Rural Heritage Museum

Current Exhibition: A Cabinet of Curiosities: Selections From the Permanent Collection

A Cabinet of Curiosities: Selections From the Permanent Collection

The Rural Heritage Museum of Mars Hill University has announced it will present a new exhibition, entitled: A Cabinet of Curiousity: Selections From the Permanent Collection, through December 30, 2018. This exhibition presents a selection of late 19th century objects once used by Appalachian homesteaders in Western North Carolina. Objects on display include spinning wheels, looms, a variety of farm tools, hand-wrought objects for household use, silver, a pump organ, and other unique objects of cultural heritage donated or purchased by the museum over the past 40 years.

Also included will be informational panels to enlighten visitors, including some that speak about the history and function of museums in society. A short video, entitled Museums Do That?, will be on view. Produced by the American Alliance of Museums, the video examines the important role of the museum as an indispensable resource in contemporary education.

Past Exhibits:

Understanding Our Past, Shaping Our Future.

The Rural Heritage Museum at Mars Hill University opened a new exhibition, “Understanding Our Past, Shaping Our Future.” This interactive exhibition, based on Cherokee language and culture, employs sound recordings as the basis for presenting a coherent Cherokee story in words, text, and artifacts. The exhibit runs through May 27. Museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Admission is free.

Understanding Our Past, Shaping Our Future was developed with Cherokee community input with the assumption that language shapes thinking. In creating the exhibit storyline, the project team used the Cherokee language to reflect inherent Cherokee values.

This exhibition is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent federal agency, through a grant to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.

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.

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. View the video.

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 aired.

“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.

Exhibition Presented by Madison County Tourism Development Authority 

Janirve Foundation
Madison County Commissioners
Marion Stedman Covington Foundation
North Carolina Department of Transportation
Southern Highland Craft Guild
Vetust Study Club / Asheville Antiques Fair

Madison County Visitor Center

The Rural Heritage Museum is part of:




Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Years Day, Good Friday, Easter, and all Mondays.
The museum is closed on Mondays.
Director: Les Reker
Interested in a guided tour? Please email:
Office: 828-689-1400
P.O. Box 6705
Mars Hill, NC 28754

Connect with us on Facebook!