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Inaugural Heritage Fair set by Jonesborough Genealogical Society

W. Kenneth Medley II • Feb 11, 2019 at 12:00 AM

A previous version of this story stated there was a cash prize for the winning student. There will only be a $500 cash prize incentive for the helping teacher or home school teacher. 

The inaugural Washington County Heritage Fair will be May 17, thanks to the Jonesborough Genealogical Society who has three main attractions to invigorate the youth of today with the stories of yesteryear.

The Heritage Fair is a three-part event that will be open to the public. Specifically, the goal is to target Washington County students with heritage engagements to invigorate a quest for knowledge. The JGS will accomplish this with a Heritage Competition for county fifth to eighth-graders, an individual/organizational exhibition and a Living History Timeline.

“The Living History Timeline, which is at Mill Springs Park and the Jimmy Neil Smith Storytelling Park, will have two encampments. One will be pre-revolution to 1850s,” said Chad Bailey, the JGS president. “The other will be Civil War to the early 20th Century, and they will have knowledgeable re-enactors who dress up in their full costumes.”

Bailey is passionate about the history of Washington County. He says that he is the youngest member of the JGS and would like to see the next generation become more active. He worries that the region is losing important parts of its history like the Langston, Booker T. Washington and May Schools.

“We have old buildings in the county that people don’t know what they are anymore,” Bailey said, “yet they hold meaning and stories to the older generation that continues to die off. Eventually those buildings get tore down because they are seen as eyesores. A heritage fair, we’re hoping will bring insight into what those stories mean, show the kids they have their own story.”

The society plans to renew a zest in the middle school age children of the country with a science fair type competition. Instead of stars, quarks and technology, students are going to explore one of three categories: Family history, Local History or Preservation/Conservation. Contestants will create tri-fold type presentation to be judged at the fair.

The Family History category will relate to a person’s genealogy. The projects can include oral histories, written stories from elder family members and heirlooms to display. The organizers advise that high value items refrain from being displayed along with personal information such as birthdays.

The category of Local History can relate to historical event and time periods within the county’s vast history. There are many historical events of significance, monuments, people and places for students to choose from. The aim of the category is to give insight into what our communal, societal and regional history was like.

Finally, there is the Preservation/Conservation projects category that should relate to efforts to preserve heritage sites. One such project could focus on the redevelopment of Langston High School. There are other locations, places or spaces that students can research.

Bailey said, “We will have a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in each grade level: fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth, in each category. First place in each (grade level) will then go to a competition on Best in Show, in each category. Then those top-winners will do a Best in Show. The overall Best-In-Show winner will receive a $500 teacher incentive for either a home school (teacher) or teacher, that helped the student with the project.

“We thought it was a good incentive to get teachers involved as well as students,” said Bailey

The second main event to the fair is the individual/organization exhibit. On display will be presentations highlighting different historical locations like the Chester Inn, the Heritage Launch and Chuckey Depot Museum. One such display will be a showcase of the veteran community of Washington County by a society member.

The goal is “showcasing that we have a museum in town,” said Bailey, “and letting the kids, parents and public get a taste of what we have here and say, ‘well we may want to do a full day field trip to one of those places,’ but they are getting a taste of the history.”

Presentations will be at the Washington County-Jonesborough Public Library and other locations around town.

The third part of the Heritage Fair is the Living History Timeline. Re-enactors will present life like presentations of different periods in history. This is to give viewers a real-time visualization of how people lived in the periods represented. The re-enactors are not just actors but historians and storytellers.

“They are not really costumes but actually regalia,” Bailey said. “The first camp is the pre-revolution and we will also have a nationally known re-enactor coming in, Robert Rambo, to do Atakullakulla, who was one of the early Cherokee Chiefs.”

The Living History Timeline will provide educational experiences for attendees with visual representations of life throughout history. This will include period clothing style, language, techniques and experiences. Providing a real look at job/trades, economic, social, racial and gender roles should make a lasting impression of fair goers.

“I am really the youngest member of our society. We have had five members die off in the last year,” Bailey said. “I feel like if we can grab onto the next generation it is going to help us move on in the future. We were the first county, the first district and the first constitution west of the Appalachian Mountains. We sort of have a bad wrap on some things.”

Bailey shares stories of the abolition movement before the Civil War during the interview. He mentions court cases and freed children of a slave being permitted to own land in the region as early as the 1840s. All subjects that he hopes will be researched for the Heritage Fair.

“There are things like that in Washington County history that people don’t know about,” said Bailey. “We were free thinkers and more modern thinkers. Most people don’t think of us as nothing but hillbillies. Having a different perspective and cultural identity brings you back.”

Bailey has bit of a romanticized relationship with history. He speaks about buildings as a poet does lovers.

“There is an old school building not far from my house that nobody really cares about and it looks like it is going to fall down anytime,” says Bailey, “but somebody’s child went to school there. Those one-room schoolhouses are dwindling in the county.”

For more information, list of events, times, sign up forms and more visit the website jgstn.org/annual-heritage-fair.

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