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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.

3 musicians playing local culture instruments at the Museum of Appalachia gift shop
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The museum gift shop has a cafe and on the day we visited there was also live music! You can hear a short clip of the music in the museum highlight video included above.
Two peacocks outside the gift shop at Museum of Appalachia
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The wet weather wasn’t bothering the peacocks at all. They were hanging around outside the gift shop so that no one would miss seeing their fancy feathers!


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.


museum of appalachia hall of fame welcome plaque
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This sums it up pretty well… “World renowned, uknown, famous, infamous, interesting, diverse, different but above all…a warm, colorful and jolly lot.” It is indeed a gift to us to be able to come to this museum and get to know them and their culture and history. Every one of us has a story.



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.


Asa Jackson's famous perpetual motion machine on display
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Asa Jackson’s famous perpetual motion machine is on display here. He designed and built it in the mid-1800s and was rumored to have hid it in a cave during the Civil War to avoid discovery. It was also said that whenever the machine was left unattended, it was partially disassembled so that no one else could figure out how it worked.
Museum of Appalachia display of various household items labeled as "interesting unusual and everyday items". Includes such things as clocks, wall phones, sink, chair, butter churn, etc.
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This whole place is filled with interesting, unusual and everyday items. The best part is the story that comes with each item about the people the item belonged to and how it came to the museum.
Museum of Appalachia display of various household items with quote on the wall that states "What better way is there to know a people than to study the everyday things they made, used, mended, and cherished...and cared for with loving hands."
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I love the quote on the wall, “What better way is there to know a people than to study the everyday things they made, used, mended, and cherished…and cared for with loving hands.”
An ornately carved black horse-drawn hearse wagon made in 1918
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Quite an impressive hearse, wouldn’t you say? This horse-drawn, ornately carved hearse with rubber tires was purchased in 1918 by J.L. Bass Funeral Home in Carthage, Tennessee.


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.


metal jail cells built in 1874 with 4 iron beds inside each cell
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These jail cells from 1874 were designed to hold 4 prisoners each. All metal and very uncomfortable looking – this is definitely not a 5 star hotel!
A sheep in a pasture on the grounds of the Museum of Appalachia. This is just one of many farm animals living on museum property showcasing southern Appalachian heritage.
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This 70-acre living museum includes various farm animals in addition to the many buildings and other items of southern Appalachian heritage.
This 8 foot by 8 foot one room shack was home to a local musician until 1989 and since 2007 has been on display in the museum grounds.
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Tom Cassidy (1920-1989), a musician from Union County, Tennessee, lived his later years alone in this 8 foot by 8 foot one room shack. He said “I’ve got that little cot in there, a chair, a stove for heat and cooking, a frying pan, a bean pot, and old dresser, my fiddle, and my pistol. What more does a man need?” Minimalism is all the rage these days but Tom already had it figured out.


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.

Gallery wall portraits showcasing some of the people that inspired John Rice Irwin to start this museum of southern Appalachia history and heritage
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There are some well-known people from this region of Appalachia included in the museum as well as all the everyday people, extraordinary in their own way, that lived here. Such a lovely tribute to the history and heritage of southern Appalachia.


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.


Our family travel mascot Vacation Mouse poses in an old wagon outside the museum entrance.
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Vacation Mouse asked for a photo in this wagon outside the museum entrance. He said it would be perfect to hold his cookie collection!


Sharing is caring!

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Collage of images from museum of appalachia
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Whether well-known or not, the southern Appalachia region is home to many people, extraordinary in their own way. What a gift this museum is – not only to honor them – but to let the rest of the world have a peek into their life that would have otherwise been lost in the remote mountain hollows.


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