Monday, May 9, 2011

Field Trip: Museum of Appalachia

Unbelievably, I've lived in the Knoxville area for 11 years, and I just visited the Museum of Appalachia for the first time. I never paid much attention to field trip announcements about it. I pictured a small museum with some antiques. Actually, even their website makes it sound kind of hokey and unexciting.

So totally wrong. Someone needs to revamp that website for them, because the "museum" is awesome. This isn't just one building with a bunch of stuff; it's 60-acres of living history.

We specifically went because we heard that the annual sheep shearing demonstration was happening. There were about 600 school kids when we got there at noon, but they left soon afterwards, leaving the grounds practically empty except for a few dozen homeschoolers. (Field trip note: schools generally take field trips first thing in the morning, so it's best to get to your destination after 12 p.m. whenever possible.)

(Click on the pic to enlarge.)

The kids got to turn the handle to shear the sheep. I don't know how this guy did this all day in the hot sun, but he looked like he never broke a sweat. He had to have been about 70 years old or more, and he lugged the sheep around as if they were toys.

Like I said, we went for the sheep shearing, but the most fascinating part to me was everything else. I've been to a lot of living history museums, including Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown, and this was one of the best.

The kids loved the peacocks, which seemed to be everywhere, proudly displaying their goods.

(And seriously, why do kids feel the need to run up and scare them? And why do adults not tell the dang kids to STOP?)

There are over 30 cabins, barns, and various buildings to see. We only had time to see about half of them, and several of them had a person inside explaining what we were seeing. Each building has information displayed, however, detailing the cabin's history and function.

At least three huge buildings held displays of all kinds of tools, antiques, toys, crafts, and much, much more. We ran out of time and didn't even get to one of the folk art buildings.

My friend and I were both amazed at the creations of these quiet mountain people. Most of them never accepted a cent for their art, often living on practically nothing. Many of the treasures housed in the museums were found forgotten in barns or attics. I was reminded of the time that my parents and I were visiting the Pompidou Museum in Paris. We went through one exhibit shaking our heads at display of what seemed to be random pieces of wood and bricks. This was art, earning an spot at the famed modern culture museum? Years later, here I stood at the Museum of Appalachia, marveling that these unschooled mountain people created intricate, unique art, just to pass the time, with no intention of ever doing more than giving a carved doll to a child for Christmas.

This was a great trip for adults and kids. Our kids, ages 9-13, absolutely loved this trip. There were plenty of hands-on activities for the kids, from running around on the grounds to marveling over the strange looking carvings. We didn't have time to stop and read every single placard, but I will for sure return.

The Museum of Appalachia is located just off of I-75 slightly north of Knoxville, only a couple of miles down the road. I highly recommend this as a stopping point on a car trip, or taking a day to visit if you live nearby!


  1. I have lived near Knoxville for 9 years and have only visited is a great museum, but I agree, it needs to be advertised better. Are they offering discounts for homeschoolers? I remember it being pricey and that is why we have not been back.

  2. We've been here almost two years and I'm still bummed I haven't made it there! In Utah my husband and I were living history interpreters at the This Is the Place Heritage Park and we had so much fun. For that reason, I've been dying to get to the Museum of Appalachia. I actually have it on the schedule for the end of next week :) I hope we get there this time!

  3. I'm in middle TN but travel to Knoxville often. I'm always looking for great field trip ideas but have passed on this one because I thought it wouldn't be worth a trip. Thanks for the review!


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