Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum

If you are interested in the lapidary arts you might want to take a ride into Franklin, NC and visit the Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum.  Due to the history of the area, it is no wonder that a museum has been established to show off the gems and the mining industry that brought Franklin to life.  Inside you are going to find not only information on the history of the area but examples of the gems that they found in the mountains.  Of course, the fact that the museum is housed in the old jail house means that you are walking into history as you learn about history.

Drive around downtown Franklin and you are going to see typical, small town USA downtown.  This downtown has been revitalized in the past with the influx of tourism dollars into the area and especially into Franklin itself.  Look up and down the narrow streets, take in the beauty of what Franklin looked like at the turn of the century.  On Phillips Street you will see the old jail house.  If you find the jailhouse, you have found the Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum.  They have been in this location since 1974 and they are not only celebrating their love of all things gem mining but they are also keeping up the Old Macon County Jail.

Franklin Gem & Mineral MuseumThe Franklin Gem and Mineral Society started in 1971.  The rockhounds of the area had a close kinship from many hours spent digging for gems in the mountains.  It was no wonder that informal get-togethers turned into monthly meetings.  In fact, by 1972 there were almost 175 people on the roles of the club.  In 1972 they also opened the museum.  This museum was a growing collection of the lapidary dreams of the rockhounds of Macon County.  With the move into the jailhouse, they were able to expand the collection and improve on the exhibits.  The club stills hosts this free museum and it is one of the highlights of any visit to downtown Franklin, NC.

Stepping though the door of the Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum brings into the world of rocks, gems and fossils.  From the North Carolina Room that focuses on those minerals and rocks pulled from the local mountains.  You can also cool those minerals and gems pulled from around the world in the World Room.  There are also rooms dedicated to fossils, artifacts and much more.  Learn about the industry that caused the founding of Franklin.  The Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum celebrates that industry it is a great way to spend the afternoon.

Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum
25 Phillips St
Franklin, NC

Wheels Through Time Museum

Wonder how we got to the point of everyone having their own form of transportation, whether it is a car, a truck or a motorcycle?  Well, then you might want to step into the Wheels Through Time Museum in beautiful Maggie Valley, NC.  Celebrating all the ways that we get around and of course focusing on the motorcycle.  Yes, ladies and gentleman this is a motorcycle museum tucked into the corner of the Smokies.

The Wheels Through Time Museum boasts more than 300 classic and rare motorcycles from America’s past.  Harley Davidson, Indian, Excelsior, Henderson, Crocker and many more are lined up and cared for to show off the shine of the chrome and the paint jobs that might make you go back to the car for your sunglasses.  This is one of the best niche museums that you will find in the Smokies.

Among the motorcycles you will find:

  • 1917 Henderson Special
  • 1917 Traub
  • 1914 Hedstrom Prototype
  • 1914 Flesher Flyer
  • 1948 Panhead
  • 1949 Hot Rod Panhead ”Revised Modified”

Wheels Through Time MuseumAmong the classic automobiles:

  • 1932 Clobes
  • 1954 Cadillac
  • 1954 Eldorado Convertible
  • The Locomobile

Again, you are looking at a transportation museum, there is something here for everyone.  Bring the bike enthusiast, bring the car enthusiast, bring the family and get ready to learn enjoy and have a great time at the Wheels Through Time Museum.

Wheels Through Time Museum
62 Vintage Lane
Maggie Valley, North Carolina 28751
(828) 926-6266

Little River Railroad Museum

Little River Railroad MuseumVenture over to Townsend and check out one of the hidden gems of the Smokies – the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company. The early history of the Smoky Mountains is on full display at the museum as visitors can come face to face to the inventive, industrious spirit of those early Smoky Mountain settlers. These frontiersmen and their families, as well as other settlers looking for new opportunities, struck their picks in an area of Appalachia eventually becoming the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The beginnings of the Little River Railroad were due partly to the changing landscape. Settlers had to adapt to their new surroundings and adapt their tools to meet the conditions they worked in. The paths they took indirectly assisted in establishing the roads that we travel today through the Smokies.

The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company museum should be a “must stop” for anyone coming through Townsend, whether on vacation or just passing through. History enthusiasts and railroad historians should definitely pay a visit. The old trains that paved their way through the Smokies are now parked for everyone to see in the museum yard – the Shay Engine, a caboose, a set of turn-of-the-century homes, and a water tower. Each was used in the Smokies as part of the early logging industry.

