Efforts to secure state grant funding for a visitors center annex in Jonesborough’s downtown historic district are continuing. And if the town’s third annual grant application and a corresponding letter-writing campaign to the governor’s office do the trick, preliminary work on the project could begin late this year.
Town Administrator Bob Browning said the idea of placing a visitors center annex downtown and reconfiguring several elements of the town’s tourism infrastructure began several years ago with a tourism study conducted by Destination Development.
As in many cities, Browning said, the study found a good percentage of Jonesborough tourists bypass the existing Visitors Center on the Boone Street corridor into downtown, park at the courthouse and take their questions about the town’s history to the town’s merchants. The merchants don’t have the information the tourists need. The visitors center is too far away for many people to walk. And too often, the opportunity to share the significance of Jonesborough’s history is lost.
Browning said moving the visitors center’s tourism functions downtown would not only better orient visitors to its historic sites but would also bring more guests to the history museum and provide more space in the existing visitors center for public gatherings and activities like Jonesborough’s popular contra dances.
Placing the annex next door to the Chester Inn at Christopher Taylor Park would open up even more opportunities to improve the town’s tourism infrastructure, Browning said, including preservation of the 220-year-old cabin for which the park is named, expansion of Jonesborough’s interpretive history programs and the provision of the trail head to link three separate walking trails already in development.
The cabin would be moved to a site near the Oak Hill School, a popular field trip destination where grade school students from all over the region learn what it was like to attend school in the late 1700s from costumed interpretive history artists.
The cabin would be added to the interpretative history program at the school and, more importantly, Browning said, clapboard would be added to the cabin’s exterior to preserve its 200-year-old logs.
“It’s one of the oldest examples of saddle notch construction in Tennessee and it needs to be preserved,” he said. But because the cabin was moved form its original location west of town and its original clapboards removed, it is no longer a candidate for preservation by the state.
“It’s been out in the weather and the logs are now beginning to deteriorate. It’s an expensive process, but it needs to be encapsulated either inside another building or covered with clapboard.
If funding can be secured, the visitors center annex would be built at the cabin’s current site to resemble the two-story home that originally occupied the lot next door to the Chester Inn.
The new building would provide about 9,000 square feet of space for visitors center information, museum exhibits and trail head services for three separate waking trail projects already in development in Jonesborough.
Browning said the town’s third application for an Enhancement Grant from state Department of Transportation to fund the project was submitted in November. “It’s a rather large grant, about $1.3 million, and this is our third application,” he said.
To help with the application’s advancement, the town has spent the past 60 days recruiting community leaders and other entities with a stake in Jonesborough to express their support for the project in letters to the governor’s office and to the TDOT.
Support has so far come from the county mayor’s office, individual county commissioners, the International Storytelling Center, the Jonesborough Heritage Alliance, members of the town’s Veterans’ Memorial Committee, town merchants and others.
The Department of Transportation decision on the application is expected in the summer.