Tennessee’s Oldest Town—Jonesborough

Tennessee’s Oldest Town—Jonesborough

It’s pop quiz time! If you heard the name “Jonesborough,” how would you spell it?

Whether you’d go for “Jonesborough” or “Jonesboro,” you’d be correct either way. The town has been officially known by both names over the years.

And there are quite a few of those years. After all, Jonesborough is the oldest town in Tennessee.

The first European settlers, William and Lydia Bean, built their lonesome cabin in the area in 1769. The Beans weren’t alone for long, though, and the town of Jonesborough was founded 10 years later in 1779.

That’s 17 years before Tennessee became a state. If you’re looking to go back to the Volunteer State’s roots, this is just about as deep as you can dig.

At one point in history, the town changed the spelling of its name to the more modern Jonesboro. Yet, the modernization must not have sat quite right with the locals, and they eventually returned to the historical spelling.

In the 19th century, Jonesborough was a hotbed of the abolitionist movement. In fact, a print shop in town was where Elihu Embree first published The Emancipator—the first exclusively anti-slavery periodical—in 1820.

Jonesborough’s history is colorful and filled with many more stories. Perhaps that’s why the locals love a good story, and today Jonesborough is the storytelling capital of the world.

Be Part of the Story

Should you point your front wheel toward Jonesborough in search of a good story, you should do so in October. That’s when the National Storytelling Festival brings in dozens of speakers to share tales both tall and short.

Even if you can’t make it to the festival, you won’t have to miss out on a good story. Jonesborough is home to the International Storytelling Center, which works to maintain this American cultural tradition. At the center, you can catch stories, speeches, and musical performances throughout the year.

Riders who want to find their own stories can do so at the Jonesborough Historic District. The area features many exquisitely preserved historical buildings in various architectural styles. Among them is Chester Inn, built in 1797, which today hosts exhibits about local history.

Another, even older historical building is the Christopher Taylor House from 1777, located in the town park. What makes this place remarkable? Well, it’s said to be haunted by the ghost of none other than President Andrew Jackson.

For even more history, visit the Chuckey Railroad Depot Museum. The museum hosts themed exhibits that change every six months, so there’s always a reason to come back to Jonesborough.

In case you’re hankering to hear more fictional stories, Jonesborough Repertory Theater will scratch your itch. The theater puts on both classic and contemporary plays and performances to entertain locals and visitors alike.

Taking in all this history is sure to leave your stomach grumbling, and that’s when Jonesborough’s wonderful eateries will come to the rescue. From a quick burrito to fine dining and local craft breweries and distilleries, you’ll find a treat for every taste.

Jonesborough is the place to be for history buffs or anyone who simply enjoys a good story. And by the time you hop in the saddle for the long ride home, you’ll have a story of your own to share.

Facts & Info

Nearby Attractions

  • National Storytelling Festival
  • International Storytelling Center
  • Chuckey Railroad Depot Museum
  • Jonesborough Repertory Theater
  • Jonesborough Historic District
  • Wetlands Water Park

Nearby Roads

The roads around Jonesborough and the wider Johnson City area are very rideable, meandering two-laners over the Appalachian foothills and past woods and farms. You can get a taste of Great Smoky Mountains-like beautiful scenery—but without the tourist crowds and traffic that come with it.

Of course, if you want to get to the actual Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its gorgeous roads, it’s within a reasonable distance south of Jonesborough. I-26 out of Johnson City may be the fastest way there, but you can also make your way southwest along the country roads and then zip to the national park along SR 107/70/208 south of Greeneville.

To the southeast of Jonesborough lies Pisgah National Forest, which also bristles with great riding and vistas. As a particular highlight, ride the curvy roller coaster that is the Roan Mountain Road (SR 143/261) between Roan Mountain and Bakersville.

The Historic Eureka Inn, located right on Jonesborough’s Main Street, lets you immerse yourself in the town’s history. Over the years, the building has served many purposes, including a private residence and a jury room.

The rooms, decorated in period-appropriate styles, are well-sized for spreading out your gear and all include the ever-so-vital coffee maker. There’s both private and off-street parking, and local restaurants are within a stone’s throw. The inn can also provide ticket packages for local attractions.

If you’d like to stay in a more modern hotel environment, Jonesborough’s Country Inn & Suites aren’t far from Main Street either. The hotel offers free parking, a coffee maker in every room, an on-site continental breakfast, and a fitness center.

Best Time to Travel

The best times to visit Jonesborough stretch from summer to fall, approximately June to October. That said, you may want to make this a fall ride, due to the National Storytelling Festival taking place every October. At the same time, you get to enjoy the fall foliage in the mountains (although the air might be a bit chilly up there).

You can also make the trip in spring, but you’d better pack good rain gear. The winter months may see snow and make riding unfeasible.