Mountain Music and History at the Museum of Appalachia
Ever imagine you could lead a simple life in the mountains of Tennessee? Play your fiddle on your cabin’s front porch? Live a bucolic existence with sheep grazing in pastures and vegetables growing in a garden plot?
That long ago lifestyle is as real as a duck’s waddle at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris. Pick your cabin, maybe the one by the cantilever barn, and rest your weary bones in a rocking chair.
This outdoor museum with 35 historic log cabins and outbuildings stretching across 65 acres perfectly captures Appalachian life and lore. While strolling about you’ll admire the folk art, get nostalgic when looking at old highway signs, learn about moonshiners, and catch the aroma of barbecue as you pass the café. Tractors may be idle, but the farm animals are not. Chickens scatter as I approach, yet peacocks strut right up to say hello.
The historic structures were moved here from communities across East Tennessee. The Mark Twain Family Cabin was the home of the famous writer’s parents during their years in Tennessee before moving to Missouri. The Arwine Cabin dating back about 200 years is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Peters House is truly a family homestead. Nathaniel Peters is the first known occupant. His daughter, Cordelia, was born in the house, raised nine children here, and died in the house at age 87. The cabins are furnished with chairs and tables, set as if the family might sit down to dinner in a short while. Quilts, baskets, toys, clothing and mementos re-create the rustic lifestyle.
Times might have been simpler 150 years ago but a look at the tools in the barn and blacksmith shop confirms work was back-breaking. The hardscrabble existence of earlier generations is told in handwritten signboards scattered throughout the cabins and in the display barn. Photographs and artifacts carefully preserve the stories and illustrate the ingenuity and self-reliance of Appalachian men and women.
Mountain music lifts the spirits today as it did back then. Liza Jane Alexander and Curley Cottrell play traditional favorites from the front porch of the smokehouse. They like to share stories, and people soon realize tales are the heart of the Museum of Appalachia. Founder John Rice Irwin gathered the frontier stories that came with the farm tools and fiddles. More than 250,000 relics in his collection have a connection to someone — a neighbor, a farmer, a country music star, a country doctor.
The Museum of Appalachia can be an all-day experience, especially if you dawdle on the porches with the musicians. On many days craft and farm life demonstrations are held on the grounds. On the day of my visit, a wedding was taking place on the rolling pasture.
A café specializing in Southern favorites and a gift shop with crafts and rustic goods has a loyal following among the locals and tourists. More handcrafted goods are available at the Appalachian Arts Craft Center across the street from the museum entrance. The center is a nonprofit, educational organization where artisans keep alive the handiwork of the Southern Appalachians.