Little River Railroad MuseumThe Shay engine is the centerpiece of the museum and rightfully so. This was the engine that blazed the trail through the Smokies hauling log cars down the mountain to the saw mill. It also transported lumberjacks and other workers up the mountain and back to work. One could say that the Shay engine was the Little River Railroad Company’s backbone in those early years. For train enthusiasts it’s a must-see. You won’t find many of these Shay engines around now-a-days. And to find one as carefully maintained as the one at Little River, that’s a task in itself.

Don’t get too wide-eyed outside, make sure you go inside for a more detailed look at the history of the logging industry in the Great Smoky Mountains. The Elkmont pioneers and the area’s natural history are presented in the first display. Next, you’ll see the rise of the logging industry in detail, as well as the different train models that were used during logging expeditions. The inventiveness of the loggers comes into view in the museum too – designs for new types of rail cars to a swinging bridge for flatcars is detailed and highlighted. The exhibit concludes with a detailed look at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and how the lumber and railroad industries played a role in its beginnings.

The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum is as much a part of early Great Smoky Mountains National Park history as Cades Cove. Another thing is people wonder about the evolution of the land and how it was used before the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here, you see that evolution in vivid pictures. Vivid pieces of history are preserved, read about the logging industry, or just soak up the essence of early America and the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s a historical experience… stop by and stay for awhile.

Tennessee Museum of Aviation

Sevierville celebrates everything to do with Tennessee’s aviation history in the Tennessee Museum of Aviation.  One of the best niche museum you will ever walk through is combined with a hangar full of aircraft give you a knowledgeable and fun way to explore the world of aviation and of course how Tennessee has figured into that history.

The museum has been lovingly curated and tells not only about the history of aviation but it also weaves in the important roles that the people of Tennessee have played in the history of aviation.  From a timeline showing the evolution of aviation (this take sup an entire wall) to a wall depicting the Tennessee Hall of Fame, there is nothing like this museum.  Everything it labeled and the exhibits move from one era to another, from one topic to another.  It becomes very easy to know what the subject matter is and even the youngest in the family will enjoy the information they are absorbing.

The hangar is, maybe, the most exciting part of any visit to the Tennessee Museum of Aviation.  Most of the planes are still, airworthy aircraft that are flown on occasion.  Here is a partial list of what you might see in the hangar at any one time:

  • 1902 Wright Glider
  • Beechcraft SNB
  • Bell 222 – Airwolf
  • Boeing P-12E
  • Douglas A-1H – Skyraider
  • F-86 Sabrejet
  • MiG 17
  • MiG21
  • North American P-51D – Mustang
  • North American Rockwell OV-10 – Bronco
  • North American T-28 – Trojan
  • Republic P-7D – Thunderbolt
  • Sikorsky UH-34G
  • T-33

The Tennessee Museum of Aviation is located in Sevierville, TN.  If you come to town from I-40, you will find yourself on Hwy 66 (Winfield Dunn Parkway).  When you get to Sevierville proper, you are going to make a left hand turn onto Dolly Parton Parkway.  Follow Dolly Parton Parkway through the main part of town.  After you cross the turn off to Veterans Blvd, start watching for the Tennessee Museum of Aviation on the right hand side of the road.  From this point, follow the signs.

The Tennessee Museum of Aviation is a great museum to learn more about the history of aviation and Tennessee heroes of aviation.  Browse through the Hall of Fame, look through the exhibits and then stand in awe among some of the most famous types of plane sin the world.  Remember that most of them are airworthy and that they are all marvels of the creative spirit of the aviation pioneers that invented and designed them.  Spend the day with the family learning and marveling at the rich history of Tennessee in the world of flight.

Tennessee Museum of Aviation
135 Air Museum Way
Sevierville, TN

Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center

Want to learn more about life in the Smoky Mountains before the turn of the 20th century?  Then you need to pay a visit to the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center (GSMHC).

This museum and living history location teaches visitors about the people that settled the area and made their homes in the Smokies during the 1800s.  The GSMHC has three separate exhibits:  Native Americans of East Tennessee Museum, Pioneer and Mountain Culture & Tennessee on the Move.

