Appalachian Women Museum

An old farmhouse is set to be a Jackson County tourist destination in 2019. The Monteith Farmstead, a 110-year-old three-story building between Sylva and Dillsboro, is the home of the Appalachian Women’s Museum. The organizers of the effort – all volunteers – expect to kick off a round of special events and begin welcoming visitors in the spring.

“We envision this as a tourist destination for people interested in the history and culture and get an idea what life was like back in the day. We know from working with other museums that it will attract a certain audience,” said executive director Cathy Monteith Busick. “This will be the first museum dedicated only to Southern Appalachian women.”

In addition to attracting tourist traffic, Busick says the museum will have a benefit for the local community as well.

“We want to work closely with the school systems to maybe have a historical day where kids will come and learn how to string beans and do laundry on handwringer washer,” she said. “Kids would learn what it was like when you washed clothes. It wasn’t in a front-end loader back then.”

2017 was a busy year for the museum. The exterior of the building received a fresh coat of white paint and some repairs, thanks to a grant from Jackson County. The interior is almost painted. There’s a logo and a sign out front. WCU student volunteers hand painted some of the hundreds of antique jars found at the house. The first tours of the house were given, and soft openings coincided with the Dillsboro Pottery Festival and Luminaires.

“During those events, we staged the house with exhibits and had live music on the porch,” Busick said. “Community response was fantastic.”

Busick expects the momentum to continue in 2018. The first board of directors meeting was this week.

“In the spring we’re going to start having a series of musicians-on-the-porch fundraisers and start creating some events like that,” she said. “Our initial exhibits will be focused on women in music, arts and crafts, education, healthcare, Cherokee women and the Monteith sisters.”

According to the museum’s website, “The house was built by Elias Brendel Monteith and his wife Mary Magdalene Carson Monteith. The couple had two daughters: Edna Corrine, born in 1908, and Edith Irene, born in 1915. As adults, during a time when it was rare for women to live alone, the two sisters shared the responsibility of caring for the home place. Fiercely proud and loyal to their family heritage, they worked hard to preserve what had been left to them by their parents. Keeping the farmstead much as it had been when their parents were alive, the two sisters maintained a simple lifestyle.

Edith managed the house and farm while Edna served for 45 years as the Dillsboro postmaster. They tended their flower garden and made quilts and crafts to augment their income. The sisters lived on the farmstead their entire lives.”

To ensure historical accuracy, museum staff will work closely with WCU Mountain Heritage Center, Special Collections, History Department and The Museum of the Cherokee and Qualla Arts and crafts to ensure historical accuracy, Busick said.

The museum staffing, board of directors and leadership are all volunteers and the organization is seeking more help in a variety of ways, Busick said.

“We have a lot of needs. We have different volunteer opportunities,” she said. “We could use docents. Someone to show visitors around when they come in. We’ll have a clearly defined list after our board meeting.

“We need someone to help us with some of the organizational things. Almost like an office manager. Someone who will be the central hub. We need someone to do the social media posts and the website.”

Marjorie Eyre is already in place as volunteer coordinator and can be reached at friends@appwomen.org or by calling 506-9559. That contact information is also for anyone interested in making a donation or musicians who would like to contribute by playing one of the fundraising concerts on porch. The museum’s website is www.appwomen.org

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