By Heather Gilreath

September 1, 2023

JA group photo

If you attend an Exchange Place festival, you are likely to see a number of young folks dressed in period clothes demonstrating chores and crafts all over the farmstead—from cooking to blacksmithing to wood splitting to playing old-time music.  These enthusiastic young interpreters are the Exchange Place Junior Apprentices (JAs), and they play a vital role in the museum’s mission to bring the past to life.

The Junior Apprentice program seeks to unite middle and high schoolers with a passion for history and a commitment to community service. The JAs meet regularly to learn about early American history and heritage skills. The motto of the program is “Unplug into the Past,” so much of the learning is hands-on: digging in the garden, cooking over a fire, hammering iron, grooming animals, and crafting gourds and baskets.  Obviously, the JAs are not afraid to get their hands dirty or break a sweat (all part of the historic accuracy!) The JAs pay their “dues” by volunteering for public events and helping behind the scenes at Exchange Place.  Parents and younger siblings are often just as engaged as the JAs in these tasks.

Initially funded by a grant from the Kingsport Community Foundation, the JA program is supported solely through sponsorships, additional grants, and fundraising.  In 2016, the JAs hosted a “Heritage Day” event to raise money for period-appropriate clothing made by Susan Jarrett of Maggie May Historical Clothing. The clothing greatly enhances the authenticity of interpretation and creates a point of engagement for visitors. The JAs also sell their hand-made goods, such as tulip poplar bark baskets, fresh ginger cakes, 19th century games, and hand-knitted farm animals at Christmas in the Country.  Monies made from the sale of these items fund additional costuming, workshop supplies, and field trips to historic sites like Old Salem and The Museum of Frontier Culture.

Now in its 10th year, the JA program has produced several graduates, many of whom continue to volunteer at Exchange Place as adults.  More than just an extracurricular special interest group, the JA program is an investment in Exchange Place’s future by cultivating a new generation of volunteers who take pride and ownership in the site and its mission.

Please help support this group of young living historians by donating to our 10th anniversary fund drive! 

Click here to donate and be sure to indicate that you want your donation earmarked for the JA program.


JA Grisenti girls
JA Band
Christmas in the Country--JAs