Rural Heritage Museum

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The Rural Heritage Museum hours are 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
The museum is closed on Mondays.
The museum is open all year except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Years Day, Good Friday, Easter, and all Mondays.

Director: Les Reker
Interested in a guided tour? Please email:
Office: 828-689-1400
P.O. Box 6705

Mars Hill, NC 28754


NEW EXHIBIT: The Civil War in the Southern Highlands: A Human Perspective

The Rural Heritage Museum at Mars Hill University opens a new exhibition, “The Civil War In the Southern Highlands: A Human Perspective," beginning August 19, 2017, and running through March 4, 2018. This exhibition presents an account, using rare original letters and newly-discovered documents, of the personal struggles of the people living in Madison County and the Southern Appalachian Mountains during the middle of the 19th century. The museum is open daily (except Mondays) from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and by appointment. It is located in Montague Hall on the university campus. Admission is free.

The exhibition includes dozens of photographs and authentic objects from the period, including a wedding dress, a jacket worn by James A. Keith, a doctor and lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army; Confederate currency; flags; books; sabers; ammunition; a McClellan cavalry saddle; and many other objects of everyday life owned by individuals on both sides of the war.

Part of the exhibit explores the "Shelton Laurel Massacre," an event in January 1863 in which Confederate soldiers under the direction of Lt. Col. Keith summarily arrested and executed 13 prisoners in the remote Shelton Laurel valley of Madison County. That event drove a deep wound into the rural communities of Madison County that lingers to this day. Exhibit organizers say that, in many ways, the events in Shelton Laurel in 1863 have become emblematic of the Civil War as fought in the mountains: confused and complicated, often conducted outside the rules of war by individuals with changeable loyalties, looking only to survive. The resulting consequences were often brutal for the women, children, and former African-American slaves left to tend to the homes and farms left behind.

Exhibit organizers say they're not picking sides or casting blame, but rather presenting viewers with the facts as they best know them. The exhibit is "an attempt to shed light on the complex, apocryphal nature of the conflict in the devastated Southern Highlands, which still reverberates deep in the hollows and gaps of the Blue Ridge," according to museum director Les Reker.

The exhibition was curated by Max Hunt, senior writer for the Mountain Xpress newspaper, along with historian Katherine Cutshall and authors Maynard Shelton and Dan Slagle. Editing, writing, research, and design was provided by Carolyn Comeau and Ryan Phillips.

This exhibition is made possible through a grant from the Madison County Tourism and Development Authority.

Past Exhibits:

Shelter on the Mountain: Barns and Building Traditions of the Southern Highlands

Even though this video demonstrates cabin construction in Finland, most all of the techniques and tools used are the same ones used by the American settlers in the early 19th century. The Scotch Irish, the Germans, Dutch, English and other nationalities. In our current exhibition "Shelter on the Mountain: Barns and the Building Traditions of the Southern Highlands" we have on display several of the tools used in this video, the broad axe, the T-Handled Auger ( hand drill ), the draw knife and many others.


Some of the earliest structures built in Western North Carolina, Madison and surrounding Counties were those constructed by the Ani Kituwah indians, ancestors of what we now know are the Cherokee. Pictographs dating back to the Mississippian Period are found on Paint Rock. These pictographs have survived two centuries of vandalism and natural weathering. Judaculla Rock near Cullowhee,NC, is a flat rock carved with various abstract forms thought to date from the Middle Woodland ( 1000 - 1500 CE ) to late Mississippian Periods. According to Cherokee oral tradition, the carvings are scratches made by Judaculla or Tsul 'kalu, the slant-eyed "Master-of-Game" giant, while he jumped from his farm on the mountain to the creek below. If you would like to know more about Judaculla Rock watch the following short episode of UNC-TVs "My Home - NC" that was recently aired. Judaculla Rock Photo

Better yet, come to Mars Hill, NC to the Rural Heritage Museum and immerse yourself into our current exhibition
" Shelter on the Mountain: Barns and Building Traditions of the Southern Highlands".
Better yet, come to Mars Hill, NC to the Rural Heritage Museum and immerse yourself into our current exhibition
" Shelter on the Mountain: Barns and Building Traditions of the Southern Highlands".


***   NEWS  RELEASE   ***


EXHIBITION AWARD  to Rural Heritage Museum of Mars Hill University    Semc Award Scan

The Rural Heritage Museum of Mars Hill University was recognized by The Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) as the Silver place winner of the SEMC Exhibition Competition (in the Under $25,000 category) at the SEMC Annual Meeting Awards Luncheon, October 12, 2016, at the Sheraton Charlotte Hotel in Charlotte, NC. It is one of only two Museums in North Carolina recognized this year.
The exhibition How the West was Won: Trains and the Transformation of Western North Carolina, was curated and designed by the Rural Heritage Museum and was featured June 27, 2015 – January 31, 2016 at the Museum in Mars Hill. It then travelled to the Historic Depot in the city of Marion, NC, to the Historic Depot in Saluda, NC, and to the Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort, NC. In February, the exhibition will be installed for a year-long run at the North Carolina Transportation Museum.

The award was presented to the Rural Heritage Museum​ Director, Les Reker by the SEMC President, Dr. David Butler.



New Blue Ridge Heritage Trail Sign Installed at the RURAL HERITAGE MUSEUM

Brnha Sign Lunsford Dillingham Reker

(left to right) Dr. Dan Lunsford, University President, Mr. Richard Dillingham, University Historian and first Director of the Museum, and Mr. Les Reker, current Director of the Rural Heritage Museum.

A new interpretive wayside sign greets visitors to the Rural Heritage Museum in Mars Hill and is one of 69 such signs being installed on the new Blue Ridge Heritage Trail. The Trail is a collection of special places throughout the North Carolina Mountains and foothills that embody the remarkable history and culture of the region, and is an initiative of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership. (BRNHA).

At each location, the sign tells the stories of the people and places that have shaped the distinctive heritage of the 25 westernmost counties in North Carolina. The (Site location name) sign tells the story about the Rural Heritage Museum.
In addition to the signs, the Trail will be enhanced with the installation of interactive kiosks in five NC Welcome Centers that greet visitors to the region, plus a map brochure and website to help them get around the region and learn more about each site.

This initiative is designed to attract and inform visitors, students, and residents alike about the many natural and cultural heritage attractions in the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. The goal is to encourage people to discover places they may not know about. It is not a “Point A to Point B” trail, but rather many stops throughout the region. People can enjoy a single stop or piece together several sites by theme, town, region or activity to create their own personalized “trail.” QR codes on each sign will enable people with smart phones to locate other nearby sites.

The Blue Ridge Heritage Trail is a project of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership and was supported by Federal Highway.
Transportation Enhancement funding administered through the North Carolina Department of Transportation and Haywood County, NC.

PAST EXHIBITIONS: “OUR STORY – THIS PLACE”: The History of African American Education in Madison County, North Carolina: The Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School

Exhibition dates: September 14, 2014 – February, 28, 2015
“INTERWOVEN: Coverlets, Ballads, and America’s Discovery of Madison County Folklife.”
Exhibition dates: September 29, 2013 - August 13, 2014.