Jonesborough- The Town with a Story to Tell

Main Street Jonesborough Tennessee. Brick buildings line the street.

East Tennessee has many small communities and towns to visit, many of which are passed on the way to the bigger cities and tourist destinations. These spots off the beaten path offer a step into the past or an escape from the hustle and bustle of hectic daily living. Towns and communities are helping preserve East Tennessee traditions and heritage, so we don’t forget the past but learn from it for the future.  

Shop with red door and blue trim around the windows.

What better place to start than Tennessee’s oldest town? Jonesborough. The town’s past has made Jonesborough what it is today, a town of diverse culture and people with stories to tell. A town full of historical and artistic appeal, Jonesborough has much to offer, from antique shopping, historical tours, artistic performances, museums, or strolls through town to discover the local shops and restaurants. 

Friendly locals and shop owners welcome visitors and want to share their love for their town. Shops on and around Main Street offer a variety of local and regional goods. Sharing drinks and stories with locals can help anyone feel welcome. Hearing stories of local products and businesses, families and friends, or haunted cars the locals made me feel like part of the community, not just a visitor.

Washington County Court House

Brief History

Jonesborough was established in 1779, seventeen years before Tennessee was granted statehood. The area was originally under the jurisdiction of North Carolina as part of an expansion to the west side of the Appalachian Mountains. Recognized as part of the Washington District, Jonesborough became the capital of the independent State of Franklin. Congress never recognized the Franklin, and in 1788 it was reclaimed by North Carolina. Built in 1797, the Chester Inn is one of Jonesborough’s oldest buildings in the commercial district and was considered the finest inn on the Tennessee frontier. The inn hosted three presidents and is now a state historic site that has been restored and furnished as it would have been in the 1890s. 

Chester Inn Museum

Exploring Jonesborough

The Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia works to preserve the town and region’s historical, cultural, and architectural legacy. They provide educational experiences associated with heritage and history for a broad audience. The Chester Inn Museum recounts the history of Jonesborough from its establishment to the present. The museum rotates exhibits quarterly and offers activities for kids. The Heritage Alliance offers Saturday afternoon town tours where historically dress guides stroll through town while telling stories of the history, buildings, and people that helped make Jonesborough the town it is today. 

The Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center and Old Town Emporium Gift Shop can get your visit started with all the information that you can ask for about the town. The Visitors Center includes a gift shop, the gift shop, and the Washington County/Jonesborough History Museum. The museum displays historical artifacts showing a historical record of the town and region. 

A Story to Tell

International Storytelling Center. Yellow and brick multi-storied building with brick sidewalk.

Here, storytellers from all over meet up to listen and share tales big and small at the International Storytelling Center. The International Storytelling Festival brings together storytellers worldwide to share anecdotes and joy from listening to a great story every October.

It all began fifty years ago when Jimmy Neil Smith, a high school journalism teacher, and a carload of students heard Jerry Clower on the radio telling accounts of coon hunting in Mississippi. This occurrence became the inspiration for Smith and led to the creation of the National Storytelling Festival in October 1973. That first festival was tiny, but it changed Jonesborough, its culture, and the art of storytelling. 

Storytelling can help people communicate more effectively and help us feel as if we are not alone during a complicated time. Storytellers and listeners come from near and far to visit all year round. Everyone has a story to tell; sometimes, it just takes finding the right words or person to share it with at the right place and time.

Spirits and Brews

Red brick building with a vertical distillery sign next to a train track. Train signal next to road.

Keeping to the roots of East Tennessee, the Tennessee Hills Distillery creates a variety of handcrafted spirits using locally sourced grain and Appalachian spring water from the area mountains. Their spirits include a variety of whiskeys, gin, vodka, and corn whiskey. The distillery offers free tastings and tours.

Since 2004, Depot Street Brewing has been brewing small-batch handcrafted beer with tastes from around the world. Tours of the brewery are available by appointment.

Other Things to Do in Jonesborough

Chuckey Depot Museum. Red train caboose and yellow building.

Chuckey Depot Museum – The museum is operated by volunteers is open Thursday through Sunda y and offers themed exhibits that change every six months. The museum showcases a restored Southern Railway Caboose.

  • Old Jonesborough Cemetery tours are available from June to October. Tickets are available for purchase at the Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum.
  • Catch a performance of community theatre at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre. Production season runs from August to July.
  • Music on the Square can be heard Friday evenings, May through September. Performances are free to attend.
  • Storytelling Live! – Every Tuesday through Saturday beginning in May and going through October at the International Storytelling Center. Each week a different storyteller is featured.

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