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Hickory Ridge Living Museum Brings History Alive

Schoolchildren witness a demonstration of a long rifle firing. Courtesy of Wendy Behrendt Fletcher

By Phyllis MacBryde

While summer’s long-running outdoor drama, Horn in the West, sleeps off its tale of Dr. Jeffrey Stuart and early settlers’ journey at the time of America’s Revolution, its sister attraction, Hickory Ridge Living History Museum, is basking in the afterglow of a fast and furious Fall Season.


As leaves fell on age-old paths, local enthusiasts, museum interpreters and history majors from Appalachian State University commemorated the Battle of Kings Mountain. Reenactors in British red coats and pioneers in scruffy homespun laid siege to the wooded hills. With fire, fury and Instagramed selfies, they sought to prove once again the Patriots’ hard-won victory.


When the reenactors’ rebel yells had faded away, they were quickly replaced by the excited shrieks of young visitors who time-travelled back to the 18th century haunts of their forefathers. Eschewing their smart phones and video games, school children of all ages raced through the crackling leaves to explore wonders of times gone by.

Reenactors commemorate the Battle of Kings Mountain. Courtesy of Wendy Behrendt Fletcher


Guided by costumed museum staff, kids from Hardin Park Elementary, middle school students, and groups of home schoolers from surrounding counties dipped their own candles, examined historical artifacts and watched a blacksmith at work. They tasted still-warm cornbread baked to perfection over an open hearth. They tossed corncobs – a children’s game in pioneering days, and learned how to throw a hatchet. Several took pleasure in being locked up in the stocks. According to an informal survey, the kids concluded that putting their heads and hands in the pillory was “really cool.”


Wandering through the creaky 18th and 19th century cabins, they learned about spinning yarn and watched a weaver at her loom. One puzzled boy looked around the cabin and asked, “Where’s the bathroom?”

18th and 19th century cabins reside on the Hickory Ridge Living Museum property. Courtesy of Wendy Behrendt Fletcher

What Horn in the West and Hickory Ridge Living History Museum have been about for years is now an industry trend. The corporate world calls it the “experience economy.” Tourists want immersive journeys, tours, and hands-on events hosted by local experts. They want memories.


In 1957, when the Horn’s founders rolled up their sleeves, raised funds and built the amphitheater that houses Kermit Hunter’s long-running drama, they understood that American history is fundamental to our grasp of the world and that the chance to relive history has a profound impact on young minds. For people of all ages, first-hand experience sparks curiosity, it encourages creativity and critical thinking, it brings history to life.


“This is what they used back then,” the museum’s firearm expert told a recent group of homeschoolers. They watched with fascinated eyes as he took out his powder horn, loaded black powder into the muzzle of a flint-lock long rifle, and held up a small lead ball. “But I’m gonna use a tourist bullet.” Musing about the time and effort it takes to fire off just one shot, he retrieved a spitball from his jowl and shoved it down the barrel with his handy ramrod. “Fire in the hole,” he hollered and took aim. The kids covered their ears and squealed as the rifle blast sent the tourist bullet flying.


Throughout the year, Hickory Ridge Museum is a feast for the senses. In winter months, fires roar in the historic log cabins and the wind sneaking through the cracks makes it easy for school trippers to imagine the hardships the high country’s pioneers must have faced.


Closed now for winter vacation, group tours may still be arranged by emailing saha.operations@gmail.com.

The Museum will return to its regular schedule in April 2020. To support the Museum’s mission, please

visit horninthewest.com/join-us.

A young visitor examines an antique spinning wheel. Courtesy of Wendy Behrendt Fletcher