Native Americans of East Tennessee

Before the first European settlers came to the area, native people like the Cherokee dwelled in the mists of the Smoky Mountains.  These people had more then just a hunting and gathering culture.  They had a society that had trade and infrastructure, they had political meetings and communities that stretched from the valleys to the hillsides.  This museum celebrates those people and their way of life before they were moved on by the European settlers that found this area to be so similar to the homes they left in Europe.

Pioneer & Mountain Culture

As the pioneer moved into the Southern Appalachians, they founded farms and homesteads.  They developed small communities that traded with each other and helped each other make it through the good times and the bad.  This part of the museum picks up the story of these mountains after the Native Americans had moved out of the mountains and the settlers and pioneers had made this land their own.  From the type of farming they did to the commerce they practiced.  Included in this part of the GSMHC is a living history farming display.  During the warmer months of the year and the harvest you can go see how these people lived, farmed and harvested their crops.  Included in the living history section are:

  • The Caldwell Log Cabin
  • Granary
  • The Montvale Station
  • Sawmill
  • Set-Off House from the Little River Lumber Company
  • Smokehouse
  • Two Cantilever Barns
  • Underground Still / Shed
  • Wheelwright Shop
  • Wilder Chapel

Tennessee on the Move

This is a collection of various forms of transportation that have gotten Tennesseans on the move since the 1800s.  Included in this exhibit is a freight wagon, a postal wagon, farming vehicles and turn of the century road construction equipment.

Spend a day in Townsend next time you visit the Smokies.  Learn more about the people that inhabited this region before the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Get your kids into history by letting them experience it first hand.  And be sure to check with the GSMHC before you arrive and see what special events they have going on.  You might find that this becomes a place you visit on every visit to the area.

Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center
3/4 miles east of the traffic light
at the intersection of Hwy 321 and Hwy 73
Townsend, TN

Elvis Museum

Everyone loves the King of Rock & Roll!  In Pigeon Forge, TN, there is no shortage of Elvis memorabilia and places to get into your Elvis groove.  One of those places is the Elvis Museum in Pigeon Forge.  Combining both a museum and a theater this venue is all things Elvis and the fact that it is located right on the Parkway makes it a quick stop on the way through town.

elvis1The museum at the Elvis Museum is one of the most wonderful small venue museum that you will ever find. Mike Moon started collecting Elvis memorabilia in 1971 when he had a chance to meet the King at a party in Las Vegas.  The belt that he got from Elvis, himself, that evening is still in the collection and it started a passion for all things Elvis that has continued to this day.  Though Mon has since passed away, his family still carries on the tradition of this museum that has been in the heart of Pigeon Forge since 1979. Here are just a few of the highlights that you might see at the museum:

  • 1973 Lincoln Continental Limo – the last personal limo that Elvis owned
  • TCB Ring
  • TCB Necklace
  • Gold Nugget Watch
  • Karate Gui
  • Shotgun
  • Jewelled Lamp
  • Artifacts from Elvis last tour
  • much, much more…

elvis2Along with the museum, there is a theater at the heart of the Elvis Museum, This theater is home to some of the best Elvis tribute artists that are found in the area.  In fact there are three Elvis tribute artists working out of this theater:

  • Will Reynolds – At 17 years old, Reynolds is known as Teen Elvis.  Reynolds takes on all of Elvis’ various career phases throughout his show from young Elvis to the Vegas years.  He has only been performing for a few years but he is at a level that does not match his years.
  • Matt Cordell – An Elvis tribute artist for more than 20 years, Cordell entertains at the TCB Theater on Mondays.  Over his two decades of entertaining, Cordell has won several prestigious awards:  Elvis Presley Enterprise’s Ultimate Elvis Contest in 2010 and he placed fourth in the Ultimate Elvis Finals in Memphis.
  • Robert Keefer – A fan and a tribute artist, Keefer has been performing for years and has also worked backstage at the Elvis Museum in Pigeon Forge.  He believes that being able to get closer to the King by handling and caring for the various memorabilia in the museum.  He focuses on Elvis 70s career in Vegas and his collection of jumpsuits bring that era of Elvis bigger then life lifestyle to the stage.

