Living Legacy Fall Trade Fair

Last Updated 1/3/2024

By Esther Nunley

Original Publish Date: August 18, 2022

The McMinn County Living Heritage Museum will have a Living Legacy Fall Trade Fair at the museum on August 19 & 20 from 12-5 p.m. The event celebrates 40 years of existence for the museum and its own historic path within McMinn County. Entrance to the event is free to all and is sponsored by Citizens National Bank, McMinn County, and the City of Athens.

Attending this event will give you opportunity to interact with local artisans and a chance to view the rich history within the walls of the museum. There will be chair caning, macramé, Cherokee baskets, spinning & felting, calligraphy, wood carving, Appalachian music, beekeeping candle making, fly tying, and more.

The museum began as a dream when Muriel Mayfield envisioned a history museum in Athens preserving our area's history. She told Ann Davis, the museum director, that when she traveled with her husband, Scott, on his business trips, she would visit the museums in those localities. As she shared her vision, several people joined together, including Muriel's close friend Mintie Willson, to pursue that goal.

That dream came true on opening day in 1982 in the historic Old College building that was built in 1857 where it still remains on the campus of Tennessee Wesleyan University. Shortly after the opening the Museum Guild formed—quickly becoming the “heartbeat of the museum.” Members of the guild worked diligently to help raise funds to keep the museum open. Muriel was tagged as the “driving spirit.” Her close friend Mintie Willson, who remains very active in the guild today, became known as the “can do” person. All this combined effort of our tireless workers has resulted in a three-story museum boasting over 12,000 artifacts and sponsoring countless programs that feature local artists and people with ties to the area.

It was only fitting that a living legacy museum open in such a historic building as Old College. This building is another federal style of architecture found in East Tennessee. It was built on two acres of land formerly owned by William Lowry. It was completed as a three-story building with two floors of class rooms and an auditorium on the third level. The building and the land around it evolved into what we know today as the Tennessee Wesleyan University.

The idea to build a female college came from the fraternal organization of McMinn Lodge 54 called the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. They obtained a charter in January of 1854 to have the new female school called, Odd Fellows Female College. The school never opened due to financial circumstances. Instead, the organization sold the building to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South at a meeting held in Marion, Virginia which is what began the Methodist affiliation in the college that exists today.

The school was completed and chartered by the Tennessee General Assembly as the Athens Female College opening September 10, 1858 with 70 women enrolled. The history shows that there was some litigation surrounding the school along with changes in the Methodist organization through which the school survived. In the end it was sold to the newly formed Holston Conference and opened under a new charter. The school operated for one year as a college for males in 1867, it then became co-educational by 1868 evolving through the years to the university we know today.

At the turn of the 20th century, McMinn County opted to start their own high school. They purchased property that included a two-story, wood-framed building that was part of another Athens Female College that had flourished in the late 1890s. It was located in the West Madison Avenue area. The County opened the first high school in East Tennessee in that building in 1903. Enrollment to the school continued to grow causing community officials to have a larger building built. The new complex opened on West Madison Avenue in 1926. Enrollment continued to grow causing a larger complex to be constructed on Congress Parkway opening in 1980.

The museum outgrew the Old College building very quickly causing Museum officials to look for another location. They were able to secure one of the old high school property buildings on West Madison Avenue. Renovations took place and the current museum opened at the West Madison Avenue site in 1989 with a larger collection of preserved area history displayed on three floors. In 2021 a new annex building was purchased next door to the museum where Washington Avenue meets West Madison Avenue. That building is used for storage and the annual trash and treasure sales that help generate income needed to operate the museum.

Old College, McMinn County High School, and The McMinn County Living Heritage Museum are all part of the highlights found on the City of Athens bicentennial poster which is available at the museum and the City of Athens Municipal Building.

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