published Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Region's museums inform, entertain and amuse

If somebody did it, somewhere there's probably a museum about it.

War. Peace. Art. Commerce. Cowboys. Indians. Sports. Music.

Even tow trucks.

It's a compelling human urge to study the history of any endeavor, gather up examples, put it all in a room and invite others to come see. And they do.

And if your idea of a museum is a stuffy place with old pictures on the walls and old ladies whispering "Shhh!" behind desks, you're missing a world of chances to be amazed and entertained.

• Learn about the nation's highest military award for valor at the National Medal of Honor Museum of Military History. Located inside Northgate Mall in Hixson, the museum is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

• See American artworks from various eras and genres at the Hunter Museum of American Art, located at 10 Bluff View on the Tennessee River near downtown. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. on Wednesday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday.

• Kids can romp and play while learning about science, history and more at The Creative Discovery Museum. Located at 321 Chestnut St. in downtown Chattanooga, the museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday

• The "Chattanooga Choo Choo" was only a song, but the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum recaptures the romance of trains. Located at 4119 Cromwell Road, visitors may call 423-894-8024 for tour and ride information.

• Want to know more about the world's major religions? The Siskin Museum of Religious Artifacts at 1101 Carter St. in downtown Chattanooga has pieces from Judaism and Christianity plus Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and more. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 423-648-1700 to schedule a guided tour.

• Begun as a way to preserve local black residents' contributions to Chattanooga, the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, at 200 E. M.L. King Blvd. in downtown Chattanooga, has expanded its focus to all of African-American heritage and culture.

• Most folks don't know that the tow truck was invented right here in Chattanooga. Learn who had that great idea at the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum. Located at 3315 Broad St., the museum's "Summer Hours" March 1-Oct. 1) are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. During the "Winter Hours, (Nov. 1-Feb. 28), it is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with Sunday hours being the same as in summer.

Source: www.mohm.org; www.huntermuseum.org; www.cdmfun.org; www.tvrm.org; www.siskin.org; www.bessiesmithcc.org; www.internationaltowingmuseum.org

MINING, MOTORCYCLES AND MEMORIALS

Museums throughout the four-state region celebrate history, heritage and service, plus pure enjoyment. Here are a few lesser-known destinations:

• Ducktown Basin Museum, Ducktown, Tenn. (www.ducktownbasinmuseum.com) Red ore pulled from the ground in Polk County, Tenn., made millionaires of some and provided tens of thousands of jobs, but at a cost.

Copper was mined between 1850 and 1987. Sulfuric acid, originally produced at the site for mining, continued to be made for other industrial uses until 2000. Acid rain, a byproduct of copper smelting, killed all the vegetation, fish and insects for miles around the mines and left a bare, reddish moonscape visible from space. A $100 million cleanup that began in 2000 has mostly healed the scars to land and water and is hailed as a model of cooperative reclamation between the landowner and EPA.

The museum, founded in a small building above the Burra Burra Mine in 1978, has photos of miners and their lives, mining implements and equipment. Many of the town's original buildings still are standing nearby, and you can look deep into the pit that produced millions of tons of copper.

• Veterans Memorial Museum, Huntsville, Ala. (www.memorialmuseum.org) Students of military history from WWI forward will find exhibits, vehicles and interpretive displays at the Veterans Memorial Museum.

The museum opened in 2001 in the former Huntsville Jail Annex. Though focused on 20th-century and later history, it has tableaus, artifacts and memorabilia dating to the Revolutionary War, the website states. It has more than 30 historical military vehicles as well as a reference library with official reports, oral and written reminiscences of soldiers and their families. Public demonstrations and living history events are part of the programming offered.

• Wheels Through Time, Maggie Valley, N.C. (www.wheelsthroughtime.com) If motorcycles are your bag -- especially American bikes like Indian, Excelsior and Harley-Davidson -- ride over to this private museum five miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

It bills itself as "The Museum that Runs" and says more than a half-million visitors have passed through its doors in its 11 years of existence. Exhibits trace the development of the first motorized bikes 100 years ago and the ingenious uses that home inventors and engineers found for motorcycle engines, plus specialized bikes from cop cycles to hillclimbers.

• Misty Mountain Train Museum, Blairsville, Ga. (www.mistymountainmodelrailroad.com) The largest privately owned 0-gauge railroad in the country, the Misty Mountain Model Railroad is a trip in miniature.

The 3,400-square-foot layout has a mile of track, with 12 bridges, four trestles and 15 tunnels. The 14 0-gauge Lionel trains travel on a "fantasy journey through the Southern Appalachian mountains," the website says, including Gainesville, Ga., Copperhill, Tenn., and Biltmore Estates in Asheville, N.C. There are photos, videos and displays of trains both antique and modern.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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