Museum of Appalachia celebrates start of fall with heritage festival

  • Bobby Stooksbury of Andersonville demostrates the making of sorghum molasses during last Friday’s Fall Heritage Festival at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris. - G. Chambers Williams III

  • Some of the school groups attending last Friday’s Fall Heritage Festival at the Museum of Appalachia eat their lunches on the ground as a bluegrass band plays in the pavilion on the museum property. - G. Chambers Williams III

  • Beekeeper Jim Murff discusses the art of beekeeping and honey production on Friday to visitors at the Museum of Appalachia’s Fall Heritage Festival. Murff was representing the Dirt Hippie beekeeping operation of Chloe Childres in Norris. - G. Chambers Williams III

More than 2,000 guests, including school groups from all over the Knoxville area, explored the grounds of the Museum of Appalachia in Norris last Friday as the museum restarted its Fall Heritage Festival after a year’s hiatus because of the pandemic.

“The crowd was even better than we expected,” said museum spokesman Will Meyer, grandson of the founder, John Rice Irwin. “It was extraordinary.”

About 1,500 advance tickets were sold, so the museum was already expecting a good turnout, but the crowd swelled far beyond that as people continued to pour in all day long, Meyer said.

“We had more than 100 home-school groups from Knoxville, and at least 10 public-school groups who came,” he said.

There seemed to be something of a pent-up demand among the visitors for events like this one to resume, Meyer said.

“Most of these kids hadn’t been on a school field trip in almost two years because of the pandemic,” he said. “This is the best event I can remember us having in a long time.”

The event featured more than 20 exhibitors who demonstrated such activities as sheep shearing, sheep herding, weaving, soap carving, wool spinning, blacksmithing, bean stringing, sorghum making, beekeeping and more.

Bluegrass bands and other entertainers showcased Appalachian music and storytelling throughout the day.

The Museum of Appalachia is a working demonstration farm, which also has a collection of Appalachian farm buildings, artifacts, implements and even some animals.

Museum staff and volunteers helped herd cars into parking lots, and visitors into the barns and animal pen areas where some of the events took place.

The Museum of Appalachia, at 2819 Andersonville Highway, comprises more than 65 acres with a re-created Appalachian community complete with 35 log cabins, barns, farm animals, churches, schools and gardens.

It showcases more than 250,000 artifacts in three buildings, with vast collections of folk art, musical instruments, baskets, quilts, Native American items and more. There is also a restaurant featuring Southern Appalachian country cooking, along with a gift shop selling locally made crafts.

The museum, founded by John Rice Irwin in 1969, is a non-profit organization that is also an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.