When you hear the word “museum,” cities like Paris or London probably come to mind. Well, prepare to be surprised. Collectors and enthusiasts from all over WNC have transformed their, shall we say, unique interests, into repositories of intriguing and historical objects. Ranging in size from a tiny storefront to an airplane hangar, there’s a museum that will interest just about everyone. So, even though school’s out for the summer, prepare to have your horizons expanded as you’re simultaneously educated and entertained by these treasure troves and rare finds.
Mountain Farm & Home Museum. Hendersonville, NC.
Drive down the gravel path which leads to this museum, past giant hulking pieces of antique farm equipment, and you begin to get an idea of the scope of what lies ahead. In the main building, the tour begins small, with children’s toys (before they all came from China), antique steam gauges, paint grinders and a cash register from a five-and-dime store (it only allows purchases of up to one dollar!) Then, things start getting larger. On every wall and corner (and even hanging from the ceiling) are looms, threshers, potato graders, washing machines and even a restored hand-pump gasoline dispenser, complete with the price of 18 cents a gallon — the price of gas when curator A.B. Wexler started driving. In the next building, dozens of restored tractors line the walls, their fresh coats of orange paint creating a warm glow. If life before iPods and laptops intrigues you, you’re sure to find something here that will fascinate. (101 Brookside Camp Rd., Hendersonville. 828-697-8846. Admission: Free.)
The Mask Museum. Hendersonville, NC.
Featuring over five hundred masks from around the world, there’s something a little eerie about having all those eyes staring at you. Curator Ellen Hobbs has traveled extensively in Mexico, South America, Indonesia, Europe and the Far East in search of new and interesting masks, dolls and clothing. Ranging from simple wood carvings to extremely elaborate ceremonial masks, the collection takes up almost every wall of the modest house at 317 Fifth Avenue. Each mask has a story, and Ms. Hobbs is pleased to share them with her visitors. She offers tours by appointment only, and a word to the wise…very small children may get frightened. Some of these masks are scary enough to spook an unsuspecting adult! (317 Fifth Avenue, Hendersonville. 828-693-7108. Admission: Free.)
Scottish Tartans Museum. Franklin, NC.
Scottish what Museum? While most Americans confuse “tartan” with “plaid”, the difference is simple. The pattern of differently-colored stripes woven into cloth is tartan. The cloth on which it was originally made is plaid. And while many tartans are family or clan specific, that is not always the case. So… now that we have that all cleared up, let’s talk about the museum. Chosen by the Scottish Tartans Society for the high concentration of Scottish descendants in North Carolina, the museum has been in operation in Franklin since 1963, and since 2004 the town itself has had its own tartan, designed by resident Virginia McSween. The museum focuses on several types of highland dress, its evolution through the ages, and the processes by which it is made. You can also search for your family’s tartan, using the oddly-named “tartan ferret” search engine. (86 E. main St., Franklin. 828-524-7472. Admission: $2 Adults, $1 Children.)
Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum. Asheville, NC.
After a fine meal and a steam at the Grove Park Inn, head next door to the Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum. Originally home to 40 giant looms used to make wool cloth for Biltmore Industries, the museum was established in 1965. Featuring 19 classic cars such as the 1926 Cadillac seven-passenger limo, the 1959 Ford Edsel two-door Corsair and one of Asheville’s own 1922 American La France fire trucks, the inner car lover can get lost in the detail and history for hours. But even though they’ve been preserved in running condition, the good folks at the museum probably won’t hand over the keys. (111 Grovewood Rd., Asheville. 828-253-7651. Admission: Free.)
Wheels Through Time. Waynesville, NC.
Featuring 40,000 square feet full of hundreds of rare and vintage cars and motorcycles, this is a driver’s and rider’s dream come true. Founded by Dale Walksler (a former Harley Davidson dealer) in 2002, the museum boasts nearly 300 motorcycles from 20 different American manufacturers spanning almost 100 years. It’s been said that about 90 percent of them still run, but you’ll have to confirm that yourself, if Mr. Walksler will let you. Even if he doesn’t (he probably won’t) you can still spend hours checking out the impressive collection. (62 Vintage Lane. Maggie Valley. 828-926-6266. Admission: $12 Adults, $6Children 5-12)
The Antique Toy Museum. Hendersonville, NC.
