The Boones Creek Museum located in the basement of the old Boones Creek Christian Church. Historian Ed Bowman in the Pioneer Room. Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press
Tucked away in the basement of the oldest continuously operating Christian church in Tennessee, there’s a treasure trove of history of the Boones Creek community and the 18th- century trailblazer for whom it is named.
Contained in four Sunday school rooms beneath the former sanctuary of Boones Creek Christian Church, the Boones Creek Museum is chock-full of artifacts, photos and documentation of Tennessee’s first community.
Its prizes include remnants from the beech tree inscribed with the words “D. Boone Cilled A Bar on tree in the year 1760”; a handcrafted long rifle inlaid with the silver nameplate of gunsmith Charles Bean, a descendant of Russell Bean, the first white man born in what is now Tennessee; and a photograph of the foundation of a cabin now submerged in Boone Lake that was built in 1769 by William Bean, Tennessee’s first permanent white settler.
There are storyboards documenting the rise of the community’s earliest churches and schools, the lineage of a couple of its better- known families, and the simple, yet graceful, architecture of some of its longest-enduring homes and stores.
But by far, the museum’s collections are dominated by the many implements of labor with which the community was built — saws and horse tack, milk cans and butter churns, food grinders and canning jars, spinning wheels and quilting frames.
A project of the Boones Creek Historical Trust, the museum was established in 1988 as an outcrop of the 1986 bicentennial Tennessee Homecoming celebration. Trust member Ruth Hodges is credited with spearheading its creation and retired Science Hill High School math teacher Ed Bowman serves as the trust’s historian.
According to Bowman, who has created a PowerPoint sketch of the 244 years of history spanned by the museum’s collections, the story of the community began nearly a decade before William Bean built his cabin.
Bean and Boone were hunting companions and had been though the area more than once when, in 1869, Bean selected one of their favorite camp sites near the mouth of Boones Creek on Watauga River, just a few hundred yards from today’s Sonny Marina, to settle his family. Within a year, other pioneering families from Virginia and North Carolina had joined them and the Beans had built a fort to protect them from the still unfriendly natives. The fort continues to stand today just off nearby Flourville Road with the creek flowing beneath it.
The beech tree on which Boone killed his bear was located in a clearing in the woods just off Old Gray Station Road until 1916, when a windstorm brought it down. A stone monument marks its location and the trust has placed sturdy cattle rack fence around it to prevent animals from damaging its stones and inscription.
Bowman’s grandmother played beneath the tree as a child and later recalled to her children how the Isley family who owned the land had the tree hauled to Wolfe Brothers furniture company in Piney Flats, where it was fashioned into small tables and at least 72 numbered bowls, including three pieces on display at the museum along with a few notched branches and a couple of varnished planks.
Decades later, the John Sevier Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution purchased the remaining lumber and had it made into gavels that they gifted to schools and officeholders around the region.
The museum’s Boone collection also includes the story and photos of the waterfall that legend holds Boone hid beneath to escape a group of pursuing Indians. The genuine article is also located off Old Gray Station Road near Boones Creek Middle School at the site of what is now The Barn at Boone Falls reception area.