Museum of Appalachia Becomes Smithsonian Institute Affiliate

By: Jessa Goddard
By: Jessa Goddard

Norris, Anderson County (WVLT) - It's been a staple of East Tennessee heritage for years. The Museum of Appalachia began as a hobby for John Rice Irwin.

Today it has grown to be recognized as a partner to one of the most prestigious museums in the world, the Smithsonian Institution.

When you think of a museum, you probably think of a cold, formal place where you asked not to touch anything inside.

That could not be less true than here at the Museum of Appalachia, a working mountain village.

And it's in part that this unique quality is the reason we're all here today.

"I guess it all started with my interest in people,” says John Rice Irwin, founder of the Museum of Appalachia.

A museum, a working mountain village that's grown to more than 36 log cabins, containing more than 250,000 items on more than 60 acres began with one man, John Rice Irwin and a single piece of furniture. "So it was a natural consequence I guess, that I’d like to have something that belonged to my grandmother. The rocking chair that she sat in for 50 years or the spinning wheel or the axe that my grandfathered used."

So from a rocking chair and an axe to dozens of cabins that appear as if a frontier Appalachian family may have just left to tend to the day's chores.

This working village complete with live cattle, horses, mules, goats, sheep and farm fowl, Wednesday becomes the 153rd affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.

It was selected in part because it is a living history of the people who settled here.

"This is like Williamsburg; it's like Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. There are a handful of places that really tell the story of their own history in their own region on such a large scale,” says Director of Smithsonian Affiliation Harold Closter.

From East Tennessee to Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, this new destination will help introduce our little piece of the world to the rest.

"Trying to spread the word outside of this area, we might be able to help really letting other people all around the world know what's going on here in Tennessee,” says Closter.

The Museum of Appalachia joins a host of others.

Mostly museums but also libraries, archives, presidential homes, even a school district in Arizona and National Park Service in Massachusetts.


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