Boones Creek historical group hopes for museum, Bluegrass venue at Keefauver

Gary B. Gray • Dec 23, 2016 at 3:51 PM

Boones Creek Historical Trust board members are still waiting to hear whether Johnson City commissioners’ plans for Keefauver farm include the creation of a historical museum and old-school bluegrass venue.

Though options for the land’s use have popped up from time to time, none have been acted upon. Farmers have been allowed to graze cattle on the city-owned 55-acre property at Shadden and Hales Chapel roads — a property originally planned for expanded recreational opportunities since its purchase in 2009.

The 230-member nonprofit historical organization made presentations to both the City Commission (in a local church) and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

“I think square one for them (commissioners) is to decide what they want to use the property for,” said Vicki Shell, the BCHT Board vice president and the person heading the push for an interactive museum and acoustic music offering on the property. “Boones Creek is Tennessee’s first community. Jonesborough may be the first established town, but Boones Creek has great historical significance.”

Shell said the group wants to do more than just open the doors to an old house (built in the early 1800s) and display old trinkets.

“We have a treasure trove of artifacts in storage,” she said. “We’ve been seeking a suitable home. We will have headsets for people when they come in, and a keypad. It will be a self-guided audio tour. You’ll come in and hear the sounds of the Cherokee, the sounds of the Great Revival. There was a huge camp along Boones Creek, and hundreds of people were baptized while there. You’ll also hear the sounds of a tobacco auctioneer.”

The organization also wants to repurpose what’s known as the “Loafing Barn” — the older of two barns on the property — and renovate it into an area where families can come and listen to bluegrass music. The proposed name is The Boones Creek Opry House.

Shell said East Tennessee State University’s Center for Appalachian Studies Director Ron Roach is very supportive of the plan. The university’s Bluegrass program is under the center’s umbrella.

“This would be an all-acoustic version where families can come to an area where there is no alcohol,” she said. “I think it will be tremendously popular. We would serve popcorn and snacks. We also would construct a rounded stage, and we’re thinking we could do something on a weekly basis. Everywhere I’ve mentioned it, people light up.”

The Boones Creek Opry House would provide weekly stage and “open mic” opportunities for area amateur and professional musicians, and Shell said it would be a closer alternative to Carter’s Family Fold located in Hiltons, Virginia.

Shell said the building would require a major renovation, including flooring, walls, heating and cooling, bathrooms and a kitchen, in addition to stage, lighting, and sound system. The Boones Creek Opry House would also display larger museum pieces and artifacts from the group’s collection, such as antique saddles and farm implements. 

Shell said the organization would need “some kind of help” from the city, but members understand they would need to conduct a capital fundraising campaign to fully fund the venture.

In late November, the Press asked city officials about Keefauver’s fate.

Johnson City Vice Mayor City Jenny Brock brought up the fact that commissioners had not talked seriously about the property for some time and that it should be among the issues brought to the table in the very near future.

Brock said the group had asked to lease the house from the city, and that a decision needs to be made. The city still could use part of the property for recreation, she added.

City Manager Pete Peterson said the planning staff did a master plan on all city parks just before the land was purchased. He agreed with Brock that commissioners need to decide if they want to keep the property.

The property was purchased for $1.4 million, and its appraised value remains basically unchanged. Peterson said the city has made made signal improvements and infrastructure upgrades at and near the location.

Most all development in that area has been garnered by Washington County, and the farm is surrounded by residential property. County Mayor Dan Eldridge said last month city officials have not approached him specifically about the county’s participation in developing the land.

Email Gary Gray at [email protected]. Like Gary B. Gray on Facebook at www.facebook.com/garybgrayjcp. Follow him on Twitter @ggrayjcpress.

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