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Day 516: Wayfaring Strangers

Sunday, May 19, 2013

We still had a two-hour drive ahead of us when we left Biltmore. Our reservations that night were for a hotel on the outskirts of Knoxville.

Sunday's plan was two museums on the way to my aunt's (she lives between Knoxville and Chattanooga); we figured we'd arrive by late afternoon so we could have supper with her.

After we settled in for the night I pulled up the museum websites to double-check our route, admission fees, and whatnot, and - uh-oh. Problem.

"Hey, I just realized the American Museum of Science and Energy doesn't open until 1 on Sundays. That won't work if we're going to be at Aunt Marie's around 4:30 - either that, or we wouldn't have time to see much."

"What about the Sequoyah museum?" That was the other one we planned to visit.

"Mmm... nope. They open at noon."

I scrambled around doing a search to see if I could come up with anything in the area that opened early, wasn't too costly, would grab our interest, and that was doable in a few hours so we could keep to our timeline - whew! Tall order for all that, especially on the spur of the moment.

By golly: "There's a place that's a little north of here, about half-an-hour's drive. It's called 'The Museum of Appalachia'..."

And that's how we stumbled across The Museum of Appalachia, between Clinton and Norris, Tennessee.

Following our usual pattern we were up and out early, and arrived just before they opened. This was another case of having it to ourselves, at least for the first hour or so.

The museum is laid out like a small mountain village, with about three dozen buildings that have been brought in from all over the region. There are several houses ranging in style from basic, almost primitive:

...to multi-roomed and well-furnished:

It doesn't show up in the interiors of the rough cabin, but that one was dirt-floored, whereas the more finished cabin had wooden-plank floors and an upstairs loft that was roomy and nicely furnished. The cabin with the separate kitchen building had a flagstone-laid floor.

All of the buildings are authentic: that is, they were constructed in their eras, and in most cases had been abandoned by the 20th century. Dilapidated or converted to farm use, they were in danger of being lost. While some have been donated to the museum outright, others were purchased and moved here, restored to their original purposes and appearance.

The structures range in age from the earliest built in the late 1700s to the most recent dating from the late 1800s. The newest "cabin" is a playhouse, built in 1929 by a father for his five-year-old daughter - she donated it to the museum in 2008.

There is one famous cabin: Mark Twain's parents lived in a cabin in 'Possum Trot, Tennessee. He never lived there, having been born after the family left Tennessee, but I'd say it's famous-by-association.

Among the houses and barns are some essentials, including the blacksmith's, broom-and-rope maker's, and both a gristmill and a sawmill. There's a loom house, as one family had a separate building for their spinning and weaving, plus several smokehouses, corn-cribs, henhouses, and a dairy.

Perhaps my two favorite log buildings were the school and the church, "Irwin's Chapel." The school is one-room, with pew-like benches for the pupils:

On the blackboard:

"If a task is once begun,
Never leave it til it's done;
Be the labor great or small,
Do it well or not at all."

I'm not sure how well they will show up, but the exterior shot of the school shows it flanked with two privies - the boys' toilet and the girls' toilet!

The chapel is a plain and simple structure, befitting its purpose:

No matter how dull the sermon, I don't think anyone would fall asleep - those benches would be too uncomfortable for dozing.

There was even a jail, dated 1874. Notice it's a metal building - wonder if some aspiring manufacturer came up with the idea of prefab jail cells?

I suppose there could've been a use for it. One of the displays at the museum is a genuine (no longer in use!) still that had been used by a local man up until about five years ago:

On the grounds are two huge exhibition buildings, full of thousands of artifacts. I was surprised at the extensive collections they house, with everything from handcarved toys to tools and housewares to woven coverlets and quilts and even to an undertaker's hearse:

There's a reason I've included the hearse. It looks to be draped in black curtains - it's not. The "curtains" are thick, heavy wood panels carved to look like drapery folds and tassels:

I've seen quite a few horse-drawn hearses but I've never seen one with so much carved wood - some unknown woodcarver did beautiful work.

I didn't grow up in the Appalachian mountains, but I did grow up in a log house. The house where I grew up is no longer standing - vandals burned it down some fifteen years ago, long after my parents had sold it. I was delighted to see one here that was almost exactly the same as ours had been:

Our fireplace was on the right side of the house, too - I think you can just about make out the chimney.

