JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Two years ago, artifacts tracing the medical and military history of people in the Tri-Cities were on display at the Museum of Mountain Home on the Veterans Affairs campus in Johnson City.
Now, many of those artifacts are drying out after a waterline break Christmas weekend. Some of the museum-worthy items are beyond repair.
“All the things were donated locally, and it means a lot to the local community,” said Moe Baines, a Vietnam War veteran from Johnson City who got the call to help after the Christmas weekend deep freeze.
No one knew it, but below-freezing temperatures caused a waterline to rupture inside Beeson Hall, a city-owned building that once served as a gymnasium and community center.
For the past two years, Beeson Hall has been the temporary home of artifacts from the Museum of Mountain Home, an exhibit Martha Whaley helped curate when it opened in 1994 in the historic “Clock Tower” building on the Veterans Affairs Mountain Home campus.
“Our purpose was to tell the story of the development of health care in South Central Appalachia, and it was to include everything from the very earliest practitioners to the present,” said Whaley, a member of the Museum of Mountain Home advisory board.
In time, the museum became a repository for donated military artifacts that told the story of this region at war. In addition to historic medical equipment, the museum collected and displayed military photos, news clippings and even uniforms worn by local soldiers.
“We had uniforms in here from World War I all the way up to the present and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Baines said. “Those are things that can never be replaced.”
In late 2020, the VA informed the Museum of Mountain Home it needed to move to make room for expansions of clinical space to care for veterans. That’s how the donated history became homeless, was relocated to Beeson Hall, and during the Christmas weekend deep freeze, became soaked in water.
“We’re going to save everything we can in some way, shape, or form,” Baines said.
For the long-time supporters of the Museum of Mountain Home, a difficult problem just became far more complex.
“We need a temporary location because we can’t be where we are now,” Whaley said. “I don’t know exactly how long we can keep the items where they are, but the sooner we can get a temporary location the better.”
Long-term, volunteers say there’s a much bigger need that will require significant funding, dedicated leadership, and regional support.
“We do need to look forward,” Baines said. “We need a military museum in this area. We’ve got 14,000 veterans just in Washington County, Tennessee. This area right here needs a military museum.”
“Yes, it will be a monumental task,” Whaley said. “But if we can make this happen and have a local medical military museum together or separately, we would have accomplished a wonderful thing for the future for our children and grandchildren.”
Whaley said The Museum of Mountain Home Advisory Board welcomes volunteer assistance and cash donations.
For more information, contact Martha Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tax-deductible donations can be sent to:
Museum of Mountain Home
Mountain Home, TN 37684