There is a way of life that may some day be only memories from a distant past. A man with vision saw that the unique way of life in the Appalachia regions was not going to last forever. John Rice Irwin, an American cultural historian, had been inspired by his grandparents to one day have a museum. As a child, he listened to stories from his grandparents about the old days, and remembered his grandfather's advice: "You ought to keep these old-timey things that belonged to our people and start you a little museum sometime."
And that is just what Irwin did. The Museum of Appalachia was founded by Irwin in 1968. Long before the museum was established or even begun, Irwin began collecting artifacts that he picked up at auctions. His aim was to preserve the past in the form of tools and instruments the early settlers had actually used. He began housing his growing collection in a small log building. By 2010, the museum had grown to a village and farm complex. It spread out to 63 acres of picturesque pastures and fields.
The museum is twenty miles north of Knoxville in Norris, Tennessee. Irwin realized one day that all the artifacts he and others were collecting had been separated from their original historical homes and therefore taken out of their original context. So, Irwin began collecting the cabins, sheds, corn cribs, barns, a smokehouse, and other buildings of the people who had settled in the Appalachia regions around Tennessee. He rescued old and decaying buildings, had them moved to a new home and restored.
Irwin's days of collecting turned into a museum that is a living history display that has preserved those "old timey things" his grandfather spoke of. There are 30 historic log buildings filled with artifacts, each with their hand written history, thousands of photographs, mountain tools, furniture, weapons, quilts, farm instruments and miscellaneous items of interest on 63 acres where peacocks, sheep, chickens and other animals roam about. There are even some jail cells rescued from their original spots.
The Museum of Appalachia wonderfully interprets and preserves the pioneer and early twentieth century period of the Southern Appalachian region of the United States.
Some of the interesting buildings on the museum lands are the Tom Cassidy house from Union County, a leather and saddle shop from Rogersville, a blacksmith and wheelwright shop from Andersonville, the Mark Twain family cabin from Pall Mall, the Bunch smokehouse and the General Bunch house from Anderson County, the Arnwine cabin from Grainger county, and the Old Sharp corn mill from Union County -- all of these buildings are from around Tennessee. There is also the Irwin's Chapel Church from North Carolina, and the Hacker Martin gristmill with its original wheel from Gray, Tennessee.
John Rice Irwin not only preserved many artifacts and buildings of the past, but also extended his philosophy of preserving each item with the individual history of who owned it, when and how it was used, and how it was created or obtained. He has kept alive a part of history that was fast fading.
There are also events held at the museum. The annual Tennessee Fall Homecoming is held in October -- arts, crafts, historic demonstrations, and southern style cooking is a delight for all who attend. Old-time music is played for tourists, which give an even closer connection to the past and how the people lived and loved their music.
When visiting the museum, one will feel they are in an actual community of Appalachian farms with gardens that grow the traditional crops of the pioneers. It is like stepping back into the past and viewing first hand what life was like -- it is almost like having personal contact with people who once lived in the Southern Appalachian areas. It is a unique and educational experience for people of all ages.