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Any tour of eastern Tennessee would be incomplete without a visit to the Museum of the Appalachia in Clinton, Tennessee, just sixteen miles north of Knoxville and on one of the new White Lightening Tennessee Trails this one called Thunder Road to Rebels Trail. Truly a museum “village”, visitors will understand the social and cultural history of the resourceful and creative people of this area and all aspects of their everyday lives.
One reason the museum is such a wealth of information of area history, music, and farm life is the fact that its creator, John Rice Irwin, was born, raised and lived in this beautiful setting of rivers, mountains and nature. Through his foresight and avid interest he spent over fifty years collecting an incredible amount of artifacts including period architectural structures, tools, musical instruments and animals. These thousands of items from the everyday life of the mountain folk of Southern Appalachia are put together in a complex village that includes more than thirty five buildings of authentic log cabins, barns and exhibits first open to the public in 1969. Gifts and donations are helping it to continue growing everyday.
A visit to the museum starts at the reception center and museum shop where tickets are purchased and then one begins the wonderful exploration of this unique property. To quote one publication:
“It is the smaller touches that give the museum its authentic feel: an ax stuck in a tree stump, cords of firewood stacked neatly next to a cabin, birdhouses made from gourds. Inside a cabin, dresses hang on wall hooks, kitchen utensils are laid out, and plates of dried beans and peppers sit on the table. Planned down to the smallest detail, the museum receives its highest compliments from visitors who ask, ‘Does somebody still live here?’ of the grounds. ”
The first exhibit I would recommend is the Hall of Fame building on the right side as you come out of the visitor’s center. Although you are free to wander, this building sets the scene in so many ways for the rest of the tour
Music has always played an important part in the lives of the people of this southern Appalachian region. Even in the most remote mountain cabin, shy of furniture and cooking utensils, one often finds two or three musical instruments. Some of these people included Roy Acuff and Uncle Dave Macon. Folks valued their music and although they may never have played outside the confines of their homes they took it quite seriously. This building contains not only musical instruments and articles but The Porch Musician Project (funded in part by the Tennessee Arts Commission’s Art Builds Communities program) provides a live, daily performance of authentic old-time music to the thousands of people who tour the Museum each year. This is often a first time introduction for visitors to a type of music and instruments they may never have heard before, like dulcimers.
The Hall of Fame also features political people from the mountains such as politicians Howard Baker and Cordell Hull, military heroes like Medal of Honor recipient Alvin York, Native Americans and yes moon shiners too!
Almost every building is unique in character, design and history. Want to know where Daniel Boone lived? You’ll visit an authentic replica of his homestead, or perhaps where Mark Twin’s parents lived, or Granny’s Hen House and Chicken Lot. The detail of each building is incredible and the photo opportunities numberless. The cantilevered Wilson barn is astonishing, as are the leather shop and portable jail cells to mention a few of along the “trail”. The Tom Cassidy House, smallest building on the property at ten feet square was the real life home of the aforementioned Mr. Cassidy who exclaimed perhaps not tongue in check that all a man needed was, “a cot, stove, dresser, chair, fiddle and a pistol” !
If you need a bit of rest and relaxation during your visit the covered porch/stage with a calming view of the hay field and actually just about all of the buildings is great and you can do it in a rocking chair. And why not enjoy some of the wonderful home style cooking in the restaurant. Freshly cooked each day and a sure lift to carry you forward! Vegetables fresh from the farm garden. ..greens more tender and sweet than any you’ve ever tasted before. ..tart and delicious fried green tomatoes — chicken ‘n’ dumplins like you remember from your grandmother’s kitchen — heavenly peach cobbler are some of the creative offerings. The museum restaurant is overseen by well known chef and caterer Kristy Wells and the staff are all professional and friendly. There is also free wi-fi in the dining room.
There are a wealth of special events going on here but one not to be missed in perhaps planning your visit is the Tennessee Fall Homecoming which in 2012 is October 12-14. Three days of everything Appalachian! You cannot beat the colors and foliage of fall in the mountains.
The aim of this review was to give you a sense of the incredible depth of this unique venue from agriculture, music, history (and lots of plume tailed peacocks !) that John Rice Irvin has created. Please visit their website to view the event schedule, many educational opportunities for groups young, old and otherwise offered at this gem. They also do weddings, one your guests will never forget along with many other special rental events.
Museum of Appalachia
865 494 7680
If you haven’t made it to the Museum of the Appalachia yet here are some of the books by John Rice Irvin on Amazon.com or call their store at 865 494 7680.
*Alex Stewart: Portrait of a Pioneer
*A People and Their Quilts
*Baskets and Basket Makers in Southern Appalachia
*A People and Their Music: The Story behind the Story of Country Music
*Musical Instruments of the Southern Appalachian Mountains
*The Museum of Appalachia Story: The Nationally Acclaimed Mountain Village, Farm and Museum, Norris, Tennessee.