14

BLUERIDGECOUNTRY.COM

A local play on a winter Sunday afternoon,
in a town of 5,000 tucked in a corner of
Tennessee...sold out?
tionally known playwright Jules Corriere.
Across the street, the Jonesborough Senior Center has its own weekly storytelling initiative, First Story Circle.
Jonesborough even has a storytelling blog. Log on to onlyinjonesborough.
com and read stories about and by Jonesborough residents. Or post your own. (It
comes as no surprise that the town of
Jonesborough has hired full-time social
media and website directors.)
And just when you think you've heard
it all...you find out that the historic Eureka Inn where you're staying is holding
tryouts in the lobby for its upcoming
Mystery Theatre play.
In Jonesborough, story is much more
than a brand. Story is a way of life-and
it's also their ticket to economic stability.
Jonesborough's story goes way
back: it's the oldest town in Tennessee,
many of its buildings dating back to the
late 1700s. Jonesborough was the first
capital of the short-lived State of Franklin, which tried and failed to become

America's 14th state. Daniel Boone, Davy
Crockett and John Sevier all have Jonesborough ties.
Today, you can take a well-annotated
walking tour of the town, led by Heritage
Alliance tour guides. Stops include the
historic Washington County Courthouse,
the Chester Inn Museum (Presidents Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk and Andrew
Johnson slept here), and numerous 19thcentury churches, homes and storefronts.
Bob Browning has been the town administrator since 1978, and he's seen
Jonesborough ebb and flow.
"In the early 1970s, the town realized
that competing with Johnson City and
big box retailers wasn't the way to go. The
town leaders gathered and determined
that preservation and tourism were the
way forward."
The result? The formation of The Civic Trust, which oversaw the restoration
of Jonesborough's Main Street to become
the first downtown in Tennessee designated as a historic zone. All utilities went


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Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019

Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 3
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Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG1
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