County Mayor Dan Eldridge looks at one of the three new display cases containing copies of historical legal documents. (Max Hrenda/Johnson City Press)
Roughly two years after getting the state legislative go-ahead to place historical documents inside county buildings, the Washington County Heritage Committee unveiled eight pieces bearing national, state and local lineage inside the George P. Jaynes Justice Center.
About 100 to 150 people attended the unveiling on the center’s second floor. Three large American Cherry wood cases were covered with white linen as Mary Alexander, Heritage Committee chairwoman, kicked off an hour-long dedication by thanking the County Commission for supporting the committee’s quest.
Alexander was followed by several speakers, including County Mayor Dan Eldridge.
“We’re dedicating historical documents that are fundamental to the history of this community, out state and our nation,” he said. “Quite frankly, these are documents our nation was built on. These are the fundamental documents related to our culture and our society.”
Eight initial documents were chosen for display that are “historically significant documents related to the American and Tennessee Jurisprudence,” according to a resolution unanimously approved by the County Commission.
The documents include the Ten Commandments; the Magna Carta; Watauga Petition of 1776; Declaration of Independence; Constitution of the State of Franklin; Preamble of the United States Constitution; The Bill of Rights and other amendments; and the Tennessee Constitution of 1796.
“The documents you will see here tonight brought government to our world,” said Ron Dykes, Washington County director of schools. “I’m pleased that most of these documents will be on a touring schedule for our schools.”
The linens were removed and all manner of officialdom, including county commissioners, judges, committee members and visitors, viewed the historical duplications through tilted glass.
In November, county commissioners unanimously voted to change the name and purpose of the Historical Documents Display Study Committee, which initially was tasked with choosing documents for permanent display in the justice center.
The Heritage Committee includes Alexander; Ned Irwin, county archivist and records manager; Mike Ford, a county commissioner who serves as a liaison between the Public Safety Committee and the Heritage Committee; Judge John Kiener, Washington County historian; William Kennedy, Jonesborough Historic Zoning Commission; Dr. Susan Kiernan, Washington County Schools assistant director; and, Herman Tester, a retired educator.
Commissioners unanimously approved the list of documents — more specifically, reproductions. Commissioners also approved a resolution directing the committee to “continue their work by going into the schools with presentations and portable displays to be used to educate students regarding the rich history of our region and state.”
On May 22, committee members voted to replace the word “students” with “citizens.”
Washington County began the process in late 2012 following passage of legislation sponsored by state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, which allows the display of historically significant national and state documents inside county-owned buildings.
Shortly after the legislation went into effect, County Commissioner Roger Nave, Public Safety Committee chairman, introduced a resolution authorizing the county to form a seven-member committee “charged with implementing Public Chapter No. 686 (House Bill 2685).”
Jonesborough resident William Stout designed the cases. Greeneville cabinet maker Duane Stanton constructed the display cases.
The county’s volunteer fire department funding requests also were unveiled within Monday’s County Commission agenda.
The Fall Branch ($175,000), Fall Branch First Responder ($100,500), Gray ($177,220), Nolichuckey ($162,400), Embreeville ($150,000), Limestone ($216,000) and Sulphur Springs ($177,800) fire departments’ requests total about $1.2 million.
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