Friday, September 19, 2014 · 5:48 a.m.
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Ruby Patterson demonstrating quilting techniques in the Mark Twain Family Cabin. Photo by Nell Moore.

What:  Christmas in Old Appalachia

Where:  Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tenn. – 128 miles north of Chattanooga

When:  December 3 – 24 / Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For information:  Visit the Museum of Appalachia website  or call (865) 494-7680.

Christmas in pioneer Appalachia meant popcorn balls and paper chains, stockings stuffed with fruit and nuts, carols by the fire, and a Christmas tree cut from nearby woods. Step back in time to enjoy these simple Christmas traditions from days past during the Museum of Appalachia’s annual holiday display, Christmas in Old Appalachia. Each December this renowned living history museum in Clinton, Tenn., celebrates the season with the holiday traditions that were dear to the hearts of rural pioneer Appalachian families.

An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Appalachia offers an authentic experience of what rural life was like on a pioneer Appalachian farm. Founded in 1969 by John Rice Irwin, a descendant of the region’s early settlers, the museum’s collection of historic Appalachian cabins, structures and relics is rooted in Irwin’s lifelong admiration for the ingenuity, craftsmanship and perseverance found in the people of Appalachia. The Tennessee Blue Book has described the museum as “the most authentic and complete replica of pioneer Appalachian life in the world.”

Thirty original and historic log structures are featured on the property and each was acquired from within a 200-mile radius of the museum. The earliest cabin is the Arnwine Cabin, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Originally located along the Clinch River in Grainger County, the Arnwine Cabin was built between 1795 and 1820 using hewn poplar logs and was owned by John Wesley Arnwine. Other museum structures include Irwin’s Chapel Church (c. 1840), Peters Homestead House (c. 1790-1838), a slave cabin (c. 1820), and Mark Twain’s family cabin (c. 1830s).

The living history museum also features buildings typical of a pioneer Appalachian farm, including a rare Appalachian cantilever barn, a smokehouse, loom house, blacksmith’s shop and working saw mill.

Thousands of authentic Appalachian artifacts dating from the 1700s to the 1930s are also on display at the museum: furniture, tools, quilts, Civil War and Revolutionary War relics, musical instruments, baskets, toys and more. Irwin was dedicated to preserving each item’s individual history – who owned it, when and how it was created or obtained, and how it was used – so the museum is filled with stories and remembrances of bygone days.

Christmas in Old Appalachia, which runs Dec. 3-24, offers guests a glimpse at what Christmas meant to Appalachian families through the centuries. As live music fills the air, visitors take a self-guided tour of the festively decorated cabins, structures and property. Paper chains and homemade ornaments trim the tree in the Little Tater Valley Schoolhouse. Sweet gum and sycamore balls are strung throughout the Mark Twain Family Cabin. A traditional silver star tops a native red cedar Christmas tree in the turn-of-the-century Peters Homestead House. Apples, nuts, homemade toys and oranges fill stockings hung in cabins throughout the property.

“In the old days, Christmas was like a very special Sunday – families took the day off to enjoy time together,” says Elaine (Irwin) Meyer, president of the Museum of Appalachia and daughter of John Rice Irwin. “There are so many remembrances and memories of Christmas shared here at the museum – it’s really a wonderful family event.”

Meyer encourages visitors to dress appropriately for the weather, as the cabins and structures are not heated. However, guests can warm up to a country-style meal at the museum’s restaurant, which is open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and warm themselves by the fireplace in the museum gift shop, which features American-made and regional crafts.

To learn more about Christmas in Old Appalachia, visit the Museum of Appalachia website or call (865) 494-7680.

Jenni Frankenberg Veal enjoys writing about the natural world and the people who work to protect it. This Christmas, inspired by the writings of Annie Dillard, she is asking Santa for a stereoscopic dissecting microscope to continue her investigations and enchantment with all things living and wild. Visit her blog at YourOutdoorFamily.com.

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