Historic Cabins, Barns, & Other Structures
There are several dozen historic structures that inhabit the Museum village; here are just a few interesting selections, which illustrate the scope of this exceptional collection.
Mark Twain Family Cabin
Experts contend that renowned author and humorist Samuel Clemens—better known as “Mark Twain”—was likely conceived in this little log home, originally located in Possum Trot, Tennessee. Twain’s father, John Clemens, moved to East Tennessee in the early 1820s, where he served as the first postmaster of the Pall Mall Post Office. John and his wife, Jane, raised four of their children in this cabin. The family left for Missouri in 1835, and five months after their departure, their son Samuel was born. Moved to the Museum in 1995, the home has become one of our most popular attractions.
Dated 1874, these two jail cells were once used in the small East Tennessee community of Madisonville. These 6 ft. x 9 ft. cells housed four inmates each; cramped together, they endured scorching summers and brutal winters. These heavy steel boxes were not only confining, but also dark. The only light available could be glimpsed through a tiny opening in the cell door, which was used to pass food and water to the prisoners. Visitors enjoy posing for photographs inside of the cells, as they try to imagine living in such grim conditions.
Oprah Winfrey posing inside one of our cells during a visit to the Museum.
Tom Cassidy House
The smallest dwelling at the Museum, this house was moved here in 2007 from Beard Valley in Union County, Tennessee. Until his death in 1989, Tom Cassidy spent decades living alone in this 8-foot-by-8-foot cabin. Such a modest home would likely feel confining to most, but for Tom, it was more than enough. He once said, “I’ve got that little cot in there, a chair, a stove for heat and cooking, a frying pan, a bean pot, an old dresser, my fiddle, and my pistol; what more does a man need?”
The free-spirited and colorful moonshiner, Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, built this authentic liquor still, typical of those found throughout the region. Popcorn was considered a folk hero and a legend from the foothills of Appalachia, and was regarded as the last living authority on the subject of moonshine. The Cocke County native passed away on March 16, 2009 at the age of 62.
A unique nineteenth-century structure, this particular cantilever, or “overhang” barn, once stood in the Seymour community, between Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains, about 40 miles south of the Museum. These unusual barns are extremely rare; very few remain in existence, and nearly all of them have been found in East Tennessee. Most seem to have been built in the late 1800s on self-sufficient farms. Research indicates that the unusual design may derive from German forebay farms in Pennsylvania.
Cantilever barns are different from ordinary barns, in that the second-story loft overhangs or cantilevers out from the two ground-level supporting cribs. Furthermore, a fourteen-to sixteen-foot driveway separates these two log cribs. Wagons could pull into the sheltered driveway area to unload their hay into the lofts. This space could be used for storing farm equipment, and also for grooming animals. The two lofts were used as cribs for the farm animals.
Our Cantilever Barn has appeared in many national publications, and has been featured in a worldwide celebration of Swiss Heritage barns. Every fall, this picturesque locale is transformed into a performance stage for our Tennessee Fall Homecoming.
“Dan’l Boone” Cabin
This one-room, dirt-floored structure was used as the frontier home of Daniel Boone in the CBS TV series, Young Dan’l Boone. The cabin was built in the New River community of Anderson County in the early 1800s. It is fully furnished with the earliest of frontier-pioneer artifacts.
This authentic water-powered corn and wheat mill once stood in Boone’s Creek, a few miles from Johnson City, Tennessee. For over two centuries, the mill helped to feed an untold number of Tennesseans from throughout the region. In Southern Appalachia, it was common for people to travel several miles so that they could grind their crops at the mill.
Originally built in 1790 by Coonrod Dove, the mill was first used to grind wheat into flour. He later sold the mill to Alexander Isenberg, who primarily used it for grinding corn. The mill would operate under the Isenberg family for decades, before being purchased in 1942 by legendary gunsmith and fiddler, Hacker Martin.
In 2002, the mill found a new home at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tennessee, where it has been restored to its original design.
*Please Note – This building is not open to the public at this time. We apologize for the inconvenience.
This mule-powered bark-grinding stone was used to pulverize slabs of peeled tree bark, which produced tannic acid for the tanning of hides for leather used in the making of shoes, saddles, harnesses, and other items.
General Bunch House
When the Museum was opened in the 1960s, the first cabin erected was the General Bunch House. The building was relocated to the Museum from the community of Double Camp Creek, Tennessee, one of the most isolated and inaccessible places in all of Tennessee. This house was built by Pryor Bunch, with help from his eight-year-old son, whose name was General. The last time that General visited the Museum, he talked of his early years in the old home-place: “The old house was built by my daddy, Pryor Bunch. He had twelve children and we was all raised in them two rooms. I was just eight years old, but I drug the logs in from the mountains with a yoke of oxen. We had to walk twelve miles across the mountains to the nearest store where we could buy a bag of salt.”
Almost every item in this house has a rich and interesting background. These items are arranged informally—hopefully as they would have been when the large Bunch family lived here.
Blacksmithing, often called the second oldest profession known to man, was certainly one of the most important pioneer industries for Appalachia. Virtually all of the tools, weapons, and implements were made, repaired, and recycled in the tiny blacksmith shops that dotted the mountains of Southern Appalachia. The blacksmith shop, in which wooden bellows are used for firing the forge, features a large assortment of tools used in a typical shop of this region. This fully functional shop is used frequently during the summer; it is also used during special events.
