From its beginning in 1889, Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, collected regional manuscripts and artifacts to celebrate its Appalachian history. In 1975, stimulated by a nationwide interest in heritage in general and a rediscovery of Appalachia in particular, Appalachian-born Chancellor H. F. Robinson announced plans for the creation of a formal museum and research center dedicated to Appalachian studies. The Mountain Heritage Center moved into its permanent home on the ground floor of the new H. F. Robinson Administration Building in 1979.
The center studies, documents, and interprets the culture and history of southern Appalachia and provides museum services to the western part of the state. To that end, it collects artifacts, builds exhibitions, documents and presents traditional craft demonstrations and musical performances, produces books and musical recordings, and enriches the curricula of elementary, secondary, and university students. Its collection of more than 10,000 regional artifacts is especially rich in agricultural implements, logging and woodworking tools, textiles and transportation equipment.
The center is committed to public history, especially to interpreting current academic studies of Appalachia to the public. Its programming highlights traditional music and textiles and the history of Appalachia. Some of that programming has been adopted by the Smithsonian Institution and the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. Major research exhibits have examined the Scotch-Irish, handicrafts, and mountain trout. Mountain Heritage Day, an annual presentation of traditional mountain culture, is a fall festival that attracts tens of thousands of visitors. The Special Collections unit of Hunter Library at Western Carolina University houses a collection of materials related to the cultural and natural history of southern Appalachia. (Used with permission of The University of Tennessee Press from the forthcoming book, The Encyclopedia of Appalachia.)