By Meg Dickens
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines progress as development to a higher, better, or more advanced stage. Johnson County has taken a turn for the better in recent years. The county is a living, breathing entity that is continuously growing. People around the world are learning about this small area in northeastern Tennessee. New businesses and opportunities have finally put Johnson County on the map.
Johnson County branched off from Carter County in 1836. It has come a long way in that time. This area is drawing attention from all over the country. One example of this is the Johnson County Robotics teams. The robotics program is only around 4-years old. That has not stopped students from obliterating the competition each year. This year all groups made it to the state competition, and one of the JCHS teams will attend the world competition at the end of April.
The robotics teams are not the only students bringing positive attention to Mountain City. The JCHS varsity football team took home the title championship two years in a row, and the Longhorn varsity basketball team won the Three Rivers Tournament championship. The Lady Longhorns basketball team even won its first tournament game in decades 64-60, breaking a 24-year cycle.
“We hadn’t won a tournament game in 24 years, so I wanted to be a part of ending that,” said player Sadie Stout (23). “I’m glad our team was able to make history. I’m happy for our coaches and fans.”
Sports prowess has had a remarkable impact, but individuals also made a significant difference. 3rd District Constable and community staple Dave Quave were handpicked by the Secret Service to drive in the presidential motorcade during President Trump’s visit to Freedom Hall. Mother and daughter team Linda and Amber Icenhour won the Mothers’ Choice Award for their children’s book “The Adventures of Jam and Jelly.” 5th District County Commissioner Megan McEwen organized a now annual March for Life to protest abortion practices. A single voice is enough to jumpstart change. The anonymous donor who gifted the Johnson County Community Foundation nearly 200 thousand dollars at the end of 2018 proves this point.
This area is slowly growing. New programs such as the TN College of Applied Technology (TCAT) and Agricultural Center are bringing opportunities to town. Heritage Hall Theatre just extended its reach by offering online ticket sales through a partnership with tix.com. The Johnson County Farmers Market now has a permanent home. The Johnson County Public Library expanded its workspaces and added multi-stall bathrooms. All of these acts open the door for more people to come and enjoy local resources.
“Johnson County is expecting an upward movement in economic growth,” said Mayor Mike Taylor in a previous interview. “The county will continue to work toward attracting new businesses and touting all the area has to offer to boost tourism.”
Several long-sought goals have become a reality in these last few years. One example is the liquor allowance passed in November 2018 when locals voted for liquor by the drink and retail package store sales. This change may lure new businesses to the area.
Johnson County has already drawn new retailers before the ordinance. Taco Bell, KFC, the Laurel Bloomery Dollar General, Johnson County MyRide Tennessee, and the Johnson County Center for the Arts are just a few.
Tennessee home sales have been on a steady incline from 2011 to 2017. 2018 shows a minor decrease, but Johnson County is still in a real estate boom. Statistics show 117 houses sold in Johnson County during 2017. Local real estate agents frequently talk about the improving market. Mountain Heritage Realty plans to open a Mountain City office.
The area is growing, but that does not mean locals have forgotten their roots. Johnson County has a rich history in Appalachian music reaching back to the first Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention in 1925. The Johnson County Center for the Arts keeps this legacy alive with authentic Appalachian wares and the annual Long Journey Home celebration. Storytelling is a new activity for the 2019 event.Even The Tomahawk Newspaper crew has changed significantly. In the last year or so, staff members Angie Gambill and Paula Walter retired, and Tim Chambers announced his retirement. Tamas Mondovics and
Lewis Chapman joined the staff shortly after. The current team has refocused on local coverage. New features such as Meet the Locals and Destination Damascus help locals stay informed of local events and businesses. The staff at The Tomahawk is excited to see the community flourish and grow.