Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in the Blue Ridge Mountains in days gone by? Take a trip to the Mountain Gateway Museum to learn about Appalachian life from the time the earliest European settlers arrived in the area.
The museum — the westernmost branch of the N.C. Museum of History — is located in the heart of Old Fort along the banks of Mill Creek. Step into the 1930s WPA building to take a free, self-guided tour of the museum’s permanent and rotating exhibits. And be sure to visit the two historic mountain cabins located on the property.
Top tip: Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy beside the creek!
Each year the Mountain Gateway Museum hosts Pioneer Day, a family-friendly event that features period crafts, food, music and demonstrations. This free festival is scheduled in April each year.
What to See at the Mountain Gateway Museum
The museum features four permanent exhibits that explore a wide range of topics related to southern Appalachian history and culture:
- Living the Cabin Life: See what life was like for settlers who lived in log homes in the Blue Ridge.
- Remedies From the Past: Learn about Appalachian folk medicine, including popular remedies and their sources.
- The Spirit of the Mountains: Understand the history of moonshine and its role in Appalachian culture.
- The Price of Progress: Learn about the 3,000 incarcerated workers — many of them African Americans — who built the Western North Carolina Railroad that brought trade and tourism to the Blue Ridge.
You’ll also find rotating exhibits on display. Now through February 18, 2024, visit to see “A Peek Into the Past: Old Fort at 150,” a free exhibit celebrating the Town of Old Fort’s sesquicentennial with images that feature some of the town’s outstanding people, places, events, and institutions from the past century and a half.
The museum’s two historic cabins have their own interesting stories. The larger Morgan Cabin was built in the 1880s and moved to the museum in the 1970s. It is constructed from 13 logs, 13 beams and 13 joists, reflecting an Appalachian belief that the number would bring good luck. The Stepp Cabin was built in the 1860s and 70s by a Confederate veteran. It was occupied until at least 1938, then gifted to the museum in 1973.
Plan Your Visit
The Mountain Gateway Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays 2-5 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and on all state holidays.
Admission is free, and donations are appreciated. Some special exhibits or programs may have an admission cost.
Plan to spend about an hour enjoying the museum’s self-guided tour. Groups may sign up for guided tours, subject to availability — two weeks advance notice required.