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Wilbur Wright once said, “There is no sport equal to that which aviators enjoy while being carried through the air on great white wings.”

And as our very own Tri-Cities Regional Airport celebrates its 75th Anniversary this year, I decided to look back in time to learn about our local history of aviation.

In May of 1911, pilot Fred Eells introduced locals to the excitement of flight by organizing an “air meet” at the Fairmount Golf Grounds in Bristol. People came from miles around — by horse-drawn carriages — and were fascinated with the flying machines that were invented by the Wright Brothers only eight years earlier.

Almost a decade later, a pilot flying a Curtiss “Jenny” over Johnson City was forced to make an emergency landing in a grassy field. It didn’t take long before other pilots started asking for permission to keep their planes there as well, and the little field affectionately called “Johnson City Airport” soon began hosting weekend air shows and regular events.

But by the early 1930s, with the increased popularity of flying, the airfield wasn’t large enough to be practical. Talks began of building a centrally located airport to provide service to the area, and a 323-acre site near Blountville was named as the future home of the Tri-Cities Regional Airport.

On October 12, 1935, construction began. And within two years, two small runways, a terminal building and an aircraft hangar were complete, and the airport was ready for the landing of its first commercial aircraft — an American Airlines DC-2.

In 1941, the War Training Service was an integral part of aviation activity at the airport. Aviation cadets came from King College in Bristol and the State Teachers College (now East Tennessee State University) in Johnson City to receive basic flight instruction to become WWII pilots, navigators and bombardiers.

Virtually every type of civilian and military aircraft, fixed-wing and helicopter, has visited the Airport at one time or another over the past 75 years — from DC-3s to F-28s to Air Force One itself! Today, the airport currently covers an area of 1,225 acres and offers nonstop flights to four major hubs.

So next time you fly through the friendly skies of Northeast Tennessee, think back to the innovation, passion and hard work of local aeronautical heroes — they have left a true legacy.

For more information about Tri-Cities Regional Airport, visit

I’ve never been much of a “gun person.” It’s not that I dislike guns, I’ve just never needed them, much less had to depend on one for survival. But because guns have played such an important part in American History, and in particular, the history of Northeast Tennessee, I decided to give it a shot.

I mean, imagine Daniel Boone without his “Tick-Licker.” Or Davy Crockett without “Ol Betsy.”

The fact is: guns played a crucial part in the exploration and settlement of virtually every part of America.

So I decided to get in touch with my pioneer side, and that ambition led me to The Shooter’s Edge, just off the Bristol Highway in Piney Flats, Tennessee. It’s the area’s only full-service, indoor public shooting range.

The first thing that struck me about this place is how big it is: 21,000 square feet, with 15 shooting booths and automated targeting systems for sending and retrieving targets. You can shoot any firearm you’ve got (with the exception of muzzle loader and 50 caliber BMG), just bring your gun and ammunition and they’ll set you up with your own shooting bay. Or, if you don’t have any guns of your own (or just want to get some practice for you and your family), you can rent the gun of your choice (for a small fee).

Being the novice that I am, my instructor took extra care to make me feel comfortable and answer all the questions I had. But this place isn’t just for beginners. Plenty of expert hunters and military people were there trying out different guns in their own arsenal.

I don’t have to tell you how good I did with my “target practice” (it wasn’t good). But I will say that I never imagined I’d have as much fun as I did.

So whether you’re a beginner who needs hands-on instruction, or an experienced marksman looking to hone your skills, The Shooters Edge is your kind of place. For gun rentals, hours, and more information, visit their website here.

If you’ve ever seen the hit series Antiques Roadshow, you’ve probably seen it happen.  An item is appraised, most likely something that the owner says has been lying around forever, and it turns out to be worth more than anyone had imagined. What many people might not realize, though, is that the great finds aren’t just seen on TV.

In fact, since the event began in 2005, quite a few items made right here in Northeast Tennessee have been rediscovered as treasures during Greeneville’s Annual Antique Appraisal Fair and Show.