This one is a bit of a mystery. Located at 154 White St. in a nondescript gray house, information about the collection has been hard to come by. Apparently on vacation until after this article goes to press, the curators have posted a sign stating the date of their return as July 22. If you’re game to take a chance, drop by for a visit. You might just find that one precious toy from your childhood you’ve been searching for all these years.
Transylvania Heritage Museum. Brevard, NC.
Formerly the Jim Bob Tinsley Museum, the Transylvania Heritage Museum features exhibits not only on Mr. Tinsley (who was a country-western musician and nature photographer) but on the wider history and development of Brevard and the surrounding area. Collections of heirlooms, artifacts, vintage photographs, genealogy and other exhibits reflective of the history and heritage of the county are on permanent or temporary display and a small gift shop is tucked away in back. (40 W. Jordan St., Brevard. 828-884-2347. Admission: Free)
WNC Air Museum. Hendersonville, NC.
Out by the Hendersonville-Winkler Airport stand two airplane hangars that contain something other than your ordinary, run-of-the-mill airplanes (no, not alien spacecraft). At the WNC Air Museum, suspended from the ceilings and parked in neat rows are decades of single-prop aviation history, such as a 1936 Piper J-2, a 1948 Aeronca 7DC and a 1942 Taylorcraft DC-65. You can touch and photograph these old and beautiful planes, and if you’re lucky and there at the right time, you just might be able to talk your way into a ride in one. The staff is very friendly, and they have a neat little gift shop for young and old airplane enthusiasts alike. (1340 E. Gilbert St., Hendersonville. 828-698-2482. Admission: Free.)
Mineral and Lapidary Museum. Hendersonville, NC.
Beneath Main Street in downtown Hendersonville lurks the Mineral and Lapidary Museum. Perhaps “lurks” is the wrong word, as this museum has not only an extremely good-natured staff, but the patrons also seem quite happy. Maybe it’s the wild, unexpected colors in the geodes and minerals, the unusual fossils, the variety of locally made jewelry at the gift shop or even the famed “Hendersonville Meteorite.” Whatever it is, if you’ve got any interest in petrified wood, fluorescent minerals or just want to crack your own geode, you owe yourself a visit. But for the record…what is it about museums featuring rocks, fossils and minerals being located underground? (400 N. Main St., Hendersonville. 698-1977. Admission: Free.)
Colburn Earth Science Museum. Asheville, NC.
Located on the lower level of 2 Pack Square S., the semi-subterranean locale enhances the mood as you explore the thousands of minerals, gems, crystals and fossils found inside this museum. The exhibits range from the tiny to the tremendous, including a 220-carat blue topaz from Brazil, and a 2,405-carat Australian boulder opal. For would-be meteorologists, the interactive Weather, Climate and You exhibit teaches about the history of WNC weather and gives you a glimpse of what you might look like giving the weather report on the local news. The History of Mining in WNC is also a popular exhibit at the Colburn Earth Science Museum. In addition to learning about the mining techniques of the Native Americans and Spanish explorers, the exhibit offers a replica of a gem mine, complete with gem pockets that the visitors can blast into by triggering a “dynamite” charge. The museum also offers free mineral identification every Wednesday from 3pm-4pm, so you can finally put a name to that crazy rock you dug up in your backyard. (2 Pack Square South, Asheville. 828-254-7162. Admission: $4 Adults, $3 Seniors/Students/Children over 4).
Henderson County Heritage Museum. Hendersonville, NC.
For those wondering what exactly would take the place of the old courthouse, wonder no more. The renovated, gold-domed structure now houses the Henderson County Heritage Museum. Its inaugural exhibit, Let Freedom Ring, commemorates the service and struggle of the people of Henderson County over almost 250 years of American wars. On display through October 1, the exhibit begins with the Cherokee’s fight to keep their land in the 1700s, and features displays on every American war right up to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Including several multimedia displays, this museum is a great way to brush up on your American history, and walk away with a greater perspective on our county, country and the nature of warfare. (One Historic Courthouse Square. Hendersonville. 828-694-1619. Admission: Free.)