Beginning in the early 1960s, John Rice Irwin began assembling a collection of architecture and artifacts documenting the pioneer history of the southern highlands. The Museum of Appalachia opened to the public in 1968, offering a glimpse into the lives of southern Appalachian farmers in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Located just a few miles north of Knoxville, Tennessee, the museum sits at a convenient exit on the major north-south highway connecting the Midwest with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Florida.
John Rice Irwin (center) and friends
A former educator and school superintendent, Irwin became concerned that the history of the region was being lost, with artifacts either destroyed or separated from their historical context through sale as antiques. He began scouring the region for buildings, tools, and other items of daily lives and assembled them on his farm near Norris, Tennessee. The site now contains more than 35 pioneer buildings, livestock displays, and two display buildings that contain more than 1,000 artifacts.
There is a one-room school,
a stable with sheep,
a blacksmith shop,
and an old-fashioned haystack, which we never see on farms anymore.
There is the cabin once occupied by Samuel Clemen's parents in Fentress County, Tennesse, which I wrote about earlier here,
artifacts such as these millstones,
and cantilever barns, a uniquely Appalachian structure that I'll write more about tomorrow.
In addition to the static displays at the museum, there are special programs that keep alive the traditions of the southern highlands. The annual Independence Day celebration includes an "anvil shoot," in which black powder is placed into the bottom of a blacksmith's anvil, ignited, and shot high into the air. Several events include mountain music, the largest of which is the annual Fall Homecoming event that draws the biggest names in traditional music, as well as dozens of traditional crafters who demonstrate and sell their crafts. For more information, visit the Museum's web page at the link near the top of this page.