Perhaps more than any other region in the country, East Tennessee’s geography and history have led to a wide-flung collection of small communities that are both independent and fiercely proud of their heritage. Many of these towns have gathered their resources, pooled their efforts and have established local heritage museums to showcase both the significant institutions and events and the everyday items that made life what it was for the citizens making a life there.

Whether you’re just passing through East Tennessee, or you’re a homeschooling family in the region, you won’t want to skip a visit to one or more of these little museums. Need convincing? Here are five reasons to visit local heritage museums.

Real and Genuine

You’ll get a glimpse of the real and the genuine. These places haven’t gussied up or tried to put on airs for the out-of-towners. In true East Tennessee spirit, what you see is what you get. These communities are proud of what they are and where they’ve come from, and they’re trying hard to show that love to visitors. To get to the Jellico Family Museum, you’ll enter through Buck’s Hardware. No state of the art facilities here, just a modest but intriguing collection of mining lanterns, a reproduction of a coal mine entrance, and some household furniture and appliances. It’s real.

Jellico Family Museum
A glimpse of the simple charm at the Jellico Family Museum.

Low Cost

Most of these museums are either free or quite low-cost, always an appealing point for homeschoolers. Of course they appreciate donations to help keep the places running smoothly, and you’ll be glad to chip in a few dollars when you’ve seen what they have to offer. The collection at the Sweetwater Heritage Museum is worth it, as is the Greenback Heritage Museum. Having saved a bit on your activity, you can splurge on your meal in good conscience. Be sure to eat local to get the full experience.

Stretch Your Legs

You get a chance to stretch your legs. One of the biggest draws to East Tennessee is the scenery. Start anywhere and drive ten minutes and you’ll be cruising through some of the most scenic land anywhere. Easily, you could spend the whole day simply touring the countryside. Sooner or later, though, you’ll want to get out and walk around for a while. After the breath-taking ride on the Cherohala Skyway, a stop at the fascinating Charles Hall Museum in Tellico Plains will be just the thing. You can give your seat a rest as you amble through the largest telephone collection in the country or as you stroll through the magnificent gun collection, Native American artifacts, or any of the other 6000 pieces on display. At the Farragut Folklife Museum, you can learn a bit about Admiral Farragut, the Civil War, and the community’s history as you saunter along the Commuity Heritage Trail.

Charles Hall Museum Arrowheads
One of many displays at the Charles Hall Museum just off the Cherohala Skyway.

Quick Visit

They’re a great way to spend a little time. If you’re visiting one of these small museums, you’re probably not looking to make a whole day of it. Some of them can be seen in just a few minutes. Others, like the Lenoir Museum Cultural Complex at Norris Dam State Park, might take a couple of hours. With quick visit times, you have the opportunity to see quite a few places in a single day, stopping along the way for meals, treats and shopping.

Norris Dam State Park Museum Signs
Even with several connected sites, the exhibits at Norris Dam State Park won’t take an entire day to see.

Getting to Know You

It’ll give you something to talk about. Just like the close-knit, small communities that host these museums, a visit to one of these charming locations will allow you to connect to someone, sharing an experience that can be sometimes fun, sometimes quirky, and sometimes fascinating. In Morristown’s Meeting Place Museum on Main, you can make your way through the old-fashioned soda fountain and upstairs to the displays of items that made small-town life happen. Stand behind the Post Office counter, or browse the shelves full of old pharmacy items. Then you can head back downstairs and talk about all the things you’ve seen as you sip on a chocolate malt or share spoons in a sundae. After you visit the Museum of Scott County you might discuss what it was like to be a coal miner to what a great job the Scott High’s Archeology classes have done on the exhibits. With a slowed-down pace and more intimate facilities, these little museums are the perfect spot for getting to know both the communities and the people with you.

Meeting Place on Main Soda Fountain Stools
Enjoy a chocolate shake at Meeting Place on Main.

Y’all Come Back

Even in a week’s visit to East Tennessee you would never be able to check out all the locations worth seeing. As unassuming as they are, the small town heritage museums will keep you coming back. For a list of the places mentioned and several more, see the list below.

5 Reasons to Visit Local Heritage Museums
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