The Johnson family holds up their rifle they brought to be inspected to the opening ceremony for the museums. The rifle was built around 1820. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Heritage Museum and Clinchfield Railroad Museum reopened for the season with a special event on Saturday, May 11. This year marks the 37th season for the Heritage Museum and the eighth season for the Railroad Museum.

“We’ve had tremendous turnout,” Martha Erwin, who serves as curator for both museums, said.

During the season-opening festivities, Dave Byrd and Edward Dorr were on hand to share several of their weapons. Byrd is an expert antique firearms appraiser and collector of locally made surviving rifles. Byrd shared his lifelong knowledge of early local gunsmiths that inhabited our region of Northeast Tennessee. Autographed copies of Byrd’s book titled “Gunmakers of Buffalo Valley and Greasy Cove in Unicoi County” were sold.

Dorr and Byrd examined a rifle brought in by the Johnson family from Washington County on Saturday.

“I remember that gun,” Byrd said. “I’ve tried to buy it three or four times.”

Byrd knew at first glance that the gun had belonged to Henry Johnson.

“That gun was made in 1815 or 1820,” Byrd said. “Baxter, the man who made it, was born around 1800.”

Dorr confirmed that Baxter was born in 1798.

“He fought in the War of 1812 at the age of 14,” Dorr said.

The museums feature a small scale replica of the 1925 Clinchfield Railroad Depot, meticulously hand-crafted in small detail by Scott Fowler. A front porch rocking chair from the notable Unaka Springs Hotel that was built in 1899 is also featured. The hotel was advertised and known as having the finest mineral springs in the south.

Dr. Joe Chamber’s Blue Ridge Pottery “designer series” plates, which have become highly sought after and rarely seen, will be on display for a limited time in the Blue Ridge Pottery Room. Displayed in the Quilt Room is a collection of hand-sewn quilts by highly recognized Erwin quilter, Jo Starnes.

A vintage German doll with its own velvet chair is displayed in memory honoring Erwin native and Class of 1940 member, the late Billie Marie Chapman. Also, other unique exhibits are housed in the three-story, turn of the century house museum and Clinchfield Railroad Museum.

The museums’ normal business hours are Monday through Friday from 1-5 p.m. Admission fee for both museums may be enjoyed for one price of $4 per adult and $2 per child.

The museums are located next to the Erwin National Fish Hatchery located at 529 Federal Hatchery Road, Erwin. They are available for field trips, weddings, and organizational outings. For more information, call 743-9449 or 743-8923.