The museum was formerly known as the Colburn Earth Science Museum. Growing from the collections of local residents, this museum first opened as a small collection and grew into an Asheville institution. The museum moved to Pack Place in the 1980s and offered visitors a look at their collection of minerals and gems from North Carolina and around the world. The museum moved to its current location after years at Pack Place and now offers exhibits dedicated to numerous scientific fields. Reflecting its roots, it continues to offer exhibits about North Carolina's mining history and minerals.
The Colburn Earth Science museum, the predecessor of the Asheville Museum of Science, was established primarily from the mineral collection of Burnham Standish Colburn, one of the founders of the Southern Appalachian Mineral Society (S.A.M.S.). Burnham died in 1959, and his family shared much of his collection with S.A.M.S.. Other members of the society donated to increase the collection, allowing the society to open the Burnham S. Colburn Memorial Museum.