Hank Hayes • Nov 29, 2007 at 12:00 AM

TUSCULUM — More than 200 people convened inside Tusculum College’s Niswonger Commons Building Thursday to learn how to promote the past in the foreseeable future.

Presenters at U.S. Rep. David Davis’ first-ever History, Heritage and Tourism Summit combined history lessons with marketing strategies to help area tourism promoters attempt to grab a bigger share of the state’s growing $13.4 billion tourism industry.

“When I travel around the First District, people in Washington County knew that Jonesborough was the oldest city (in Tennessee),” Davis told attendees. “Then I would come over to Greene County and learn about the bridge burners in the Civil War or go over to Carter County and learn about the Overmountain Men. ... Very few people would know about the history in neighboring counties. We have enough history here to have people come and visit and not just stay one day. There’s enough history to have them spend their whole vacation here.”

East Tennessee has a rich history, and it’s just a matter of finding a way to get the word out, presenters noted.

“The outside world is going to find out about our secret sometime,” said Russell Nichols, the president of Tusculum College, which has nearly a dozen structures on the National Register of Historic Places.

Those outsiders, summit speakers said, may not know that Rocky Mount was essentially Tennessee’s first capital or that Holston River settlers founded Kingsport.

Donald Sexton Jr., Tusculum College’s retired chair of the History Department, noted that Greeneville was a flashpoint between Confederate and Federal supporters during the Civil War.

“East Tennessee was divided during the Civil War. Greeneville was split. Jonesborough was divided,” Sexton said.

Next year, Greeneville will be looking for help to celebrate the 200th anniversary of President Andrew Johnson’s birthday, said Andrew Johnson National Historic Site Superintendent Nancy E. “Lizzie” Watts.

Johnson was remembered mostly for his 1868 impeachment — for which he was narrowly acquitted — but Watts insisted he took a huge step to rebuild America after the Civil War.

“Can you imagine what it’s like ... to go from vice president to president of the United States after the most tragic time of our nation’s history, when brother against brother fought each other?” Watts said of Johnson, who became president after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. “He decided on Christmas Day 1868 to give everyone amnesty who fought for the South in the Civil War. ... They became citizens of the United States again.”

Representatives of other historical sites were taught how to raise money and get on the personal radar screens of meeting planners.

“Partnerships right now are really key to funding, ... leverage what you have now (in private funds) ... to create a win-win for everybody,” said David Jones, regional manager with the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

Jones encouraged attendees to get their sites on the department’s partner pages linked to its Web site (located at www.tnvacation.com).

He also told them to get out and get to know their local Tennessee Welcome Center.

“How many of you have visited your welcome centers?” he asked. “I hope it was for more than a potty break.”

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