Jonesborough preservationist William Kennedy becomes third-ever to receive prestigious state award

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Jonesborough’s 223-year-old Eureka Inn is among buildings in the town that Dr. William Kennedy has purchased and preserved.

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – His name is synonymous with historic preservation in Jonesborough. This week, Dr. William Kennedy became just the third Tennessean in 45 years to receive the Tennessee Historical Commission’s (THC) Preservation Leadership Award.

A release about the award from the THC said it was “for his dedicated preservation leadership in the city of Jonesborough, the Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia region, and service to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.”

Dr. Bill Kennedy in front of his 151-year-old Jonesborough home.

“He was right there during the push to restore Jonesborough and create the historic district,” Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia Executive Director Anne G’Fellers Mason said Thursday. “He really helped shape it and become the champion of it.”

A semi-retired orthopaedist, Kennedy moved to Jonesborough in 1973 and bought what was then a 104-year-old house on Main Street. Seeing his own home needed special treatment, Kennedy began educating himself on preservation and restoration techniques.

Jonesborough was on a downward spiral at the time and numerous buildings becoming ragged and in disrepair, according to the nomination narrative for Kennedy’s award. He helped lead efforts to establish one of the state’s first historic districts and historic zoning commissions.

Along the way, Kennedy bought and restored a couple of landmark buildings – the former high school on Academy Hill and the Eureka Inn. Academy Hill is now home to condominiums and the 223-year-old Eureka Inn is a 12-room bed and breakfast.

Jonesborough’s Eureka Inn prior to its restoration. Photo courtesy Anne Mason

Mason, whose organization was created in 2001 out of the merging of the Kennedy-initiated Historic Jonesborough Foundation and the Jonesborough Civic Trust, said Kennedy is also an excellent ambassador for preservation efforts by others.

“He is amazing to work with,” she said. “He sees the potential in every building and he also sees the potential in every homeowner.

The Eureka Inn after restoration. Photo courtesy Anne Mason

“He’s great about talking to people about a piece of property and what you could do that would be best for you and best for the building. He finds a way to really connect the two and that skill he has is invaluable.”

For his part, Kennedy said he was surprised when he learned of his honor. “I was very pleased and quite thrilled, particularly to receive such a distinctive honor,” he said.

Kennedy, who’s been chairman of the town’s Historic Zoning Commission since 1983 and will vacate that position this year, said he’s always enjoyed being part of a close-knit community that has continuously worked to improve its quality of life.

“Even though my primary focus has been historic preservation, I’ve felt like a stagehand,” Kennedy said. “I’ve felt like I was helping to maintain the setting in which all of the action in Jonesborough’s quality of life takes place.”

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