County commission approves Heritage Alliance as preservation coordinator for Ashe Street Courthouse

A second-story room is among many areas of disrepair.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Efforts to preserve an historic Johnson City building are moving forward. Monday night, the Washington County Commission voted unanimously to designate the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia as the preservation coordinator for the former Ashe Street Courthouse.

The group will now work to help nominate the building for consideration on the National Register of Historic Places. It is all part of an effort to help preserve the building or risk losing it to the federal government.

“It’s actually the state’s first and first-time only Postal Saving Bank when it opened in 1911,” Heritage Alliance Programming Coordinator Megan Tewell. “The program only selected one city per state when it first started and Johnson City was selected.”

CREDIT: U.S. Post Office, Johnson City, Tenn. (Box 8, Folder 1), Mildred S. Kozsuch Papers, Archives of Appalachia, East Tennessee State University

The building was the headquarters for Washington County’s 911 dispatch until late 2017, but before then, until the late 1980s, it was the Ashe Street Courthouse. Remnants of that remain on the second floor.

Tewell said the group’s next steps to get the building on the National Register is to raise funds for a feasibility study and a submit preliminary information packet to the Tennessee Historic Commission.

A National Register designation could help the efforts to restore the building.

A reminder of the building’s days as a courthouse.

“We’re arguing for the Ashe Street building that it has architectural significance and that it is of the Beaux-Arts style of the time period for civic buildings,” said Tewell, “but more importantly is its historic significance.”

Although Washington County owns the building, Johnson City officials recently requested that Gov. Bill Lee include $5 million in his budget proposal to restore the building for possible use as a business incubator.

The building requires a number of repairs, including about $250,000 worth of work on its roof.

“Anytime we go down there and get an opportunity to get in front of the folks in Nashville, we’re talking up this project as well as Walnut Street in general,” said Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy, “so this wants to be part of the [West] Walnut Street project as the anchor for the downtown end.”

Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy, left, and preservation advocate Hal Hunter at the top of the building’s staircase.

A reversion clause states that ownership could revert to the federal government if the building remains unused. Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said the sooner the county can receive funding, the better.

“We want to get moving on it,” said Grandy, “but as far as losing it to the federal government, we’re not under any pressure right this minute.”

Tewell said she is confident the Heritage Alliance can present the application for the National Register of Historic Places by the end of the year.

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