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Johnson City caps off sesquicentennial celebration

Jonathan Roberts • Dec 1, 2019 at 7:48 PM

One-hundred and fifty years ago, Johnson’s Depot became Johnson City. 

And Sunday, on the date Johnson City received its charter in 1869, the city capped off a year-long celebration of the city’s history — and opened a new, yet-be-written chapter as Johnson City’s leaders turn their attention to 2020, and the decades that will follow it. 

“Today’s the day that we wanted to celebrate the city’s actual birthday, so we’ll light the candles and celebrate with everybody and kind of ramp it down,” Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock said. “But we’re leaving behind such a wonderful legacy that future generations can always come to and see the history of Johnson City. 

“That’s what excites me most,” Brock said. 

Johnson City Sesquicentennial Commissioner Joy Fulkerson called Sunday “a bittersweet moment” as they put a formal end on a celebration that began on Jan. 5.

“I’m very, very excited,” Fulkerson said. “It’s so special to have been a part of this for a little less than two years sort of coming to this day. I’ve learned a lot about our city, I’ve met some really awesome folks and it’s been really cool to see our community come together and for us to be able to spotlight, highlight and educate people on the various facets of our community. 

“Today is just a wonderful day of celebration, and an opportunity for us to look at the past and also look forward to the future,” Fulkerson added. “It’s a little bittersweet (that it’s over), but I feel I’m also taking with me into 2020 some really great opportunities to continue to be engaged in our community.” 

Celebrating in the newly opened Legacy Plaza near King Commons, leaders from all facets of the community came together to close the book on Johnson City’s first 150 years of existence, and to celebrate how far its come since it’s beginnings as a small railroad town with less than 1,000 residents in 1880

“This is an exciting time for the city, and for the region as a whole,” East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland said. “I think it’s really an opportunity to reflect on the partnership that helped to create (ETSU) — we would not exist without the support of Johnson City.” 

Looking toward the future

Though none of the people present during Sunday’s celebration will be around when (or if) the city celebrates it’s 250th or 300th anniversary in 2119 and 2169, that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking ahead to what the city might look like when that time comes. 

“I think I still want to see Johnson City have the essential elements we have today (in 50-100 years): It’s family-friendly, education-centered — it has those core elements that help a city thrive, and I don’t want to see us ever lose that,” Brock said. “It will look very different 50 years and even 100 years from now, but I think the wholesomeness of East Tennessee will (stay).” 

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, echoed Brock’s feelings, saying he wants Johnson City to “not lose what it has.” 

“I want it not to lose its character,” Roe said. “I don’t want us to not have a big city feel, I grew up in rural America, and I want us to keep that, but have all the advantages of larger areas and I believe you’re going to see that.” 

Noland felt similarly, though he looked at it through the eyes of a father, saying he hopes all parents “leave a little something for their kids, so 50 years from now they can look back and say: ‘This is what the city was thinking, and my dad was thinking’.” Of course, that wasn’t all Noland wants to see in the future. 

“If I had a crystal ball, I’d really want to see the West Walnut Street corridor really come to life with mixed-use development, I’d to see the university surpass its enrollment goal of 18,000 students, and I’d to see Johnson City realize it’s potential,” Noland said. “Johnson City has unlimited potential, and I’m confident the next 50 years are going to be spectacular.” 

In a letter to her future successor in 2069, Brock poked fun at society’s reliance on cellphones and social media, saying “you will likely get a chuckle at the technology that fuels our communication today,” and talked about what the city had accomplished in 2019, adding “we are most proud of the features we have added to improve the quality of life of our citizens” and that “we hope we have provided a foundation that is resilient and sustainable as you work toward success for this beautiful place we call home.”

You can read the mayor’s full letter at johnsoncitypress.com, as well as guest commentary from Johnson City Development Authority Director Diana Cantler, President Noland and Johnson City Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Cantler. 

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