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Worth the Drive - Jonesborough, Tennessee

Every now and then you discover a destination that’s so much more than what you expected. Jonesborough, Tennessee, is that pleasant surprise that makes the sides of our mouth draw up in a smile. See for yourself when you walk along Main Street in the oldest town in Tennessee.

Distinctive Destination
Ever since Jonesborough landed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation list of “Distinctive Destinations,” it’s been on the radar screen, but it never quite made it onto the travel schedule. So as luck would have it on a trip between Roanoke, Virginia, and Greenville, South Carolina, the calendar opened up when the threat of inclement weather to the south allowed for a few hours in Jonesborough.

Follow the signs off of Interstate 26 to the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center on Boone Street across from the Tennessee Quilt shop. This must be a busy place as there’s ample parking on either side of the building. Within the complex also find the history museum and a large gift shop. One of the best investments is their “strolling tour” brochure that costs a dollar and explains much of the history. Feel free to leave your car in their parking lot and walk just a few blocks to Main Street to the heart of the town. There’s also street parking and lots off of secondary streets.

Quaint Shops & Antique Stores
And for those that remember downtowns being a hubbub of commercial activity before the days of big box stores, welcome back to that bygone era. Stretched along Main Street and some of the adjoining side streets are quaint shops, antique stores, bed and breakfasts and exceptional restaurants. Discover the Christopher Taylor house, the impetus for the town’s revitalization effort. Built in 1788, it is the oldest building in Jonesborough and was moved to its present location.

While there are a number of restaurants in town (the visitor center staff will not recommend one over another), if you share what type of food you’re interested in, they can point you in the right direction. For regional cuisine, they suggest Main Street Café with indoor or outdoor dining. Don’t assume that just because you are in mountainous eastern Tennessee that you will be served vittles - quite the contrary.

Our other inquiry “for something very nice” for lunch led us to Bistro 105, situated almost directly across from the county court house. The long narrow restaurant can be deceiving as they have three floors for dining plus a lushly landscaped patio off the second floor. The gourmet menu offers many healthy options, such as soups, salads, seafood and sandwiches, along with daily specials. Even if you do not have reservations, which they appreciate, ask the hostess if they can squeeze you in or how long you’d need to wait. It will be worth your while.

Home of the International Story Telling Center
In addition to its history, excellent dining and quaint B&Bs, Jonesborough’s other claim to fame is storytelling. No we’re not pulling your leg or spinning a yarn, it’s true. From May to October, the International Story Telling Center features a weekly artist in residence with matinee performances Tuesdays through Saturdays and some evening events on select Thursdays. Prices are less than $15 per show.

The storytelling center is located on Main Street adjacent to the Chester Inn, which was built in 1797 and said to be the first boarding house in eastern Tennessee. Today the historic building houses the National Storytelling Association. The National Storytelling Festival, founded by Jimmy Neil Smith in 1973, begins the first Friday of the first full weekend in October and includes a full line-up of exceptional talent under a number of tents throughout the downtown. Check their website for ticket information.

Another popular event is Jonesborough Days. Held at the end of June or in early July, it also draws crowds. Circle the dates on your calendar now.

Jonesborough is an hour and a half north of Asheville, North Carolina, and 15 to 45 minutes from the Tennessee tri-cities of Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol.

The Historic Jonesborough
Visitors Center

117 Boone Street
Jonesborough, TN 37659
(866) 401-4223
(423) 753-1010

International Storytelling Center
116 West Main Street
Jonesborough, TN 37659
(800) 952-8392
(423) 753-2171
Bistro 105
105 West Main Street
Jonesborough, TN 37659
(423) 788-0244

Photos: Historic downtown Jonesborough, Tennessee; Christopher Taylor House; Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum; Chester Inn - ©2007 Flying Compass, Inc. All rights reserved.