“Johnson City’s History Harvest: Preserving Our Heritage” is an effort to locate and digitally preserve documents, photographs, artifacts, and personal and family histories.
“Johnson City’s History Harvest,” being held as part of the city’s yearlong Sesquicentennial Celebration, gives a chance for citizens to contribute new information and artifacts to the history already held by the Archives of Appalachia and Carroll Reece Museum in ETSU’s Center for Appalachian Studies and Services, area historical societies and other organizations.
Dr. Tom Lee, ETSU associate professor of history, said that organizers hope to reach a broad, diverse representation of the community, including residents from the World War II generation, to get a better sense of the ways in which the city evolved and grew through the years.
One item of particular significance Lee and other regional historians hope will eventually be found — potentially through this History Harvest — is the diary of city founder Henry Johnson.
This diary was referenced by Johnson’s grandson, John Smalling, in a Johnson City Chronicle article that was undated but likely appeared in the paper before 1950. Smalling, who was 74 years old at the time of the article’s publication, claimed to have the diary in his possession.
“What became of it afterward is unknown,” Lee said, “but it would be significant to locate Henry Johnson’s diary for the Sesquicentennial and either have a digital record or have the diary itself properly preserved.
“The diary, however, is only one of many artifacts that relate to Johnson City’s history. There may be all sorts of items that we simply don’t know exist. These are treasures which, once lost or forgotten, will never be retrieved. Everyone has items and everyone has stories. It’s not just a few people who have played major roles in the city’s history whose stories matter. Every person who has lived or worked in Johnson City has had a role to play and has an insight to share.”
During “Johnson City’s History Harvest,” participants may bring physical artifacts or memorabilia to be digitally recorded and preserved. Documents and photographs will be scanned, artifacts photographed and stories recorded. Participants are welcome to donate physical items to the Reece Museum or Archives of Appalachia, Lee said, but whether they donate the items or keep them, participants will receive a digital copy of their materials.
“ETSU offers the possibility of preserving those memories, but the fact that it can be digitized and its significance preserved, even if ETSU doesn’t keep the object, that’s a big deal,” Lee said. “That means that people who are interested, potentially generations from now, even if they don’t have the physical object, can have reference to it through these records.
“Someday, somebody may find it useful, and if it’s not collected now, it may never be. For the people who want to participate, it’s an opportunity to contribute part of their family’s legacy, their part in the story of this city and region, to the city’s legacy in a very direct and meaningful way.”
By March 8, individuals and families who have stories, photos, artifacts and memorabilia to share are invited to contact the Department of History to share brief summaries of their stories and descriptions of memorabilia. Several of these will be selected, and those who submitted them will be invited this spring to bring items to donate or have digitally preserved.
“Johnson City’s History Harvest: Preserving Our Heritage” is the second such harvest conducted by the ETSU Department of History. The first, held during the 2016-17 academic year, focused on the heritage of tobacco farming in the region and yielded a number of good artifacts and stories.
The department may be reached by email at [email protected], by phone at 423-439-4222 (leave a voice message) or by mail at History Harvest/ETSU History Department, Box 70672, Johnson City, TN 37614.