>UNICOI COUNTY HERITAGE MUSEUM: A TREASURE OF NORTH EAST TENNESSEE
>By Marilyn Elmore-Bragg
Along State Road 107, on the grounds of the National Fishery in Erwin Tennessee is the Unicoi County Heritage Museum. On a very hot day late in July, I decided to stop to tour the museum. The sign announcing the location of the museum is quite insignificant in comparison to the fishery sign. I recommend when looking for 527 Federal Hatchery Road; you look for this sign first.
As you turn onto the grounds of the hatchery; you will spy the main building where the offices and holding tanks used to collect the eggs from the trout raised here. The driveway runs to the left of this building and it’s here you want to be as you continue down the asphalt paved road; past the speed bumps and the home of the fisheries Superintendent. Continue driving to the circle driveway of the large Victorian sized home on the perfectly manicured grounds of the fishery.
The home began its life on August 18, 1894 when Congress passed legislation to fund the establishment of a national fishery in Erwin, TN. The fishery was built on $12,000.00. Of this allotment, the contractor (G.W.N. BROWN) used $4,454.50 to build this stately 52’ x 56’, two story, 10 room home.
To enter the home, you will cross the broad wraparound porch which acts as the threshold to the beautiful glass etched entry doors. Opening those doors will place you in an elegant foyer which is dressed in fine dark woods, historical documents framed on the wall, fine antique furniture of the period and a staircase leading to the second floor. It is a thoughtful and handsome display of rich textures and history.
On your right is the Superintendents office. Here you will find Martha S. Erwin, Curator of the museum. Martha has been working at the museum for over 20 years in one capacity or another. She is a wealth of knowledge and information on the history of the town of Erwin. I asked if her family name was connected to how Erwin was named or its founders. Martha laughed heartily and told me no. ( It was at this point Martha asked for a $2.00 donation before I started our tour the museum. It IS a donation, and I do hope you help support this wonderful little museum with your gift of money.)
I later learned the town of Erwin received its name from an error on the behalf of the United States Post Office. After a long secession of names, the towns’ fathers voted on December 5th 1879, to change the name to Ervin. Ervin was the name of the man who donated the land the town was built upon. Due to a typo from the US Postal Service: the town was known to the locals as ‘ERVIN’ and to the post office as ‘ERWIN’, causing some confusion until the misspelling won the battle, finding its place on state and federal maps as ‘ERWIN’.
Across the hall from the Superintendent’s office is the parlor. Martha has furnished this room with period furniture, toys, and textiles. This room also proudly claims a beautiful fireplace, two pocket doors made with a light golden wood (I’m sorry; I don’t know the true nature of that beautiful wood.) The front of the room boasts a bay window extending out into the wrap around veranda. This allows a view of the veranda as well as the wooded hill beyond the manicured grounds of the fishery.
IMAGE CAPTION: ORNATE FIREPLACE LOCATED IN THE SUPERINTENDENTS OFFICE
IMAGE CAPTION: PARLOR WITH POCKET DOORS AND FIREPLACE
IMAGE CAPTION: BAY WINDOWS IN PARLOR
Walking though those beautiful pocket doors, you’ll find yourself in what is known as the “Community Room”, where you will find several pieces of period furniture, many local arts and crafts for sale as well as books, cards and collectibles. All proceeds benefit the museum.
Now you will find yourself across the hall from a very elegant dining room. This room is known as the “Blue Ridge Pottery Room”. In this room, you will find the largest collection of Blue Ridge Pottery. Blue Ridge Pottery was a pottery started in Erwin in 1916 by the Clinchfield Railroad. “WHAT?”, you ask? Me too,that is until I learned the railroad was looking to diversify. Pottery was the rage in the early part of the 20th century and the owners of the Ohio, Clinchfield and North Carolina Railroads wanted in. They chose to build their pottery in Erwin because of the proximity of Erwin’ to the raw materials used in pottery as well as it’s availability to the rail line. With just 300 residents, the pottery became a boom to the area. Over the years the pottery was known by many names and its popularity grew due to its unique hand painted designs. Southern Potteries (the name they took on in 1920) closed their doors in 1967. Leaving to history and to collectors a large and varied compilation of over five thousand design patterns.
Once more I am walking toward the rear of the home. I walk past the bathroom built with the house. I walk past a rear set of stairs to the second floor and into the huge kitchen area. Martha was able to furnish this kitchen with the beautiful “REGAL ACORN” cast iron wood burning stove.
Off to the right of the kitchen lies a room unto it’s self. This is a bright, sunny room with many windows lending to the appearance of the room as an add on. Not original to the house. The bay windows appear modern compared to the other windows in the home. The room is known as “THE WILDLIFE ROOM”. Here you will find prime taxidermy examples of the wild life you would find here in Unicoi county. From bears to turkey, partridge, deer and foxes, this room is a plethora of skins, photos and memorabilia of the local wild life.
Leaving the “WILD LIFE ROOM” by the same doorway I entered, I notice a small breezeway type room leading from the kitchen to the formal dining room. I believe in the days this home was built, it was designed to be the china room. This is where all the dinner ware for the dining room was stored. Today it holds the Museum’s small but beautiful collection of “Cash Pottery” items.
Back out into the hallway, you will make your way up the back stairs to the second level of the home. It’s a dark stairway leaving you to realize these stairs were meant only for the occupants of the home, not guests. As you come to rest on the second floor you will naturally look to your left and right observing your surroundings. To my right, I noticed a room full of military memorabilia. This room named, “HISTORY AND WAR ROOM” is sponsored by the Unicoi County Historical Society. In this room I saw a display of a Civil War uniform, as well as military uniforms from other historic war periods of our country. I also discovered documents, photographs and historic memorabilia from the Civil War to the present day war in the Middle East.
The War Room was my favorite room of the house. I can spend an hour in that room to examine and gawk at all the history and information there.
I turn to leave the room and found myself looking forward into the hallway. I was scrutinizing the documents framed on the walls, as well as the wonderful spinning wheel located at the front of the hallway near the window lighting the way with bright sunlight.
The rest of the second floor is an unexpected delight. Here the friends of the museum removed the wall separating two bedrooms. They also removed a portion of the walls that separate the rooms from the hallway, leaving a knee wall. From the top of the knee wall to the ceiling they installed plexi-glass to protect the exhibits from the public. They cleverly designed this area to be a representation of the business’ one could find on “MAIN STREET”.
The museum has also built a wood sidewalk to help duplicate the “Main Street” feeling of this group of exhibits. Do not imagine by any means, the photos I’ve displayed are the end of this wonderful Main Street! There is the General Store, the Post Office, a birthing room, and an accounting office. There is so much to see here in this unusual way to exhibit period business’s.
On the 2nd floor is the Daughters of the American Revolution Room, as well as a bedroom furnished beautifully in the fashion of late 19th century.
Don’t forget to climb the stairs to more history in the attic! This entire house is a museum piece. You will be pleased with the way the documents and historic pieces are displayed. It’s not a hodge podge of unrelated displays. You begin to visualize the lives of the people who built this area of North East Tennessee.
I’ll leave you with a peek of what you will find in the attic of this beautiful home/museum.