For that Elvis fan that is traveling with you on your vacation to the Smokies  there is no other stop that will mean as much to them as the Elvis Museum in Pigeon Forge.  The incredibly well maintained museum and the theater with the three different take son Elvis by the tribute artists are something you are not going to find anywhere else in the Smokies.  Stop by their location on the Parkway in Pigeon Forge and spend sometime with Elvis – The King of Rock & Roll.

Elvis Museum
2638 Parkway
Pigeon Forge, TN

Christ in the Smokies

cits1One of the perennial attraction sin Gatlinburg, for years, was Christus Gardens.  Several years ago, Christus Gardens closed and it was thought that the location where it had been for years, was going to become a set of condominiums.  Well, that deal fell through and the management team of Christus Gardens opened a new attraction:  Christ in the Smokies Museum and Gardens.

Much like Christus Gardens, Christ in the Smokies depicts various scenes from the bible and life of Jesus in life-sized dioramas, with painstaking detail.  From the architecture to the clothing that is one by the models in the dioramas, the artists at Christ in the Smokies have made sure to be as historical as possible in an attempt to let people get a better feel for the heroes of their faith.  You get to walk scene to scene and experience the various parts of the bible like never before.

cits3One of the most moving and emotional exhibits is the depiction of the Last Supper.  The Christ in the Smokies staff has duplicated the Leonard da Vinci fresco in every detail.  From the items on the table to the colors on the clothes of the Disciples and Jesus, they have copied the entire scene.  You get t a better sense for the meeting of these friends for the meal they were sharing and for the emotion of the scene.  As you take in the scene you feel like you are there, like you are actually taking part in the least meal that Christ took with the disciples before he was arrested.

Another highlight of the tour is the gardens.  In the center of the garden is the face of Jesus carved into a marble block.  This marble sculpture has been carved to give the impression that the face of Jesus follows you wherever you stand in the garden.  It is a trick of the eye and a true testament to the artists that designed it.  This amazing piece of art has been in the same spot in this garden for decades. It has become a tradition for people of all ages to bring their families back for this unique experience.

cits2Christ in the Smokies Museum & Gardens is one of the most wonderful museums of its type in the southeast.  There are always new exhibits going into the museum and you will find something new every time you walk through the doors.  Add Christ in the Smokies to your itinerary next time you are in the Smokies, you might just find that you are blessed by the experience.

Christ in the Smokies Museum & Gardens
510 River Road
Gatlinburg, TN

American Museum of Science and Energy

amse2It is no wonder, with the history of Oak Ridge, that the American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE) calls this remarkable town home.   The purpose of the museum is to teach the young and the young at heart about energy with an emphasis on t nuclear power.  It also tells the story of Oak Ridge and its role in the Manhattan Project.  Located near the heart of Oak Ridge the museum is easy to find and always a great way to spend part of your day while you are in the Smoky Mountains.  If you have a young person in your life that is interested in science then there is no other place to go then to the AMSE.

It is in the permanent exhibits at the AMSE that you find the true heart of this museum.  From their very own website, here is the information that they give on their permanent exhibits:

  • amse3The Story of Oak Ridge: This panorama of historical photographs, documents and artifacts explains the Manhattan Project and the construction of Oak Ridge, TN. A 20-minute video presentation extends the explanations.
  • Exploration Station: This popular area offers self-directed activities which explore light and color, sound, problem-solving, static electricity, robotics, vision and more.
  • Y-12 and National Defense: Models of weapons, protective clothing and tools along with video and hands-on activities demonstrate processes, safety features and careers at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge.
  • Earth’s Energy Resources: Maps, tools, models and audiovisual materials are used in the exhibits to explore the variety of energy sources, such as coal, oil, geothermal, hydropower and natural gas, found on Earth.
  • World of the Atom: A cross section model of a nuclear reactor and a simulated underground nuclear waste storage area highlight this area that also covers pioneering atomic scientists, natural radiation, fusion, and nuclear energy in space.

As you can see they are education heavy.  They are geared to teaching the concepts of nuclear energy, the value of science and the scientist that created the technologies that we take fore granted and about inspiring the next generation of scientists that might one day come to Oak Ridge to develop the next big concept in energy.

