The Museum of Appalachia
The Museum of Appalachia is a living history village and farm located in Clinton, Tennessee. The museum is home to a collection of early pioneer artifacts from the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The 65-acre site contains two large display buildings and over 30- authentic log buildings surrounded by split rail fences, gardens and pastures with a working farm and live farm animals (1). This nonprofit organization is dedicated to preserving Appalachian culture and heritage. It is one of only a few affiliates of the Smithsonian Institution located in Tennessee.
Backstory and Context
The museum began with John Rice Irwin’s interest in collecting artifacts of the Appalachian people. Irwin founded the Museum of Appalachia in the 1960’s and filled it with artifacts purchased from auctions and from going door to door throughout the region. Irwin is known for having collected not just artifacts, but the stories of the people he collected them from. These oral histories can be found in the museum’s archives. The museum’s largest exhibit, The Hall of Fame, includes a variety of members from World War I heroes to “Tater Hole Joe,” a man known for living in a hole in the ground. This building is dedicated to telling the stories of the historical and interesting people of Appalachia. According to its website, The Museum of Appalachia “preserves an essential spirit of the past while it continually seeks to educate, entertain, and interpret for the present” 2. This museum is dedicated to the preservation and education of the history of the region.
One of the most popular buildings on the grounds is the Mark Twain Family Cabin. Experts say that Samuel Clements (Mark Twain) was likely conceived in this log structure which was moved to the museum grounds from Possum Trot, Tennessee. Twain’s parents moved from this cabin to Missouri in 1935, and Twain was born five months later3. Other buildings on the grounds include a cantilever barn, a grist mill, a one room school house, and many other structures. The majority of the buildings located at the Museum of Appalachia were relocated to the grounds from other parts of Tennessee. A display barn houses the history and artifacts of Appalachian agriculture and includes a unique folk art exhibit.
The Museum of Appalachia is a popular tourist attraction for those interested in the culture and history of Appalachia. The museum puts on many events throughout the year to educate students and celebrate the rich culture of the region. It hosts the Tennessee Annual Homecoming, a three day festival showcasing old-time music and pioneer practices4. The grounds are also a popular place to hold weddings. This living history museum is a must-visit for an interesting look into the lives of the colorful Appalachian people. The Smithsonian magazine featured the museum saying, “it vividly portrays something ethereal—the soul of mountain people”5. The museum today focuses less on procuring new artifacts and more on preserving what they already have and promoting educational programs. Visitors to the museum come from across the United States and foreign countries. The museum is open daily and has a restaurant located on the grounds serving home-style meals.