By Scott Robertson
Perhaps it’s fitting that a facility filled with records from four different centuries took years to bring into existence. The new Washington County, Tennessee Archives on Main Street in Jonesborough was officially dedicated April 1, in front of a crowd of more than 100 interested citizens. The event marked the culmination of years of work by a community of individuals dedicated to the preservation of documents dating back to the era of British rule.
County Mayor Dan Eldridge noted, “Washington County’s records include those of three states: North Carolina, the state of Franklin, and the state of Tennessee.” From the beginning of his tenure in 2010, Eldridge made the establishment of a county archive a top priority, County Archivist Ned Irwin said in acknowledging Eldridge’s role. The mayor found, as many people may, an ancestor in these ancient records. In Eldridge’s case, the long-lost progenitor was a great-great-great grandfather previously unknown to him.
The County Commission established the Department of Records Management and Archives in 2011. At the dedication, Commissioner Dr. Sam Humphreys recognized the members of the county’s Public Records Commission who helped lead the effort at establishing the archives, including Vice-Chair and County Commissioner Mike Ford, Gene Hurdt, Irwin, Register of Deeds Ginger Jilton, Dr. William Kennedy, County Historian John Kiener, Chancellor John Rambo, and County Clerk Kathy Storey. Humphreys said establishing the archives is one of the proudest moments in his 30 years on the commission.
Representatives of the Tennessee State Library and Archives were on hand to return early county records that had been in Nashville for the last 131 years. These records will be incorporated into the existing archive collections.
Irwin said the archives are the most important source of the history of Washington County and date to 1771 when the area was ruled by George III (1738-1820), King of Great Britain. “We will be the guardian of these records,” he said.
The 1915 yellow brick structure at 103 West Main Street was originally built for the First National Bank of Jonesborough, later known as First People’s Bank. Renovated in 2015-2016 for the county archives, the building now houses the oldest public records in the state of Tennessee. Records for the state’s first county (1777) extend from the 1770s into the early 21st century. These records include early county court minutes, marriages, court records (Chancery, Circuit, County, and Superior courts), wills, and early 20th century birth and death records, among others and cover such historical events as the frontier era, the American Revolution, the state of Franklin, the antebellum period, the Civil War, county commercial and industrial development, and 20th century world wars and the Great Depression. Access will also be available to digital copies of Washington County deeds from the county’s founding to the present.
The Washington County Archives will open to the public April 17, maintaining a schedule of public research hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. – 12 noon and from 1 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.
Irwin made a point to thank the many people who worked over the years to create the county archive. One of the first and most important was former county historian Mildred Kozsuch, who despite health issues, made a special effort to attend the dedication. Kozsuch said simply, “It’s been a long time getting here.”
Irwin concluded the dedication ceremony with the words of Winston Churchill, speaking about the renovation of the British Houses of Parliament from World War II bomb damage, when he said, “We shape out buildings and afterwards, they shape us.” Irwin said the same will prove true of the renovated Washington County Archives building.