Along with the permanent exhibits, this museum brings in traveling exhibits throughout the year, they host special events and of course they get involved with the schools and locals activities in and around Oak Ridge.  The AMSE in Oak Ridge is not only the perfect testament to the history of the area but it is a great place to take your family.  It is one of the best hand-on-museums in the south east and is a gem in the crown of East Tennessee due to the creativity of its exhibits and joy they take in their subject matter.  Mark a day off your calendar and make sure that visit the American Museum of Science and Energy the next time you are in East Tennessee.

American Museum of Science and Energy
300 S Tulane
Oak Ridge, TN

East Tennessee Historical Society

The East Tennessee History Center

If you are looking to learn a little bit more about the history of the Tennessee side of the Smoky Mountains, then you might want to make a trip to Knoxville, TN.  In the middle of downtown, right on Gay Street is the home of the East Tennessee Historical Society and their museum.  The East Tennessee History Center is one of the best local museum you will ever find and it has a plethora of information about the SMoky Mountains and the people that populated them on the Tennessee side of the mountains.

The permanent exhibit is a museum that covers the history of Tennessee.  This hands on museum covers all 35 counties and ranges from the people that settled this land before the times of the European settlers to the Secret City – Oak Ridge – itself.  Each section of the museum covers a different time period or a different set of people.  From the moonshiners to the origins of country music, from a replica cabin to the founding of Knoxville.  East Tennessee is celebrated in recordings, art, architecture and exhibits that tell a tale: a tale of success and falure, of happiness and disappointment but mostly, the tale of a people that kept pressing forward to make their dreams come true.

The East Tennessee Historical Society does a lot more then curate a museum.  They are also the curators of a mass of genealogical record sin East Tennessee.  They also supply a seemingly never ending series of talks and lectures on topics ranging from art and music in the East Tennessee area to basic history about this region.  These talks and lecture series are all laid out on their website so if you are going to be in the area you might want to schedule sometime for a special event or program at the East Tennessee Historical Society.  They also have a changing exhibit that changes from month to month and season to season.

The museum and the society are located in the same building in downtown Knoxville.  If you are traveling along I-40, take the exit for downtown and head into the downtown area.  If you cut across from Henley Street toward the old city you will cross over Gay Street.  Gay street runs from the river all the way to the Old City.  This used to be the main street in Knoxville and it still contains a lot of history like the Tennessee Theater and access to Market Square.  The East Tennessee Historical Society is about a block from the Tennessee Theater, toward the river.

East Tennessee Historical Society
601 South Gay St
Knoxville, TN

Asheville Art Museum

In the heart of the metropolis that is Asheville, NC there is a bight spot of culture in the downtown area:  The Asheville Art Museum.  Right off Pack Square, the Asheville Art Museum is packed with art of every shape form and fashion.  With a hugely popular permanent collection and traveling shows that change the experience of the museum throughout the year,  and of course special events to fit every taste this is one of the best art museums in the Smoky Mountains.

Asheville Art MuseumThe permanent collection of the Asheville Art Museum focuses on art and artists from the 20th century forward.  The art contained in their permanent collection ranges in media and subject matter.  Both regional and national artists are represented in the collection as well as a diverse collection of art types and medium.  In this collection there are more then 3500 works of art and almost 5000 architectural drawings (though all of this are not on display all the time).

There is also a Black Mountain Collection at the Asheville Art Museum.  This collection of pieces is designed to celebrate the 24 counties of Western North Carolina, those that are located in and in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains.  And, as you can see by the name, this collection also focuses on artists that have a connection with Black Mountain College.  This project is an ever-growing repository of works and they are also in the process of digitizing the collection so that it will be available to people both at the museum and online.  Right now, this collection houses more than 520 works of art.

The traveling shows that come through the Asheville area always have a home in the exhibits at the Asheville Art Museum.  Some of these exhibits stay for years but some are there for a very short amount of time.  Ranging from collections that focus on niche markets to collections of world renown artists, the special exhibits in the art museum in Asheville bring people to the area for the purpose of viewing and appreciating art, the fact that you can buy a Membership that will get you and your family into the museum throughout the year just goes to show that people come back as the exhibits in the halls change.

If you are visiting the Asheville, make sure that you take in Pack Square.  And while you are in Pack Square walk towards the back of the square.  Head inside the cool pristine gallery that houses one of the best art collections in the southeast.  You may find that you have found one of the spots that you will revisit year after year as your knowledge and appreciation of these art forms grows.

Asheville Art Museum
2 South Pack Square
Asheville, NC