Jonesborough, established in 1779, is the oldest town in Tennessee. When you walk the streets of this 18th-century town, you take a step back in history. With its well-preserved Main Street, you may imagine yourself in period clothing having conversations with Daniel Boone Presidents Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson and James K. Polk. Jonesborough shares a diverse history and is seen through educational events and the preserved architecture.
The very first pioneers settled on the Watauga and Nolichucky rivers, purchasing land from the Cherokee. At that time, the land was within the boundaries of North Carolina but would later comprise the six upper counties of our present Tennessee. The people who settled here wanted their own government and petitioned North Carolina to be appropriated as a legitimate entity.
Washington County was the first county formed west of the mountains. It was created in 1777 as one of six counties on the western frontier that would later be named the state of Tennessee. Jonesborough, as it is today, became the county seat of Washington County as named by Legislator Willie Jones. There was lots of support for North Carolina’s western expansion over the Appalachian Mountains. A group of men met in the home of Charles Robertson to pick a location for the new courthouse. John Carter, Andrew Greer, William Cobb, Jacob Womack, George Russell, John Sevier and James Stuart planned the layout and selected the location. David Hughes sold 100 acres to the group who laid out the land in lots to form the town. These lots were then sold by lottery.
This area is sometimes referred to as the “Lost State of Franklin.” After the town of Jonesborough was established, some people from this and the surrounding area (then a part of the Western District of North Carolina) felt their representation wasn’t fairly managed and were not fully protected by their state leaders. A delegation from the area met on Dec. 14, 1784, to form a new state, the state of Franklin, named after Benjamin Franklin. Jonesborough would serve as the capital of Franklin until a new capital was formed in nearby Greeneville. John Sevier was installed as the first governor in March 1785 and was recognized as one of the most influential leaders in the development of Franklin. Franklin operated as the nation’s 14th state until 1788 but was never acknowledged by Congress. There were discussions and clashes which climaxed in the Battle of the State of Franklin, but, in the end, North Carolina once again repossessed the lands.
Eventually, the state of Tennessee would be admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796, as the 16th state. Tennessee received the nickname "The Volunteer State" during the War of 1812. Lots of Tennesseans stepped up to help with the war effort.
Jonesborough remains a major thread in the forming of the state of Tennessee and carries a proud heritage and culture that is still celebrated today.
The Chester Inn
The oldest original building in Jonesborough is the Chester Inn. The building was constructed by Dr. William Chester in 1797 and was lodging for those traveling through the area on Stage Road. The restored building is now a state-owned historical site. The inn housed many celebrities in its day, including Presidents Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson and James K. Polk. There is a museum on-site that gives historical accounts of the history of Jonesborough from its beginnings in 1779 to the present.
The Chester Inn is operated by the Heritage Alliance. Visitors enjoy reading about the history of the state of Franklin and browsing through the broad collection of photographs. The museum features a diorama of Jonesborough in the 1850s, along with a history of the Chester Inn. Many of the rooms are open for viewing, including the dining and lodging rooms restored to their original late 1800s Victorian style. Kids are provided with a coloring book featuring Jonesborough’s historic buildings and an interactive scavenger hunt activity. The Chester Inn offers activities for all ages and is highly recommended. Visit The Heritage Alliance — 212 East Sabin Drive, Jonesborough — heritageall.org, or call 423-753-4580.
Storytelling Comes to Jonesborough
The city of Jonesborough has become famous for its storytelling. In 1973 local teacher Jimmy Neil Smith set up a makeshift stage beside the “Mail Pouch” sign and Appalachian storytellers, including Ray Hicks, shared their stories with a small crowd. From this beginning, Jonesborough’s International Storytelling Festival has become an annual tradition during the first full week in October. During its three-day run, the town will host over 15,000 visitors, all listening to stories and sharing their own. Also, throughout the year, the International Storytelling Center on Main Street offers a host of activities and always has a “Teller in Residence.” The website is storytellingcenter.net, or call 423-753-2171.
Rocky Mount State Historic Site in Piney Flats
Rocky Mount State Historic Site is home to the renowned Cobb house and other historic buildings. The beautiful and peaceful locale served as the capital of the Southwest territory in the late 1700s. Rocky Mount’s 40 acres feature a flock of authentic Cotswold sheep, a blacksmith shop and gardens maintained by master gardeners. Hosts dressed in period clothing serve as interpreters, educators and museum guides. The site provides many volunteers sharing their knowledge of the history of Northeast Tennessee and the state. The well-done museum is filled with 18th- and 19th-century artifacts and valuable historical information. Visit rockymountainmueseum.com or call 423-538-7396.
Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site in Johnson City
This site sits on 45 acres with 11 historic buildings and features a history of the Northeast Tennessee area. It also provides details about the families that lived on or near the property. While visiting Tipton-Haynes, guests have access to the Tipton/Gifford/Simerly cemetery, a limestone cave, a natural spring, a buffalo trace, a nature trail and a visitor center. Visit tipton-haynes.org or call 423-926-3631.
Doe River Covered Bridge in Elizabethton
This historic covered bridge is the oldest still in use. It was originally built in 1882 and serves as a reminder of earlier days. Guests enjoy a walking tour, picnics and feeding of the local wildlife on the banks of the Doe River. Live music near the site is usually provided most Saturdays during the months of June through September. Visit tourcartercounty.com.
Exchange Place in Kingsport 
This farm once served as a relay station along Old Stage Road and a post office for Eden’s Ridge, TN. The Gaines-Preston Farm provides a living history and recaptures life in the 1800s, when travelers exchanged horses, money and stories. The Burrow Museum on-site is a great place for education and fun. Visit exchangeplace.info or call 423-288-6071.
George L. Carter Railroad Museum in Johnson City
This region has many historical connections to the development of the railroad. George L. Carter built the Clinchfield Railroad through 277 miles of mountainous terrain to carry coal from Eastern Kentucky to the Carolina Piedmont. Mr. Carter also gave his 120-acre farm and an endowment of $100,000 to establish a school, later to become East Tennessee State University. This museum is dedicated to his memory and features railroad memorabilia, toy trains and model railroading locomotives, rolling stock and structures. It has four large operating layouts in three different scales. Visit etsu.edu/railroad or call 423-439-3382.
Gray Fossil Site 
At the Gray Fossil Site, view and learn about an Early Pliocene assemblage of fossils dating between 4.5 and 4.9 million years old. This site is located near the town of Gray in Washington County, TN. These fossils were discovered during road construction in May 2000, after which local officials decided to preserve the site for research and education. Call 423-434-4263 or visit etsu.edu/cas/paleontology/ or gfs.visithandson.org/.
Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton
Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area is a 70-acre state park located along the Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga River. Because of a series of events critical to the establishment of the states of Tennessee and Kentucky, the site is considered to be an important National Historic Landmark. The location houses a museum, the reconstructed Fort Watauga, and the Carter Mansion, built between 1775 and 1780 by John and Landon Carter. The Carter family played an important role serving during the American Revolution and conflicts with Native Americans. Carter County was named for Landon Carter, and the county seat of Elizabethton was named for his wife, Elizabeth Maclin Carter. Call 423-543-5808 or visit tnstateparks.com/parks/info/sycamore-shoals.

"In Highland Cemetery (Elizabethton, TN) stands the largest Frazier Fur in Tennessee and the second largest in the nation, standing at 78 feet tall with a spread of 8 feet, 5 inches. It is worth a visit." — Kim F.