Even in this modern age of technology, with information galore readily available at our fingertips, it is not always possible to get a sense of a place before you see it in person. My Big Trip planning process involves varying amounts of research into potential waypoints each year. Some places are more well-known or have more information readily available online. Other places are less represented. Sometimes I put a lot of effort into researching in advance and sometimes I don’t! Such is the case for the Museum of Appalachia. We didn’t know much but we were going to give it a shot anyway.
The Appalachian region of the United States feels like a place of myth and mystery to me. It plays a role in many novels, whether through the setting or through the characters who may have come from there. It is a region that has played a part in American history while also remaining largely unknown on a personal level. I most recently encountered the region during my exploration of the Packhorse Librarians. A chance to visit a museum that showcases the history of this region seemed like a great opportunity. The hours of operation and the location fit into our trip plan and so off we went.
What a surprise when we arrived at the museum and saw how vast the grounds were. This was no tiny little museum!
It’s a friendly museum!
After we paid our admission, the friendly lady at the gift shop loaned us a couple umbrellas to use while we walked around the grounds. A local band was playing live music next to the cafe in the gift shop and when we went outside we were met by peacocks! Wow! Our visit was off to quite a grand start.
Let’s take a look around!
After taking several pictures of the peacocks we entered the Hall of Fame. According to the website, this building is 15,000 square feet and it was filled to the brim with stories and displays of items representative of Southern Appalachia history. Two hundred people have been inducted into the hall of fame so far and their stories can be found here.
Next up was the display barn. Not to be outdone by the hall of fame, this building is also bursting at the seams with a plethora of interesting, unusual, handmade, historic items that came directly from the Southern Appalachian people. So many fascinating stories accompany each item on display. You could easily spend all day just in the two large buildings exploring the displays in depth.
It’s a very large museum!
The Museum of Appalachia covers 70 acres and hosts “a living mountain village”. It started with a single log structure and has grown to include more than 30 cabins along with several other structures such as a school, church, working farm, and barns. These various buildings have been moved from their original location to be preserved at the musuem where anyone can come to experience what life was like in Old Appalachia.
It’s a museum full of stories!
The best description of the museum came from my daughter, Felisa. She said it’s like a guy decided to make a museum about all his friends and neighbors. The museum was founded in 1969 by John Rice Irwin and the unique collection of buildings and artifacts was amassed over a period of 50 years as he traveled the back roads of Appalachia collecting colorful stories and everyday items. He was inspired by his grandparents to start the museum and his mission was to “save the past.” John Rice Irwin wrote seven books about this region and was recognized by various groups for his commitment to the community and his work as a historian.
Plan your visit
It was raining on the day of our visit and we were in a race against the sun to arrive at our friends’ house in Memphis at a reasonable hour so we only spent about two hours at the museum. Every one of us was impressed by the museum and disappointed not to have more time to see everything. We will absolutely plan a return visit if at all possible because we feel like we barely scratched the surface. If you find yourself near Knoxville, in eastern Tennessee, you should plan a stop at the Museum of Appalachia. Leave plenty of room in your schedule to travel back in time and discover life in rural Southern Appalachia.
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