ETSU and Johnson City Public Library team up to harvest history

Hannah Swayze • Mar 31, 2019 at 12:00 AM

When studying history, East Tennessee State University history professor Tom Lee says you can never collect too much information.

In honor of Johnson City’s sesquicentennial year, the Johnson City Public Library and ETSU teamed up Saturday to collect as much information on Johnson City’s history from the public as they could.

This collection’s theme was “Johnson City’s History Harvest: Preserving Our Heritage.”

“It’s an opportunity to reach out for archival materials, other materials, artifacts, that, for one thing, will be really useful for people conducting research. But it’s also a way to reach into areas perhaps where you have — for lack of a better term — ‘holes’ in the historical record,” Lee said.

Throughout the day, community members came in to share photographs, books, letters and other historical items that help tell the history of Johnson City.

Using the library’s scanners and photography resources, digital copies were made of the items and, if the participants were willing, the originals were donated to the Archives of Appalachia, the Reece Museum, or another place for historical preservation.

The team collected letters — including a few from a colonel who spent time in the area — some new photographs for the archives and even an index file drawer, plate and room key from the John Sevier Hotel in the 1920s.

Representatives from local churches who are also celebrating their sesquicentennial this year brought history books, booklets and scrapbooks to share.

In addition to the day’s collection, Lee hopes in the future to see the collection of more history beyond that of the 20th century, and history that goes beyond prominent families and the process of industrialization.

He said there’s not a lot of information on the working class, laborers, and African-Americans and their experience. He hopes that people with any historical knowledge or items will share them.

“A lot of times people dismiss their own value. And the value of their history,” said Lee.

The ETSU history department can be reached at [email protected]

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