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Jonesborough, Tennessee
Washington County Courthouse in Jonesborough
Washington County Courthouse in Jonesborough
Tennessee's Oldest Town
Location of Jonesborough, Tennessee
Location of Jonesborough, Tennessee
Country United States
State Tennessee
County Washington
Incorporated 1779
Named for Willie Jones
 • Total 4.3 sq mi (11.2 km2)
 • Land 4.3 sq mi (11.2 km2)
 • Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
1,693 ft (516 m)
 • Total 5,975
 • Density 963.2/sq mi (371.9/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 423
FIPS code 47-38540
GNIS feature ID 1328594

Jonesborough (historically also Jonesboro) is a town in, and the county seat of, Washington County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. The population was 5,975 at the 2010 census. It is "Tennessee's oldest town".

Jonesborough is part of the Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is a component of the Johnson City–KingsportBristol, TN-VA Combined Statistical Area – commonly known as the "Tri-Cities" region.


Jonesborough was founded in 1779, 17 years before Tennessee became a state and while the area was under the jurisdiction of North Carolina. It was named after North Carolina legislator, Willie Jones, who had supported the state's westward expansion across the Appalachian Mountains.

Main Street, part of the Jonesborough Historic District

The town was renamed "Jonesboro" for a period of time, but it has been changed back to the original spelling.

Jonesborough was originally a part of the Washington District. In 1784, it became the capital of the autonomous State of Franklin (ostensibly named after American founding father, Benjamin Franklin). Franklin, however, was never recognized by Congress, and was re-claimed by North Carolina in late 1788.

Jonesborough is often considered to be the center of the abolitionist movement within the states that would join the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Elihu Embree printed his publication, The Emancipator, from Jonesborough. Publication began in 1820, making The Emancipator the first American periodical to be dedicated exclusively to the issue of the abolition of slavery. While Tennessee would later join the Confederacy, most east Tennesseans had Unionist leanings. They were generally subsistence farmers and held relatively few slaves compared to landowners in Middle Tennessee or the plantation areas of the Delta near the Mississippi River.

In the 1840s, Jonesborough became the second hometown to the Jonesborough Whig, a newspaper published by William G. "Parson" Brownlow, after Brownlow relocated the paper from Elizabethton, Tennessee, where it had been in publication for approximately two years. Brownlow and rival editor/Methodist circuit rider Landon Carter Haynes brawled in the streets of Jonesborough in May 1840. Over the next several years, the two newspapermen bashed one another in their respective papers, each managing at times to thwart the other's political ambitions. Haynes left the newspaper business in 1845, and Brownlow, who later was elected as governor, moved the Whig to Knoxville in 1849.

Modern tourism

The Chester Inn, built in 1797, still stands in downtown Jonesborough

Today, Jonesborough attracts heritage tourism because of its historical status as Tennessee's oldest town and its significant historic preservation efforts that have preserved a rich architectural fabric. The town's museum describes the local heritage of tobacco farming. The historic Chester Inn, built in 1797, still stands in downtown Jonesborough. The Jonesborough Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. The oldest surviving building, the Christopher Taylor House (built in 1777 about a mile outside of the original town limits), was relocated to a lot within the historic district.

Jonesborough is the home to the International Storytelling Center, which holds the annual National Storytelling Festival on the first full weekend in October. The Festival builds on the Appalachian cultural tradition of storytelling, and has been drawing people from around the world for more than 35 years. Large tents are pitched in parks around town, and storytellers sit on stages or at the head of the main tent to perform. Occasionally, performances are interrupted for a moment by passing Norfolk Southern Railway trains. Past storytellers included Carmen Agra Deedy, Syd Lieberman, and Kathryn Tucker Windham. The festival inspired the development of a successful storytelling graduate degree program at the nearby East Tennessee State University.


Jonesborough is situated in an area where the watershed of the Watauga River meets the watershed of the Nolichucky River. The Watauga passes approximately 10 miles (16 km) to the northeast of Jonesborough, and the Nolichucky passes roughly 10 miles (16 km) to the southwest. The town's principle stream, Little Limestone Creek, is part of the Nolichucky watershed.

Jonesborough is surrounded by low hills and elongated ridges that are characteristic of the Appalachian Ridge-and-Valley Province. The main crest of the Appalachian Mountains rises just a few miles southeast of Jonesborough.

Jonesborough is centered on the junction of Andrew Johnson Highway (which is part of both U.S. Route 321 and U.S. Route 11), which connects the town to Greeneville to the southwest and Johnson City to the northeast, and State Route 81, which connects Jonesborough to Interstate 81 to the northwest and Interstate 26 at Erwin to the southeast.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 4.3 square miles (11 km2), all of it land.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 895
1890 937 4.7%
1900 854 −8.9%
1910 806 −5.6%
1920 815 1.1%
1930 931 14.2%
1940 976 4.8%
1950 1,126 15.4%
1960 1,148 2.0%
1970 1,510 31.5%
1980 2,829 87.4%
1990 3,091 9.3%
2000 4,168 34.8%
2010 5,051 21.2%
Est. 2015 5,291 4.8%

As of the census of 2000, there were 4,168 people, 1,660 households, and 1,107 families residing in the town. The population density was 963.2 people per square mile (371.7/km²). There were 1,771 housing units at an average density of 409.3 per square mile (157.9/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 93.43% White, 5.54% African American, 0.10% Native American, 0.17% Asian, 0.19% from other races, and 0.58% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.82% of the population.

Central Christian Church

There were 1,660 households out of which 27.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.3% were married couples living together, 11.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.3% were non-families. 30.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.26 and the average family size was 2.80.

In the town, the population was spread out with 19.5% under the age of 18, 8.7% from 18 to 24, 29.9% from 25 to 44, 25.6% from 45 to 64, and 16.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 101.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.6 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $32,132, and the median income for a family was $44,167. Males had a median income of $28,906 versus $26,192 for females. The per capita income for the town was $18,768. About 11.0% of families and 16.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.7% of those under age 18 and 22.5% of those age 65 or over.


The Southern Appalachian Mountains are home to numerous outdoor activities such as: hiking/backpacking, cycling (road and mountain), hunting, fishing (streams, rivers, and lakes), whitewater rafting/kayaking, golf, disc golf, ATV/moto-cross, rock climbing, zip lining/canopy tours, and caving.

The Jonesborough Repertory Theatre produces community theater and hosts educational workshops for aspiring actors. The current artistic director is Jennifer Schmidt

Local legends

The Christopher Taylor House, built c. 1777

A local legend holds that the ghost of Andrew Jackson occasionally appears in the vicinity of a historic cabin in a town park.

In 1788, future U.S. president Jackson spent several months in Jonesborough awaiting a caravan. During this time, he lodged in a cabin belonging to Major Christopher Taylor, which was located about a mile outside of town. In 1974, this cabin was removed from its original spot and reconstructed in the town's park. The ghost supposedly walks up to the front door and disappears into the building. The ghost has also been reportedly seen walking down the street, in the direction of the old courthouse.

Clubs and organizations

  • Sons of Confederate Veterans, Gen. Alfred E. Jackson Camp #2159

Photo gallery

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