Cherokee Heritage Itinerary -- Stop 9 Clay County Historical and Arts Council Museum
As you leave the Folk School, return to Clay’s Corner at the intersection of Brasstown Road and 1548/Phillips Rd. Make a right on Phillips, and then a left on Settawig Road. After about 2.5 miles you will find yourself at US 64 again. Take 64 east for 6 miles, where a left onto Business 64 will take you to downtown Hayesville.
The Old Clay County Jail in downtown Hayesville, home of the Clay County Historical and Arts Council Museum, is an attractive and intriguing building, but one wouldn’t guess at first glance that such an apparently small museum could hold a fantastically rich collection of art and artifacts.
A new exhibit, in the entry hall, tells about the nearby Cherokee community at the time of the Trail of Tears. Particularly wrenching is an inventory of all the worldly goods – furniture, buildings, livestock – that Richard Walker, a justice on the Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court, and his family lost when they were forced to leave North Carolina. The exhibit also explains the Cherokee origins of many of the curious place names around Hayesville – Shooting Creek, Peckerwood Branch, Chunky Gal Mountain, and others. A large map of the area pinpoints the locations of dozens of Cherokee households at the time of the Removal, giving a sense of what a very established community was destroyed in this valley.
A collection of beautiful modern traditional masks are an example of a very old art form that continues to hold deep meaning for modern Cherokees. Ancient artifacts on display were excavated from the nearby Spike Buck Mound.
And there’s a great deal more. The 1920s – 1940s office of a local doctor, Dr. Killian, is reconstructed downstairs. There are over a hundred photographs by Gideon Laney on display throughout the building, showing various scenes of early-20th century life in Cherokee and Clay Counties. An early telephone switchboard is on display, which was in use in Clay County through most of the first half of the 20th century. A Victorian loom is upstairs, a marvel of folk carpentry. And the building itself, used as a jail from 1912 to 1973, is a remarkable artifact in itself. The original iron cells are still upstairs, along with a real moonshine still, the makers of which probably landed in stir here, and an iron file, found during the museum’s renovation, that a Clay County scamp used to break out of his cell in the 1960s.
The Clay County Historical and Arts Council Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10am – 4pm, during June, July, and August.
Photo: Old Clay County Jail, home of the Clay County Historical and Arts Council Museum; photo by Sarah Bryan
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