Friday, October 18, 2013


From Jonesborough we moved on to Knoxville, Tennessee where we stayed at another Escapees campground called the Raccoon Valley RV Park. This was a nice campground and because we are members of Escapees, it was cheap. Some online reviewers have complained about the sites being too close together but we did not find it particularly worse than many other campgrounds we have stayed in.

Escapees parks try to promote some sort of social life for the long-term and/or permanent campers. At this particular park they hold weekly music jam sessions, electric instruments on Wednesdays and acoustic on Thursdays. I hauled my guitar out for the Thursday night session which ran for a couple
of hours. They had a fair number of what seemed to be regulars including a pretty good mandolin player, a standup bass, a banjo picker and a dobro guitar. It made for a pretty impressive sounding group. There was also an audience of about 20 non-musicians. Overall, it was a fun evening and I wish every campground had something like this organized.

Our few days in Knoxville were mostly down time.  I did some shopping and ran some errands. But we did take one afternoon and go to the Museum of Appalachia. This is a privately owned Museum
started by a local teacher and historian in the 1960s to try and preserve Appalachian history and culture which is gradually being lost as they finally catch up with the 21st century. The impression we have is that the Appalachian area has in many ways consistently lagged about 50 years behind the more urban areas of the country. Certainly during the depression but even into the 1950s and 60s they were still hand making many common items using whatever materials they had available and many examples are on display. The museum not only collects artifacts but records when each piece was made and by whom and how it came to the museum collection.  It is a celebration of  Appalachian crafts and folk art. There were three floors of displays including thousands of individual objects but I'm just going to show you a few of the items that caught my interest going through.

This small shack was the office of a doctor practicing in Western Virginia prior to World War II. He did not go to medical school but learned his trade by apprenticing with his uncle whose medical credentials are unclear at best. You can see that inside the office space was a little cramped, but at least he had phone service. It appears that he doubled as a pharmacist and possibly a mail carrier. Thankfully, I did not see any signs that he dabbled in surgery.

The most interesting part of the Museum to me was down in the basement where they had a large collection of musical instruments. Most of these were made locally for the personal use of the builder and might be made out of whatever was available. There were a fairly large number of gourd instruments like the banjo we saw played in Kentucky, but there were also a few more unusual items like a mandolin made out of a tobacco box and banjos made out of a hospital bed pan and an old cookie tin. I particularly liked the banjo made out of a canned ham container though I think it is just for show since the frets are not spaced properly.


This mandolin is particularly interesting. It was made by a man who was convicted of murder and sentenced to 300 years in prison. He clearly had a lot of time on his hands and so he made this instrument entirely out of wooden matchsticks. The dark color on the neck and pick guard was produced by staining the matchsticks with coffee. The sign on the display did not say, but I don't think it is a playable instrument. I think if you actually tightened up the strings, they would snap that neck like, well, a matchstick.

 This horn is from a long horn steer. A prospector from Texas hollowed it out and brought it with him in the 1930s to use for dipping water out of streams for drinking. I liked the look of the carving on the surface. He left it to his daughter when he died and she donated it to the museum.

We always tend to gravitate to the medically related stuff. I particularly liked these wheelchairs. If you look closely you can see that they are made by putting wheels on regular dining room chairs. Wheelchairs and other medical equipment are so grotesquely overpriced that I think they should sell wheel kits so people can do this today.

Like several other places we have been, the museum also had about 25 or 30 old buildings spread out over the property's 60 some odd acres... shacks and log cabins that they have transported onto thegrounds from the backwoods within a 200 mile radius. The museum's grounds mimic a working pioneer Appalachian farm, with gardens growing typical crops and animals such as goats, chickens, turkeys, and peacocks roaming the grounds freely.  Here you can see Vicki sitting on the porch of a tiny shack that was not vacated by its owner until the 1960s. Inside was just big enough for a bed, a chair and a Franklin style stove for heat and cooking. It makes our 37 foot motor home seem downright roomy by comparison. I assume there was an accompanying outhouse but they did not bring it along.

This cabin is labeled as belonging to "The Mark Twain Family". Well of course, there was no Mark Twain family since Mark Twain was a pen name but the cabin apparently did belong to the Clemens family in the early 1800s. Mark Twain never lived here though, by the time he was born the family had moved to Missouri.

I found the Museum pretty fascinating with a fair amount of entertainment value. Vicki was somewhat less impressed, I'm not sure why. Anyway, if you're in the Knoxville area and have some time to kill I would definitely drive out and have a look around. They also have a small dining room in the Museum store that serves homestyle lunches made out of whatever is available from the local farmers markets and were pretty good, however if you want to get lunch make sure you get there early enough. The kitchen closes at two o'clock.

1 comment:

  1. They've done a really good job with that museum. Maybe Vicki is like me and has just been to too many museums. Love those jam sessions.