Museum of Appalachia
There is one place that every visitor to this region should visit if they are the least bit interested in the lifestyles and folk traditions of Appalachia. The Museum of Appalachia (2819 Andersonville Hwy., Clinton, 865/494-7680, www.museumofappalachia.org, daily Jan.–Feb. 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Mar. 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Apr.–Labor Day weekdays 8:30 a.m.–6 p.m., weekends 8:30 a.m.–7 p.m., Sept.–Oct. daily 8 a.m.–6 p.m., Nov.–Dec. daily 8 a.m.–5 p.m., adults $12.95, seniors $10, children 6–12 $5) is one-of-a-kind.
Its 65 acres contain more of the history of this region than any other place in Tennessee. Its collection includes more than 250,000 artifacts, and more than 100,000 people visit annually.
The museum is a story told in several chapters. Its indoor exhibits include the Appalachian “Hall of Fame,” a remarkable collection of things that were made, used, and treasured by the people who came and created a life in the rugged land of the southern Appalachians. There are dolls that were whittled by rugged mountain men; banjos created from food tins; and the remains of a supposed perpetual motion machine.
The exhibits are the work of John Rice Irwin, as is the whole museum. Irwin, a mountain man himself, is motivated by his admiration and love for the people who settled the mountains. He believes that the items of everyday life are important, and that through them, we can understand the people who made them. It certainly seems like he’s right. Take the time to read the detailed and loving descriptions of each item in the Hall of Fame, and soon you will feel admiration and marvel for the people who made them, in the midst of what we would now consider hard times.
Music fans should not overlook the museum. Its collection of handmade fiddles, guitars, banjos, and mouth harps is unrivaled, and its displays about musicians tell not only who, what, and when, but also why and how. It’s not to be missed.
Outside the Hall of Fame, the museum has a collection of mountain buildings. There is a log church, schoolhouse, pioneer homestead, and the log home where Mark Twain’s parents lived in Possum Trot, Tennessee. As you explore these old buildings—all of which have been carefully moved from original locations throughout the region—look for members of the museum’s menagerie: peacocks, horses, fainting goats, and sheep.
The Museum of ppalachia] hosts several events during the year, but none is better-known and loved than its annual Homecoming in October. The best musicians, writers, and artists come for the weekend, which offers the most authentic celebration of mountain arts in the region.
In 2008, Irwin announced that he could no longer afford to keep the museum afloat with regular, large personal contributions. The museum would have to consider a few options to balance its books—possibly by cutting back hours in the winter or possibly by seeking corporate and other sponsorships. So while the future of the museum seems certain, be on the lookout for cost-saving changes in the coming years.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition