Museum of Appalachia: Let the Past Touch Your Soul

After setting up camp at Clinton/Knoxville North KOA, we drove less than a mile to the Museum of Appalachia, a recreated Appalachian community.

Strolling through the village, it’s easy to imagine we’re living in Appalachia of yesteryear, cutting firewood, tending livestock, mending a quilt, or simply rocking on the porch, enjoying the glorious views.

Roam 65 picturesque acres and experience a recreated Appalachian community complete with 35 log cabins, barns, farm animals, churches, schools, gardens. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roam 65 picturesque acres and experience a recreated Appalachian community complete with 35 log cabins, barns, farm animals, churches, schools, gardens. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The log cabins are outfitted much as their original residents would have done, and to complete the picture, we often found a group of musicians sitting on the front porch picking out a tune together.

John Rice Irwin founded the Museum in 1969 with one log cabin. The Museum of Appalachia is a living history museum, a unique collection of historic pioneer buildings and artifacts assembled for over a half century by Irwin. The Museum portrays an authentic mountain farm and pioneer village, with some three dozen historic log structures, several exhibit buildings filled with thousands of authentic Appalachian artifacts, multiple gardens, and free range farm animals, all set in a picturesque venue and surrounded by split-rail fences.

The Museum of Appalachia is a living history museum, a unique collection of historic pioneer buildings and artifacts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Museum of Appalachia is a living history museum, a unique collection of historic pioneer buildings and artifacts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Irwin began his collection in 1962 when he was shocked to hear what buyers at an auction of a old farmstead near Norris planned to do with the items—changing a cedar churn, for example, into a lamp.

He traveled the back roads, amassing thousands of everyday implements from the colorful Southern Appalachian mountain folk. The stories of these folk are told in their own words through Museum of Appalachia, and through the artifacts left behind by them. Cabins appear as though the family just left to work in the fields or to go to Sunday meeting.

What started as a one-man effort to preserve Appalachian history has evolved into a huge collection of over 250,000 items displayed in the restored buildings and an exhibit barn.

Irwin also collected stories about the various artifacts, like a meal barrel that belonged to John Sallings, who some claim was the last veteran of the Civil War.

Strolling through the village, it's easy to imagine we're living in Appalachia of yesteryear. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Strolling through the village, it’s easy to imagine we’re living in Appalachia of yesteryear. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Museum of Appalachia also features the Appalachian Hall of Fame, which is housed in a separate three-story brick building. It contains exhibits, handmade and unusual musical instruments, and a large Indian collection.

There are artifacts from some of the personalities of East Tennessee, including Howard Baker and Dolly Parton. An impressive variety of handmade musical instruments demonstrates the ingenuity of these mountain folk. Other exhibits give you a glimpse into how they handled illness and death.

At the Display Barn, we found an extensive collection of pioneer artifacts, including everyday items and folk art. Carving walking sticks into intricate designs seemed to have been a favorite pastime.

Over 250,000 artifacts in 3 buildings, with vast collections of folk art, musical instruments, baskets, quilts, Native American artifacts, and more. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 250,000 artifacts in 3 buildings, with vast collections of folk art, musical instruments, baskets, quilts, Native American artifacts, and more. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A large craft and gift shop at the Museum features handiwork from regional artisans, and a small restaurant offers hot lunches, fresh-from-the-garden vegetables, and home-style desserts. Facilities are available for weddings, reunions, corporate meetings, and other events.

The museum’s Tennessee Fall Homecoming, held the second full weekend every October (October 6-8, in 2017), is one of the most popular autumn events in the region, attracting hundreds of Appalachian musicians and craftspeople as well as thousands of visitors. Homecoming presents authentic mountain, bluegrass, and Gospel music for four days on five stages.

Christmas in Old Appalachia is another popular annual event (December 2-4, in 2017).

The log cabins are outfitted much as their original residents would have done. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The log cabins are outfitted much as their original residents would have done. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a generation, the Museum of Appalachia has become one of Tennessee’s most popular cultural institutions and it’s amazing collections have been featured in national travel magazines, the Smithsonian magazine, and in national and international newspapers.

The Museum is 16 miles north of Knoxville, near Norris, Tennessee. Take I-75 to Exit 122.

Admission is $15 a person.

Worth Pondering…

I think, being from east Tennessee, you’re kinda born with a little lonesome in your soul, in your blood. You know you’ve got that Appalachian soul.
—Ashley Monroe

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