This C. A. Haun piece set an artist record when it sold at auction for $36,800

In 2009, for example, a mid-19th-century miniature Sheraton chest of drawers made in Washington County sold for $8,966 at auction. The following year, a stoneware jar made in Washington County in the late 19th century by Charles Decker, complete with his trademark open tulip design, sold for $2,610 at auction.

The C. A. Haun jar shown on the left sold for $38,600 in 2010, and a similar jar by J. A. Lowe set a Tennessee pottery record in 2008 before when it sold at auction for an incredible $63,000.  It’s possible (and probable) that Lowe may have been Haun’s apprentice at some point before the Civil War. And like many of the craftsmen hailing from the  “Potterville” area in East Tennessee at that time, their work is only getting more valuable.

These are just a few examples of Northeast Tennessee’s rich artisan history producing items that sometime prove to be very valuable at international auctions.

Who knows? Some of the things you have lying around could be worth more than you think. Your chance to find out is coming up on Saturday, Feb. 18, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. during the Seventh Annual Appraisal Fair and Show at Greeneville High School.  General admission is free, and appraisals will be $5 per item.

Driving down Interstate 26 last weekend, my mind resonated with everything I had ever heard (or learned) about Unicoi County and the town of Erwin.

Of course, there’s the incredible scenery…where you can see the ghosted peaks of the Unaka Mountain Range separating Tennessee and North Carolina. There’s the “Grand Canyon of the East,” a vastly deep gorge carved by thousands of years worth of flowing waters from the Nolichucky River. There’s that good old story of “Murderous Mary,” the crazed elephant that was hung from a railroad derrick…

And I wandered through every recollection I’d ever had about this place, there was one thing I just couldn’t seem to figure out: “What the heck is so special about apples anyway?” Read the rest of this entry »

It wasn’t so much what he said, or how he said it, that led to British Colonel Patrick Ferguson’s demise.

It was WHO he said it to.

During the Revolutionary War, Ferguson was charged with flushing out unruly settlers who’d defied a royal order and settled west of the Appalachian Mountains. But when he threatened them, saying he’d “lay their country to waste with fire and sword,” the settlers in modern-day Northeast Tennessee and the surrounding area decided they weren’t going to wait for the British to come find them. They were going to handle the matter themselves.

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In February of 1894, a feeble, one-armed man walked into the offices of Dr. W.T. Delaney in Bristol. His name was James Keelan, and though he was never one to take charity, he was in a bit of a pinch. His wife had died, and Keelan was the sole guardian of three granddaughters. And at age 76, he had no reasonable option for employment. However, the Tennessee legislature had funded a pension for former Confederate soldiers, and Keelan—claiming he was a veteran of the Civil War—was there to request his rightful payment. But when Delaney began to question the man about his service, he uncovered one of the most incredible and heroic stories he’d ever heard…which would forever earn Keelan a place in American Military history. This is his story:

James Keelan was born in Virginia in 1818. The son of farmers, Keelan learned to hunt, fish, and farm at a young age. He led a relatively quiet existence until the onset of the Civil War. By that time, he was 43 years old, but still enlisted in the Confederate Army within the Will Thomas Legion.

James Keelan

In October of 1861, unbeknownst to the Confederates, the pro-Union William B. Carter devised a plan to invade East Tennessee via the Cumberland Gap (a crucial crossing point for the Confederate Army). Without hesitation, the plan was approved by President Lincoln, General William Sheridan and General George Thomas. As the invasion started, some unexpected moves by the Confederates separated the Union regiments, and Carter’s army was left alone to invade Tennessee, burning bridges and destroying infrastructure. They were successful, to a point, until they reached the Strawberry Plains Bridge over the Holston River outside Knoxville. And as it turns out, the regiment assigned to protect the Strawberry Plains Bridge was none other than the Will Thomas Legion.

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