The Museum of Appalachia is spread out among 70 acres and consists of 30 log structures, a 15,000 square foot “Hall of Fame” and a display barn. In other words, it is massive. There are thousands of artifacts that depict the Appalachian culture and heritage. The most impressive thing about the museum is that every artifact has a story. John Rice Irwin, the founder of the museum, took the time to listen to the owner of the items. He found out where each item came from, what it was used for and all the other interesting tidbits. Here are three of the artifacts at the museum that show the ingenuity of the Appalachian people.
The Perpetual Motion Machine. Many have tried but all have failed to create a perpetual motion machine. However, according to local legend, Asa Jackson created a working perpetual motion machine. Asa and his family invented a threshing machine, which the perpetual motion machine was to run. Asa built the machine in a cave during the Civil War but would partially disassemble it when he left the cave because he was afraid the Yankees would destroy it or steal it. After the Civil War, the threshing factory burnt and the machine was no longer needed. The perpetual motion machine was disassembled and no one has been able to reassemble it but you can see it on display in the Hall of Fame at the Museum of Appalachia.
A German M1908/15 Maxim Light Machine Gun. During World War I Alvin York, along with 17 men, was ordered to take out a German machine-gun emplacement. While the rest of his regiment was pinned down by heavy gun fire, York forged ahead and ended up capturing 132 German soldiers. This act of bravery and his many others led York to becoming the most decorated American soldier of WWI. The German M1908/15 Maxim on display at the Museum of Appalachia was the type of gun that the German soldiers were using that day. How did this machine gun make its way from France to the Museum of Appalachia over 90 years later? You are going to have to visit the Museum of Appalachia to find out.
The Home of George Burkhart. George Burkhart was not a famous man, he was a typical Appalachian man. George and his wife, Sapphira, came across the mountain from Virginia to an area not far from where the Museum of Appalachia is located now. There was a storm brewing so they sought shelter in a hollowed out tree. They decided to make the area home and ended up living in the tree. Remember that at that time you couldn’t just go to the grocery store to pick up food or the hardware store to pick up building supplies. George knew that it was more important to plant gardens and secure livestock before building a roof over his head. It was just how things were done in that time in the Appalachian Mountains.
There are many, many more artifacts with just as interesting stories as these. These are just three examples that stick out of how inventive, brave and hard working the people of Appalachia were.