"Museum of Appalachia" Clinton by flyingscot4
Clinton Travel Guide: 1 reviews and 10 photos
This writing is not about the small city of Clinton, TN, but about the "Museum of Appalachia," which is located near the town and near Norris, TN. It is just 16 miles north of Knoxville,TN, just one mile off of I-75. This museum is a remarkable show piece and educational marvel for those interested in both the history of our country, and of this part of Tennessee, as well as an overwhelming sense of the lives of a large percentage of our forefathers.
The original impetus for this 65 acre, 36 building museum came from its founder, John Rice Irwin. This former teacher and school superintendent has spent half of his eighty years funding and putting this sixty-five acre museum together, collecting the pieces and the faces of the people who made and used them. Most of the 250,000 "pieces of yesterday" have descriptions hand-lettered by Mr. Irwin, allowing one to read, not only about what a piece is, but how it was used and about the person who used it.
The 36 buildings come from all over Appalachia, moved here by Mr. Irwin during the past 40 years. They were brought piece by piece in trucks and wagons. There are 36 buildings in the museum, each with it's own story or stories about the people who lived in a much simpler, but a much more rigorous time. And as we go through this marvelous collection of people and things, we can only become more and more impressed with, and proud of our fore-bearers. They were a truly hardy and inventive people in whom the will to succeed was part of their nature. This museum encapsulates those successes.
Thankfully, the views expressed above are not just the writer's. As a museum it is nationally and internationally known. Many prominent magazines and periodicals are effusive in praising this museum. It has been featured in the Smithsonian magazine and is part of the Smithsonian Affiliation. National Geographic Traveler, Time-Life Books' Country Traveler, Reader's Digest's Our Living History, and Southern Living. have all featured the museum and Mr. Rice, as has the Tennessee Blue Book which described the museum as "the most authentic and complete replica of pioneer Appalachian life in the world."
So, please come and visit a wonderful and diverse group of Americans named for a mountain range - The Appalachians.
For images, please view the short video in "Tips."
I was sitting outside on the covered porch after having a substantial lunch at the cafeteria on my first Museum of Appalachia visit in July, 2010, when a couple came up to me and the lady said, "Isn't this just perfectly splendid?" I heartily agreed, and we chatted about the museum for awhile. Eventually they asked where I was from and we quickly got onto the subject of my state - Wisconsin. When I asked where they were from, she said, "Oh, we're from just over yonder on the other side of Clinton. We're originally from Nashville but we moved here over 20 years ago. All this time, and we've never been here before." I knew what she meant. I told them that I thought that this is what retirement is all about. I keep finding little out-of-the-way places in my home state that I didn't know were there and I have lived near them for fifty years. Perhaps I have heard of them, but I never visited them and saw the jewels so close to me. I am ever so grateful that I still have the opportunity to see some of the things I missed over the years. I am so impressed by this museum and the work that Mr. Irwin and his friends and staff have accomplished that I would like to move to this area, study the museum extensively for a number of months, and lead tours of the museum and grounds for visitors. I find both to be fascinating.
The grounds of the museum cover 65 acres with 36 buildings, most of which were moved to the present location over a 40 year period. All have been carefully tended and cared for by the staff and each of the buildings looks as though they were built here in the late 1700's to the mid-1800's. The exteriors look their ages, but well cared for. The interiors appear to be presently lived in with the family having gone to town or to church. Everything is authentic and nothing appears to be out of place. It is easy to visualize the people who lived here over 100 years ago.
The buildings are comprised of family homesteads, barns, poultry coups, shops, mills, a separate kitchen, a slave house, and others. They are laid out in easily-walked paths and most places are handicapped accessible. The staff is very helpful, knowledgeable, and friendly. The food served in the cafeteria is hearty, flavorful, and personally recommended.
