Located near the town of Norris in Anderson County, the Museum of Appalachia contains the state's best collection of historic buildings, artifacts, and folk art associated with the diverse cultures of Appalachia. Established by John Rice Irwin, the museum is a unique monument to the mountain lifestyle and to the persistent drive of Irwin himself to amass a significant collection of Appalachian history and culture.
The sixty-five-acre museum contains a collection of more than thirty-five authentic log cabins and buildings recreating an early to mid-nineteenth-century Appalachian community complete with houses (including Mark Twain's family's Tennessee home), privies, corn cribs, smokehouses, barns, blacksmith shops, a school, and a church. It is one of the best places in Tennessee to view the unique cantilever barn type. Its Arnwine House, a single-pen log dwelling, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The various buildings are completely furnished, with every interior detail carefully addressed. “It's easy enough to bring in an old log cabin, set it up and get everything right from a structural standpoint,” Irwin observed in materials submitted to the Encyclopedia editors. “It's much more difficult to get every item just the way it should be. It is such things as the handmade corner cupboard and the little items on the shelves that really represent the culture of the people in this area.”
Irwin began his collection in 1962 when he was shocked to hear what buyers at an auction of a old farmstead near Norris planned to do with the items–changing a cedar churn, for example, into a lamp. 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. “These old relics really don't mean very much unless you know the histories that go with them,” Irwin insists.
The Museum of Appalachia also features the Appalachian Hall of Fame, which is housed in a three-story brick building. It contains exhibits, handmade and unusual musical instruments, and a large Indian collection. The museum's Tennessee Fall Homecoming, held the second full weekend every October, is one of the most popular autumn events in the region, attracting hundreds of Appalachian musicians and craftspeople as well as thousands of visitors. “Christmas in Old Appalachia” is another popular annual event.
In a generation, the Museum of Appalachia has become one of 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.