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    Back in 1966 a North Georgia English teacher needed a way to get his students more engaged. He gave them a chance to come up with a project that would make the course more interesting. The result was an idea for a magazine that focused on local (Southern Appalachian) folklore, tradition, and culture. The students could use their own families and the local community as a source of material.

    The magazine was named “Foxfire,” the name of a glow-in-the dark fungus that grew in the nearby hills. Foxfire Magazine has been in continuous production since 1967 and currently produces two issues annually. Articles are based on interviews of people who understand local history and customs, making this a living history project, “exploring how our past contributes to who we are and what we become—how the past illuminates our present and inspires imagination.”     

    While much of the material was on culture and tradition, many of the articles covered craft techniques, Southern Appalachia skills, and outdoor know-how. These topics were practical, like hog dressing, tools and skills, log cabin and chimney building, making a basket out of white oak splits, and preserving fruits and vegetables. The magazine was timely, as the back-to-the-land movement was popular at the time.

    The Foxfire Magazine generated global interest in the folkways and crafts of the Southern Appalachians. In 1972, the first Foxfire Book was published, containing articles from the magazine that centered on the trades, crafts, and livelihoods of the Appalachia people. It turned out to be a best-seller, creating a series of a dozen Foxfire books and additional companion books. In 1974, Foxfire used book profits to purchase land which was used to develop a museum and heritage center. It is an immersive outdoor museum, including living history experiences. An experience that represents life in the Southern Appalachian Mountains from the 1820s to the 1940s.

    The Museum

    So, where is the museum? Foxfire was developed at the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in Rabun, Georgia, located roughly halfway between Atlanta and Asheville. The success of the Foxfire Book produced the profits that allowed for the purchase of an old orchard in nearby Mountain City, Georgia, near U.S. 441 that leads to the Great Smoky National Park. The old orchard was the beginning of the museum. One student championed an old mill building near her home in Otto, North Carolina. It was moved to the site in 1974 and became the first of over 25 historic structures moved to the museum campus. The museum is an easy day trip from Asheville, Atlanta, Knoxville, or Greenville, South Carolina.

    All buildings and exhibits are scattered along a half-mile-long trail system that flows from building to building over a hilly area. The trail system is built to park standards with picnic benches and places to sit along the tour. Those unable to walk along a hilly trail are allowed to drive using a road system that runs through the area. Interpretative signs are located along the road and inside buildings, stressing the stories behind the people and culture of the region.

    Most noticeable are the cabins on the hillsides, each containing artifacts stressing various aspects of Southern Appalachian culture. Old appliances, furniture, craft tools, and everyday items furnish each cabin. An interpretative sign might tell the story of who built the cabin or lived in it, or perhaps a story putting the contents into a cultural perspective. There are surprises; an antique radio plays in one cabin, with a broadcast from sometime in the 1930s.

    Inside the cabin might be a bedroom, kitchen, or work area setting. Each cabin had a theme. Items varied from the nineteenth to early twentieth century in age, and varied from room settings to various tools and craft items.

    In a cabin, some of the appliances and other items of everyday use.
    In a cabin, some tools of everyday use.
     In a cabin, a pottery theme.
    In a cabin, toys and handicrafts.
     In a cabin, ready for a meal.

    Some of the buildings are barns or sheds. As you’d expect, they contain larger items, like boats, wagons, or even a moonshine still. Each has a theme which was usually explained in an interpretative sign. Some cabins or buildings had demonstrations of trades or crafts (like weaving, blacksmithing, or broommaking).

    Tiger House Weaving Studio.
    Blacksmith Shop.
    What you would expect on a farm. A rugged wagon.
    Some wagons are special. This is the “Zuraw Wagon,” claimed to be the only surviving wagon from the “Trail of Tears” where Native Americans were removed from the Southeast to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. This building has a theme of Cherokee history.

    Look closely to see the crafted boat.
    One cabin contained a still, with much background on moonshining.

    Some building served a specific function, like the gristmill and chapel. These were still in the original form with all the equipment. The gristmill even included the mill race that powered the waterwheel.   If you hike all the way to the chapel at the top of the hill, you are allowed to ring the church bell for all to hear.

    A functioning gristmill, with water wheel and mill race to power it.
    There are plenty of explanations on how and why things worked as they did.
    The chapel at the top of the hill.
    Inside the chapel.

    There were lots of smaller building to go along with the larger ones, like a smokehouse, wagon shed, mule barn, and root cellar.

    The country smokehouse. Inside the smokehouse.

    The root cellar was important to country life.

    There is much interpretation that includes people. Some of it is simple like this.

    A Pandemic Destination

    My last few articles have been destinations that allow for safe pandemic travel.  This museum is particularly appropriate as a safe destination. The sole interaction was to purchase a ticket through a window. From there it is on foot-travel from building or cabin to the next one. With simple timing as you walk the paths, there is no problem avoiding people. There is enough history and culture to maintain hours of interest. If you liked the books, you’ll love the museum.


    Author: Thomas J. Straka is a forestry professor emeritus at Clemson University. He has a keen interest in political and natural history.


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