Museum of Appalachia: Let the Past Touch Your Soul

A living mountain village

After setting up camp at Clinton/Knoxville North KOA, we drove less than a mile to the Museum of Appalachia, a recreated Appalachian community. Strolling through the village, it’s easy to imagine we’re living in Appalachia of yesteryear, cutting firewood, tending livestock, mending a quilt, or simply rocking on the porch, enjoying the glorious views.

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The log cabins are outfitted much as their original residents would have done, and to complete the picture, we often found a group of musicians sitting on the front porch picking out a tune together.

John Rice Irwin founded the Museum in 1969 with one log cabin. The Museum of Appalachia is a living history museum, a unique collection of historic pioneer buildings and artifacts assembled for over a half-century by Irwin. The Museum portrays an authentic mountain farm and pioneer village, with some three dozen historic log structures, several exhibit buildings filled with thousands of authentic Appalachian artifacts, multiple gardens, and free-range farm animals, all set in a picturesque venue and surrounded by split-rail fences.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Irwin began his collection in 1962 when he was shocked to hear what buyers at an auction of an old farmstead near Norris planned to do with the items—changing a cedar churn, for example, into a lamp.

He traveled the back roads, amassing thousands of everyday implements from the colorful Southern Appalachian mountain folk. The stories of these folk are told in their own words through the Museum of Appalachia and through the artifacts left behind by them. Cabins appear as though the family just left to work in the fields or to go to Sunday meetings.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What started as a one-man effort to preserve Appalachian history has evolved into a huge collection of over 250,000 items displayed in the restored buildings and an exhibit barn.

Irwin also collected stories about the various artifacts, like a meal barrel that belonged to John Sallings, who some claim was the last veteran of the Civil War.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Museum of Appalachia also features the Appalachian Hall of Fame, which is housed in a separate three-story brick building. It contains exhibits, handmade and unusual musical instruments, and a large Indian collection.

There are artifacts from some of the personalities of East Tennessee, including Howard Baker and Dolly Parton. An impressive variety of handmade musical instruments demonstrates the ingenuity of these mountain folk. Other exhibits give you a glimpse into how they handled illness and death.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the Display Barn, we found an extensive collection of pioneer artifacts, including everyday items and folk art. Carving walking sticks into intricate designs seemed to have been a favorite pastime.

A large craft and gift shop at the Museum features locally-made handiwork from regional artisans. From locally-made honey to hand-made pottery, the Shop at The Museum of Appalachia spotlights the talents of artisans throughout the region.

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Pull up a chair and enjoy a meal as they’ve been fixed in country kitchens for generations. The Restaurant at Museum of Appalachia’s Southern Appalachian-style country cooking offers delicious casseroles, hearty entrees, tantalizing sides, and homemade desserts to satisfy your sweet tooth. Specializing in Southern Appalachian country cooking, the restaurant offers hot lunches, fresh-from-the-garden vegetables, and home-style desserts.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Facilities are available for weddings, reunions, corporate meetings, and other events.

In a generation, the Museum of Appalachia has become East Tennessee’s most popular cultural institutions and its amazing collections have been featured in national travel magazines, the Smithsonian magazine, and in national and international newspapers.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Museum is 16 miles north of Knoxville, near Norris, Tennessee. Take I-75 to Exit 122. 

Admission is $18 a person; $15 for seniors and the military.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I think, being from east Tennessee, you’re kinda born with a little lonesome in your soul, in your blood. You know you’ve got that Appalachian soul.

—Ashley Monroe