The self-guided tour begins at the Entrance Building and continues on a somewhat circular route and all buildings are accessible and furnished in period. I saw few, if any, reproductions, and if there are any there, they sure look authentic. The implements used for farming and daily living are period pieces and everything looks very natural. There is no "museum" look or feel to the entire complex (with the possible exception of the gift shop, and even there, things are tasteful). I saw no junk trinkets anywhere. Most of the buildings allow guests to enter and look around. There are few barriers in comparison with other museums, but visitors are asked not to handle any of the pieces. To just walk the paths and look at each building will take about three hours to do the buildings justice and this does not include the four main buildings. The distance from one building to another is not far, but there is so much to see. My photographs can't do the complex justice.
It is worth a trip to Tennessee to visit this museum for a day.
When I was young I wanted to be Roy Rogers; then Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. In high school I thought that fur trapping in Alaska or raising red Irish Setters was my calling, until I discovered Wyatt Earp. In college I majored in American History and my interest was Westward Expansion. Somehow, I went right to cowboys and Indians, ranches, and outlaws, and great lawmen. Fortunately, I had some professors who not too gently, led me out of my dream world into young man's reality. I learned about some of our not so great history. Then there was the US Army which had its' own way of teaching reality. The passage says, "...but when I became a man, I put away childish things..." And I did... But not everything, and not forever...
Fortunately, I kept a few things too. I have loved folk music since I was about twelve years old listening to the Weavers, not knowing that much of their music was from Appalachia. Then came the Kingston Trio. In the 60's I was in the US Army in Germany and falling in love with that country, and with Scotland and all things Scottish (except for Haggis and fish), especially the music. Then I heard "mountain music;" and "bluegrass" was getting more recognition (and it sounded a lot like the Scottish music I enjoyed). Then too came the heartbreaking stories of the miners in Appalachia and the most unkind and unfair stereotypes of "hillbilly's." What stayed with me was the music, the simplicity and honesty of the vocals (read, "Jean Ritchie" and the "Carter Family"). That music is still with me and has led me back to this wonderful and misunderstood part and people of our nation. Today, I can still visualize the people who learned distrust of the government. I can understand the "us versus them" mentality. But I can also visualize groups of neighbors singing and playing and "buck dancing" on front porches or gathered around the fireplace listening to stories handed down over the years from one person to another... one generation to the next.
The society is still somewhat closed and there is still mistrust. Acceptance does not happen overnight. But, John Rice Irwin has found that acceptance. He and the staff and displays at the Museum of Appalachia open windows into the past and present of this marvelous group of Americans. They are still among our most unique.
Now I'm retired, don't have much money, but I have lots of time. Somebody said about retirement, "I've got nothing to do and all day to do it in." I have been fortunate to have seen much of Europe, but the backpack is getting heavy and the hills seem to be getting higher. Now, at the beginning of my eighth decade, I am reverting back to Davy Crockett and Dan'l Boone. This time, however, I'm trying to look at them from their reality. I question whether I would have "measured up" to the standards of those pioneers and their families.
I don't mean the fact that there was no central heating in log cabins, or no running water and outhouses. These people worked from dawn to dark and thought nothing of it. There were no vacations; no retirements. Sunday was not a day off, it was church or Bible study. These folks survived because they learned how to "do it themselves," and they understood the word "community." And they did it. Now, today, I want to know how they did it. I don't want to do it; I don't think that I could. I just want to know how they did it.
My curiosity has led me to a good place to start - the Museum of Appalachia. I have been to Williamsburg, and Sturbridge Village, and Washington Crossing and other "pioneer" places. But this museum has a personality that I find to be different from the others. This museum gives life to our ancestors. The homestead log cabins look lived in, ready for the family to come home after a days work in the fields. They look alive.
Please watch the accompanying video. Look into the cabins and imagine the lives of these pioneers that John Rice Irwin has so wonderfully brought back to life for all of us. Look at these folks who came to cross the mountains and stayed to become "The Appalachians".
- Pros:Easy to get to. Easy to become a pioneer for a day.
- Cons:None... for anyone.
- In a nutshell:This museum is worth a mini-vacation by itself.
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