How many times have you driven by that little museum on the corner? For me, it was nearly seven years—the museum had an attractive front, well decorated, and a name that should have forced me to turn in the first time I saw it—Arrowheads/Aerospace. But I had just moved to the area and there would be plenty of time to visit the museum. Now, seven years later, I finally did. I should have gone sooner!
Local museums typically focus on a specific topic that can be as broad as the history of the local area and as narrowly focused as collections of salt and pepper shakers. All museums, however, share themes of history and culture, so even though you may not be specifically drawn to salt shakers, it is likely you will see or learn something that somehow relates directly to you and your family’s history.
What to expect when you visit a local museum.
1. Expect to be surprised by the scope of the collections: One would not expect to see more than four centuries of local history tucked within the relatively small, residence-sized building of the Arrowheads/Aerospace (read that as “Arrowheads to Aerospace”) Museum. The museum’s mission is to capture and display the history of the local area “from The Beginning” to the present.
Collections are organized so that the visitor moves through time from the 1600s before the area was first settled by Europeans to recent history. There are displays of early Native American Indian artifacts from the area, followed by examples of pioneer life, Civil War weapons and Uniforms, a World War I gallery with a German machine gun, and a display of an early American store with examples of unfamiliar products, utensils, and equipment our grandparents and great grandparents used daily.
Additionally, museums often have collections that do not fit neatly into their mission or organization, but are, none the less, noteworthy. For example, the Arrowheads/Aerospace Museum has a collection of several hundred Hummel figurines. My mother had a small Hummel collection and this brought back some fond memories.
2. Expect to learn a little history: Here in Middle Tennessee, Sergeant Alvin York is a local hero from World War I. Under his leadership, seven men faced down a German machine gun nest and captured 130 enemy soldiers. The display of the German machine gun that he faced made his heroics all that more outstanding and memorable. And as for learning history, a museum is a lot more fun (and effective) than sitting in a classroom, no matter how much you love the subject!
3. Expect to learn a fact: Did you know that, during the Civil War, the Union Army had American-made repeating rifles rather than just the single-shot muzzle-loaders that Confederate soldiers had, giving the North an advantage on the battlefield.
4. Expect to meet and interesting person: Most curators and docents you meet in a museum love to answer questions and point out the most interesting points about their collections. For example, Judy, the director of the Arrowheads/Aerospace Museum pointed out several handmade doll houses. She was eager to explain the history of the replicas, including a doll house modeled after a local mid-1800s boarding house in Manchester, Tenn.—a building you can still drive by, see and recognize from the museum model. The veterans of the museum you will meet are passionate and informed about the history and culture of their collections—and have informative and entertaining stories to tell.
5. Expect to have a new experience: In any case, a first visit to any museum is certainly a new experience, and repeated visits to the same museum often provide additional new experiences—new people to talk with, overlooked objects or displays, or new displays.
6. Be prepared to discover or rediscover a passion: Most of us have some special interests or a hobby. Go to one or two local, small museums and you are almost certainly going find a collection or meet a curator who shares your interests. The Arrowheads/Aerospace Museum has a huge collection of railroad equipment and scale model trains that would capture the attention of a railroad enthusiast for several hours.
According to the American Alliance of Museums, there are at least 17,500 museums in the United States. A quick online computer search found a Wikipedia site that has an extensive list of museums for each state. This is also a good resource for finding museums that feature specific collections, from salt and pepper shakers to aircraft to medical history. It is also good for planning. If you are interested in trains, you can search through the listings for the nearest railroad museums.
So the next time you are about to pass that local museum—again—stop, turn in, and see what it has to offer. Although you will know what to expect, it is likely that you will still be surprised and pleased.
© Article and Photographs – Jeff Richmond