A! Magazine for the Arts

Music Museum planned for Marion, Va

November 11, 2007

-- This story appeared in the Bristol Herald Courier Saturday, Nov 10, 2007. --

MARION, Va. -There's too much history to fit it all in the Bristol Mall museum, so they're bringing some to Smyth County.

Appalachian Cultural Music Association officials announced Friday the organization will begin work immediately to renovate a building in downtown Marion for a Song of the Mountains Museum.

"We've got a good pattern and a good design, and we want to duplicate that here," Tim White, association president, said of the project that includes a museum and weekly performance stage showcasing the region's music.

"Basically, what we've done in Bristol [with the Mountain Music Museum], we do not charge admission to the museum, we do not charge admission to The Pickin' Porch, but we do pass the hat and ask people to give, and they do."

The plan is to refurbish a downtown Marion building that's fallen into disrepair for the museum.

"The Baldwin's building, it was a ladies' fashion shop. The name of it was Baldwin's," said Larry Gibbs, whose daughter and son-in-law, Susie and Joe Ellis, bought the building in 2003 and plan to lease it to the museum for $1 a year.

"We bought it because we own the front of the theatre and we own the front of the hotel [buildings on either side] ... we were trying to protect our investment and make sure that building was restored properly," Joe Ellis said. "When we bought it, we had no idea what we were going to use it for."

The Ellises have been active in downtown revitalization plans for several years and also are planning another museum in Marion ? one devoted to moonshine and motorsports.

While the Song of the Mountains Museum's centerpiece will be a guitar signed by country music legend Jimmie Rodgers, White said more than just the famous names of bluegrass and old-time music will be included, he wants to pay tribute to the unsung heroes.

"Ted Milhorn couldn't read or write, but he knew a thousand songs," White said of a Sullivan County, Tenn., native whose picture is kept in a shadow box along with his collection of harmonicas.

"The people that are the unknowns of bluegrass music, in their day, they weren't unknowns. They were people that were very popular, maybe in their hometown, in their own community ... if it hadn't been for those people who did not become rich and famous off their music, in my opinion, the music would not have survived."

He said hundreds more artifacts are in closets and attics and under beds around the region, and should be recognized ? and the museum expansion will help make that possible.

Renovation work will begin in earnest after the holidays ? as soon as the music association can line up volunteers and donated building supplies such as flooring, paint, painting supplies and sheet rock.

"I'll be in there," said Marion Mayor David Helms, speaking of his intentions to help in the renovation effort. "I think it's a win-win situation for us."

"All this is geared for two things -one to bring in tourists and the other to bring in more retail shops," said town Councilman Ken Heath, who is also executive director of the Marion Downtown Revitalization Association.

With donated materials and volunteer labor, White expects the museum project to cost between $10,000 and $20,000, some of which the town and the Bank of Marion have already contributed. He's also seeking money from the county.

He said unlike in Bristol, where the existing museum will remain as a welcome center, people in Marion have embraced the project.

Song of the Mountains, which will lend its name to the museum, is a concert series held at the Lincoln Theatre, next door to the planned museum site, and broadcasts on public television. It features musicians from around the region.

"We're currently on 167 outlets across the country," said Sam Russell, who handles marketing for Song of the Mountains. "[We] just picked up all the PBS affiliates in Alaska."

Russell said he's been amazed by the phenomenal growth of a show featuring local people. Those working on downtown development projects hope to capitalize on the show's popularity to draw more visitors to the town.

White said the organization also has plans for a third museum in Kingsport, a project set to begin next year ? and to focus on the music heritage in Northeast Tennessee.


To donate artifacts to the museum or volunteer your time: call the Mountain Music Museum in Bristol at (276) 645-0035 or contact Tim White at (423) 323-7829.

To find out more about the Appalachian Cultural Music Association: www.appalachianculturalmusic.org

To find out more about Song of the Mountains: www.songofthemountains.org