I would've loved to take Himself inside, as I'm sure the layout would've been basically the same, but this house is occupied by one of the resident caretakers. The museum has quite a few farm animals - sheep, cattle, chickens, pigs, even a few goats and horses - and there are people who care for the livestock regardless of the museum's operating hours.

Unlike the peacock at Magnolia Plantation who would not fan his tail for me no matter how long I followed him, the peacock here at MoA was more than accommodating:

In fact, he followed us around, and if we paid him no heed, he would screech - peacock calls always sound to me like a person shrieking - then make a little chittering sound, almost a clacking noise. That's the only peacock I've ever seen who not only isn't apprehensive of people, but actively seeks them out. Perhaps he was lonely. There were at least a half-dozen peahens around, but they completely ignored him, poor guy.

Himself had had no idea of what Appalachian life meant. He associated log cabins with the frontier and Daniel Boone, but not with more recent times. I'd say he got an education in real Americana, and all by accident.

From the unimaginable wealth of the Vanderbilts to frontier survival and a simple lifestyle; we couldn't have planned a better juxtaposition of mountain life.

We stayed until lunchtime, then went on down the road to my aunt's. It was a good day, just like Sundays should be, quiet, peaceful, relaxing - and ending up with family.

We stayed in the area for a couple of days. Not too far away was our next point of interest:

Have a good'un, Sparklers - carpe diem!

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    emoticon The Hearse with Wooden "Curtains" was the Best!! What a Beautiful way to take your Last Ride!!

    The cabins reminded me of the TV Show Little House On The Prairie, based on the Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Although I am sure that it was a "Hard" Life compared to what we know today, I always have thought that I would enjoy living back then.
    emoticon Maybe just for a week or two!
    2847 days ago
  • PROT358
    I just watched Cold Mountain a few nights ago, and the cabins and buildings look very similar. I would love to tour them too! Society has changed so much since then.
    2847 days ago
    Ooooohhh! Loved this tour! Thank you!
    2848 days ago
    emoticon Thanks for sharing. I love history so found this very interesting. Will have to look for it sometime when visiting TN.
    2848 days ago
    fantastic vacation. I love your pics and stories about the places you are seeing.
    2848 days ago
    Wow! That is one lovely trip!!!!--I just read yer comments on da blog (mine)-to-day--DDT is not done anymore here-against the law to use it--altho me wonders if it's used anyway-------I hate the blackflies----They are at their worst right not--till end of June-I garden in a bug suit--which is hot and awful----And we live in the North--in the bush--so they are even worse up here!----Lynda
    2848 days ago
    What a fine! Probably a nicer visit than the ones planned---and a great comparison how some of Vanderbilt's neighbors lived in them thar hills--LOL I would have liked touring that complex too. And that hearse, what a piece of craftmanship!
    2848 days ago
  • no profile photo CD13109206
    Loved the pictures. I like reading American folk lore. Try the Foxfire series of books. The tell the story of stuff such as you have just visited.
    2848 days ago
  • no profile photo CD9922996
    Awesome continuing travelogue! I spent my first year of college in Knoxville and never knew there was something so charming a short drive away!
    2848 days ago
    We had driven by this attraction when we came from Michigan years ago. Thank you for the tour. What a revelation, eh?
    2848 days ago
    Oh, my gosh... the Princes of Serendip accompanied you on your trip! Now THIS day reminds me of the museums at Beatrice, Nebraska (Homestead National Monument) and Minden, Nebraska (Pioneer Village)... been a while since Dad took us touring around historic Nebraskaland, but I did get down to homestead monument... oh, my... ten or eleven years back.

    Oh, as for your "next career" as a tour guide, you'd make a great one, "thinks ME"! emoticon
    2848 days ago
  • PHOENIX1949
    Now this is more to my liking than the Vanderbilt's digs. I've been on a lot of extended road trips in the U.S. and seen several old hearse wagons, but nothing as grand as this one. The photos reminded me of a place in the Grand Tetons that was a group of log cabins rescued from all over, sparsely furnished - the bed headboard painted on the wall made an impact on me as it was explained that as folks on the wagon trains were forced to lighten their load, the bedsteads were usually some of the heaviest items and got tossed early on. Loving your vacation - locations, narrative, and photos!
    2848 days ago
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