Centuries of history under one roof: The Knob Creek Historical Museum

Brandon Paykamian • Jun 11, 2017 at 4:33 PM

One of the best-kept secrets in town is the Knob Creek Historical Museum, a small two-story museum that holds centuries of history under one roof.

Located on 243 Denny Mill Road right off West Oakland Avenue, the property also includes a small cabin, which was built in 1765 by Charles Duncan, and is one of the oldest buildings standing in Northeast Tennessee.

The museum itself is full of artifacts and memorabilia that captures the history of the farmstead on which the museum and cabin is built upon. Many of these historical artifacts relate to the region and its inhabitants throughout the centuries, giving visitors an intimate glimpse into their lives.

Though most of the items cover a span of over 250 years or so, there are also some indigenous artifacts that have been found in the region after being left by those who inhabited the surrounding area hundreds of years ago.

The historical landmark, which has been open for visitors since last week, is now available for anyone who wishes to tour the privately owned collection of family and community antiques during the summer season, which will last until Sept. 2. In the museum, visitors get to learn a lot about the area’s history.

George Holley, one of the curators, restored the property years ago along with his wife, Margaret Sherfey Holley, with the hopes of sharing the rich history of the homestead and the surrounding community. The homestead and museum on which the property sits has been in their family since 1886 when Margaret’s grandfather, David Preston Sherfy, purchased the cabin and the 17 acres surrounding the cabin.

Margaret’s father, John, who changed the spelling of the family name, also built additions to the Duncan Cabin in the years following.

Perhaps one of the most interesting additions to the museum are the antiques in the “war room,” which includes just about everything from every war the United States has been involved in, as well as personal effects and information related to the many veterans from the region who served in those conflicts.

As George showed the antiques, he described the pictures of veterans and conscientious objectors who lived around the area.

After turning the lights on, he revealed a room that included all of the old uniforms, weapons and other antiques related to U.S. conflicts spanning from the Civil War to the Persian Gulf.

George, who has a particular personal interest in military history, graciously allowed visitors to view the artifacts right after working on the farm outside of the building.

“Over here, we have some guns from the Spanish-American War,” he said.

“And here are some pictures of the veterans that lived here. Over there, we have the pictures of all the conscientious objectors — we used to call them cowards, though,” he added laughing.

Next to the quilt room, in which there were beds and other household items dating back to the early 1800s, there were also more antiques dating back to the time right after the Civil War.

“These are the real carpetbags that the carpetbaggers used to bring when they came down after the Civil War,” he said.

Interestingly, the history of the property, which weathered many conflicts and perilous times throughout American history, was also directly involved in conflicts with the original inhabitants of the area, according to Sherfy family legend.

The trap door inside the cabin is said to have been a place for the Duncans to flee to the cellar during attacks. It was here that the Holleys found materials for making musket balls when they first started restoring the property.

The museum includes other antiques and artifacts, including furniture from throughout the ages, handmade artifacts and other antiques such as old tools. Many of these tools, which date back centuries, were used for various things, including the farm work George now does with modern equipment.

Community contributions to the museum include the hand-pieced quilts and personal effects of the late Pearl Bowman of Jonesborough, John Martin’s collection of Native American artifacts, Marcella Epperson’s antique farm equipment and Gilbert Hodge’s woodworking tools.

The caboose was purchased from CSX Railway by George, whose family has four generation of railroaders, including his son, Keith, the present-day manager of East Tennessee Railway.

The majority of its memorabilia was donated by Keith and Blanche Holley Martin, a former freight agent for CSX.

A personal note from George and Margaret on their brochure reads:

“Interest in the ‘old ways’ is dwindling. The history of this area is being scattered across the country as families are moving away, taking with them family heirlooms and antiques. What we are attempting to do is give a home to the artifacts that are left in the area, displaying them for those who still hold an interest in their own heritage.”

For people who are interested in viewing this heritage, call 423-282-1165 to book a tour for this summer season.

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