Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable offered opening remarks, concentrating mainly on thanking the many county employees who have helped the project come to fruition. Venable said it all began when Sullivan County Planning Director Ambre Torbett got the ball rolling by applying for a grant to start preservation efforts on the then-dilapidated building. Venable also cited late Sullivan County Commissioner Dennis Houser’s longtime commitment to preservation of the building, and architect Steve Wilson for his invaluable contributions.
Like Venable, Archives and Tourism Director Shelia Hunt said many thanks are due to all the county departments and employees who have had a hand in the building’s conversion, including planning staff, highway department workers, maintenance employees and Venable himself.
In fact, Hunt surprised Venable by announcing the new center has been dedicated in his honor.
Hunt also introduced the Department of Archives and Tourism’s new marketing associate, Angela Crane, and the department’s assistant archivist, Maria Hale, who will be curating museum exhibits in two rooms on the second floor of the tourism center.
The Historic Sullivan Heritage Tourism Information Center is located at 1575 Highway 394.
The newly opened building will be multifaceted in use. In addition to providing visitors with information on attractions in the area, the tourism center will also serve as a starting point for walking tours of Historic Blountville and a center for the Battle of Blountville Civil War Military Park.
The first Civil War exhibit has been installed. In the coming weeks, the Department of Archives and Tourism will be installing additional exhibits for Civil War artifacts and local history memorabilia in two of the museum rooms.
“It’s all about showing what we have here in Sullivan County,” Hunt said. “We hope this center will be the very epitome of Southern hospitality in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.”
The building’s history
• It was built for use as a jail in 1870 of bricks hand-fired from clay onsite.
• Exterior and interior walls are 4 feet thick.
• It did double-duty by serving as a home for the county sheriff.
• Later, it was used to house various county offices.
• It has been vacant for the past 20 years.
• It is within the Blountville Historic District and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
• The structure has undergone several phases of preservation efforts using funds awarded from TDOT to the county. The first major improvement was the structural support of the roof trusses and a new metal roof. The second phase included repointing the exterior brick work, replacement windows and doors and interior structural improvements. The final phase of restoration will leave the building ready for occupancy, including new hardwood flooring throughout, painting, trim, 19th-century black-and-white basket-weave tile and period lighting.