Jefferson County's museum offers taste of local history

Jefferson County resident Nicole Campbell and her son Jackson, 2, browse the artifacts on display at the museum inside the old Jefferson County Courthouse.

Photo by Saul Young

Jefferson County resident Nicole Campbell and her son Jackson, 2, browse the artifacts on display at the museum inside the old Jefferson County Courthouse.

The old Jefferson County Courthouse serves as a museum which features a large array of artifacts detailing the local history.

Photo by Saul Young

The old Jefferson County Courthouse serves as a museum which features a large array of artifacts detailing the local history.

A WWII uniform once belonging to Sgt. Arthur W. Hay is displayed with his photograph at the Jefferson County museum.

Photo by Saul Young

A WWII uniform once belonging to Sgt. Arthur W. Hay is displayed with his photograph at the Jefferson County museum.

Jefferson County

  • Population: 50,221 (2007 Census estimate)
  • Founded: 1792; from parts of Hawkins and Greene counties; named after statesman and President Thomas Jefferson
  • County seat: Dandridge; population 2,557; named after George Washington's wife, Martha Dandridge Custis Washington
  • Other cities/towns:
  • Jefferson City, population 8,099; originally named Mossy Creek for the vivid, green moss growing on the banks of the creek.
  • White Pine, population 2,090; originally known as Dandridge Crossing; White Pine was chosen by Postmaster Esquire Richard White, who wrote the name down as he sat in his cabin, looking out at tall, white pine trees.
  • Baneberry, population 458; county's newest incorporated city (1987); once called Lakeland; named after the bitter, poisonous mountain herb and the local golf resort.
  • Attractions: Baneberry Golf and Resort; Douglas and Cherokee lakes

Discover is an annual guide to living in Knoxville and East Tennessee.

The inside of the Jefferson County Courthouse doubles as what is officially called the Jefferson County Museum.

But there is nothing stuffy or pretentious about this museum. It has the homey feel of the attic of a grandparent's home. The floorboards creak as you walk among an eclectic display of old guns, stuffed birds, antique home utensils and farm tools, handcrafts and vintage newspapers.

Artifacts of the area's history are often displayed beside items from national and world events brought back by local folk who were there. Everything from teacups to a Tommy gun - literally.

"We are always adding things," said Lu Hinchey, the county's volunteer, but official, archivist. "From time to time, we have to move things around."

Nearly everything loaned or donated to the museum is on display. Very few items are kept in storage, she said.

Display cabinets, some with additional items on top, line walls of the first floor and part of the second floor.

It is sort of like history within history. The red-brick courthouse itself was built in 1845, and is one of the state's oldest courthouses still in use.

There is a log and chimney rock from the cabin where Davy Crockett was born, and a marriage bond issued in 1806 for Crockett and his future bride, Polly Finley.

Hinchey said the museum's most valuable item is probably a wooden canteen that belonged to Confederate soldier Albert Miller Jarnagin, who was killed at Vicksburg in 1863. The canteen is on long-term loan to the museum from the family of the late H. B. Jarnagin Sr., longtime Dandridge mayor.

"That is the most-prized possession we have," Hinchey said.

"The museum is such a wonderful little slice of Jefferson County life through the ages, and one of the best attractions we have in historic downtown Dandridge," said county historian Bill Jarnagin, the grandson of H. B. Jarnagin Sr.

Of course, no self respecting East Tennessee museum should be without a moonshine still. The one on display here, although small, is complete with a copper cooking pot, coiled worm and a wooden keg.

The museum is the legacy of the late Rev. Reuel B. Pritchett, a colorful, bewhiskered East Tennessee minister and amateur historian. His personal collection of antiques, documents and artifacts was one of the largest in East Tennessee.

In 1956, he and other interested citizens formed a museum association, and he donated some items from his collection to get things started.

The museum opened on Jan. 10, 1958. Among the first items displayed: a cast iron wash bowl used by Gov. John Sevier.

Jim Balloch can be reached at 865-342-6315.

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