Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Museum of Appalachia Day 3: Main Display Barn

Click here for the first post in this series.

Today’s visit began in the Museum’s “Main Display Barn.” Well, began after some time devoted to further research on the Museum’s snack bar.

Snack Bar “Snack Bar” is what’s printed on the sign. And snack bar it appears to be. Food counter, sturdy tables, Styrofoam plates and cups, and flimsy plastic cutlery. But that “snack bar” appellation in no way describes the quality of the food served here. Most restaurants look better than their food tastes, in my experience. Here, the opposite is true!

All food is prepared fresh in the kitchen just behind the counter you see in the photo above. A good bit of the produce used is grown just steps away in the Museum’s large display gardens. It’s all prepared by cooks who know how good food should taste, and how to make fairly large quantities of it taste that way.

Snack Bar 2 All told I ate three full lunches in this “Snack Bar,” and two “snacks.” All were delicious. Chicken and dumplings; a stunning meatloaf plate; a casserole of meat, cheese, and vegetables; new potatoes; cucumber/tomato/onion salad; and more.

Normally I don’t order home-style dishes like that in restaurants. They’re just too hard to prepare in quantity. And quality ingredients cost more than most restaurant patrons would be willing to pay. Even expensive restaurants all too often resort to cans and pre-processed ingredients. So, dishes like meatloaf are best eaten at home.

Well, the Museum “Snack Bar” has it all. Order with confidence whatever’s on the menu. If you can’t make up your mind, go with the daily special (if you arrive early enough).

And we won’t even raise the issue of desserts. Such as cherry cobbler, chocolate cake, banana pudding, or Apple Cake. Which really does justify – even require! – capitalization. They’re all freshly made and outstanding. Or, so I heard from other diners, those less attentive to their diets ……

Jail Cells Then, properly fortified, on to the Main Display Barn. Another huge building. With displays that begin well before the front door. The two four-person cast iron jail cells from Madisonville, Tennessee, off to the right of the main entrance stand as grim reminders that early Southern Appalachian society was not all joyful Communitarianism. Imagine having to survive East Tennessee weather with three other cellmates in one of those! In any season.

Once inside the Main Display Barn – it takes a while – the visitor is overwhelmed by the number and diversity of collections. Each one with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of interesting individual artifacts.

There’s no easy way to work your way through the collections of the Main Display Barn. And that isn’t only from lack of air conditioning. The treasures displayed tend to overwhelm all but the most frivolous of museum visitors. Just turn right or left once inside the screened door, and try to remember where you’ve been and what you’ve seen. A notebook or tape recorder isn’t a bad idea.

Diverse Collection Most of the displays, like the leather shop mentioned in the last post, have a single obvious theme. Not all, though. For the life of me, I couldn’t determine the overall theme of the collection you see above. Beyond “items used”! Though the ballot box, calf weaner, wash boards, leather-covered trunk, gourd bucket, sausage mill, and other items all were interesting.

Gunsmith 1 Right across the aisle from that eclectic display is the most interesting display in the whole Museum. At least for me. It’s a complete gunsmithing shop! Click the photo above to see even a rifling machine. A rare piece indeed. The first I’ve ever seen. And all of the other tools of the trade. Really a remarkable display.

Wall Display On the back wall are hung some beautiful examples of flint and cap lock rifles of the sort you could imagine coming from a shop like this. And not only long guns. Click on the photo below to see the details of a flint lock pistol created by renowned Tennessee Gunsmith, Hacker Martin. Martin Pistol It would be easy to spend the whole day at this display. Going through each piece of the gunsmithing exhibit. There’s just so much to see. So many items one no longer finds in other museums. How nice it would be to raise one of those long guns to the shoulder. To test its balance. To run an appreciative hand along the stock. Maybe even to fire off a ball or two. That’s not possible, of course. But it doesn’t cost extra to dream!

Axes Other displays in this Main Display Barn, however, demand attention. The collection of axes and log-handling pikes, for example.

Woodworking Shop Or the near-complete woodworking shop nearby. That includes an early lathe, looking for all the world as if it were ready to shape one more chair leg or axe handle.

There’s much more to see on the first floor. But don’t spend so much time here that you neglect a visit to the second floor. Here, somehow, I sense a qualitative difference in the collections. But for the life of me can’t define that difference. Maybe the items are smaller, more personal, or closer to the house than to the barn. But those generalizations don’t survive closer examination.

Canes Here, for example, is a huge selection of walking canes. Only part of the whole collection.

Traps And here a collection of animal traps. Again, only part of the much larger animal trapping and pelt preparation display. You’ll get to see this, and the explanations of the processes involved in harvesting animal pelts, only if you take the time to visit the second floor of the Main Display Barn.

Vet Tools On the other side of the aisle be sure not to overlook the collection off veterinary tools in the glass case. These too are very rare. And illustrate the importance of the medical arts for farm animals in early Southern Appalachia.

Yokes There’s so much more to see in this building alone that I’ll simply have to stop trying to describe the experience. I’m confident, however, that a trip to the Museum of Appalachia would be time and resources well spent were you only to visit this second floor of the Main Display Barn. There’s enough here to keep the serious museum visitor occupied for several days.

More in the next post on the many of the historical buildings displayed on the grounds of the Museum of Appalachia. So stay tuned!

Click here for the buildings.

1 comment:

  1. A superb write-up, Bob. I could spend a week there. Reminds me of the FIREFOX books. Thanks for such thorough coverage of the Museum!