The underground dairy was used to store milk and other perishables before the days of the icebox and refrigerator. Most early families built their home near a cold spring, but this was not always possible in the higher mountains. The alternative was a “dug-out” with only the door and roof exposed.
Leather & Saddle Shop
The leather shop contains the complete leatherworking tools and equipment used by Hobart Hagood of Persia, Tennessee. In 1920, Hobart began working as a rural mail carrier for the town of Persia. The rigors of his long, daily deliveries made it necessary for him to repair and restore his own leather harnesses. Soon, Hobart began repairing both harnesses and saddles for his neighbors, and over the course of time, he started making these items, too.
Hobart came to be known as a master leather craftsman. Eventually, he was making harnesses for the Amish from Pennsylvania, for the pleasure horses of Florida, and for the mining mules and ponies of Kentucky and Virginia. After his death in 1961, his youngest son, Larry, who was also a mail carrier, took over the shop. Larry ran the family business until his retirement in 1984. The shop was acquired by the Museum in 1991.
Homestead Smokehouse & Granary
Smokehouses were used to store the year’s supply of “hog’s meat,” which was sometimes hickory smoked, hence the name. The Childress Family of nearby Powell Valley, Tennessee originally owned this smokehouse. The loft of the house was used as a granary, and reportedly, as a place to make illicit moonshine.
Gwen Sharp Playhouse
James C. Hubbard had this little playhouse built for his only daughter, Gwen, when she was five years old. Six years later, the Tennessee Valley Authority bought some 42,000 acres, including the Hubbard farm, for the construction of the Norris Dam and reservoir. This little playhouse is said to be the only structure moved intact to a new location. In 2008, Gwen Hubbard Sharp, at age 84 and legally blind, gave her little playhouse to the Museum.
In the early 1800s, Wes Arnwine built this little log home on the south bank of the Clinch River, a few miles from Liberty Hill, Tennessee. Around 1930, the Tennessee Valley Authority acquired this piece of land for the construction of Norris Lake, and thus, the Arnwine Family moved their cabin a short distance. Members of the Arnwine Family called this quaint mountain cabin “home” for over a hundred years. Polly Anne and Eliza Jane Arnwine, who lived in the cabin their entire lives, were also its last known inhabitants. After Eliza Jane’s death in 1936, the cabin lay dormant, until it was acquired by the Museum in 1964.
In 1976, the Arnwine Cabin was chosen by the U.S. Department of Interior to be included in the National Register of Historic Places, because of its unique and realistic portrayal of frontier living conditions.
Quaint little log churches, or meeting houses, were once popular all throughout America; they just tended to remain in use longer in
Southern Appalachia. This one was built around 1840, in the mountainous community of Hamburg, North Carolina. After it was abandoned, a preacher named Thomas Tweed purchased the old church for $35.00 and a cowboy hat, and moved the building to his home in Woodfin, North Carolina. In 1976, Museum founder John Rice Irwin discovered and purchased the building—along with all of its contents—and moved it to its present location.
It is furnished with the same log pulpit and benches that were in the church when Irwin acquired it. Unable to determine the original name of the church, Irwin modestly named it, “Irwin’s Chapel.” Today, the church is used for wedding ceremonies, as well as for services during our Tennessee Fall Homecoming, July 4th Celebration, and a variety of other special events.
Big Tater Valley School House
This one-room schoolhouse was moved from nearby Big Tater Valley, on Bull Run Creek, between Union and Grainger Counties. Built in the early 1800s by Crocket Skeens, it served as the neighborhood school for nearly 100 years. It was relocated to the Museum in 1974, and has been completely furnished in the manner of an early mountain school. Students, both current and former, display delight and enthusiasm in comparing this pioneer school with modern educational facilities. Teachers still conduct classes in the school today, some 200 years after it was built.
Peters Homestead House
One of the focal points of the Museum, the Old Peters Homestead, or “Homestead House” as it is sometimes referred to, rests on a rise and commands a view of the garden and grazing meadows. It is, in every respect, the center of the Homestead, and includes a half-dozen other structures surrounding it.
The home was moved from its original location in nearby Luttrell, Tennessee. The first known occupant was Nathaniel Peters, who lived here about 1840. His oldest daughter, Cordelia, was born here, raised her nine children, and lived out her life in this house, to the age of 87.
The residence has several unusual features. The construction is called a “saddlebag” house, ostensibly because each of the two halves of the house seem to “hang” on the giant chimney, something like a pair of saddlebags draped over a horse’s back. The structure is, in effect, two houses connected by a single large chimney, but without free passage from one to the other, except via outside. The Museum is grateful to be chosen as the recipient of a grant from the NSDAR, (National Society Daughters of the American Revolution), which will allow for a much needed roof restoration on the Homestead. Click here for more information on the project.
The McClungs were among the earliest settlers in the Knoxville area, and were also one of the region’smost prominent families. This structure was built around 1790, in the area southwest of Knoxville now known as Turkey Creek. According to local tradition, the McClung Family built the home, and subsequently inhabited it for several generations. During the Civil War, this old home served as a makeshift hospital, where it was used to house and treat wounded soldiers.