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Pioneer Museum of Alabama

Grace London, Auburn University
Located in Troy, Pike County, the Pioneer Museum of Alabama is a 40-acre educational site devoted to teaching the public about the daily life of non-Indian settlers of Alabama in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The museum features 22 structures and numerous historic objects by which museum staff and volunteers recreate early Alabama life for visitors. The museum contains more than 25,000 artifacts and is one of the largest repositories of historic agricultural items in the state. Most of the artifacts are from the nineteenth century and reflect the farming life of many Alabamians of that era.
Troy University teacher and plant manager Curren Farmer formed the idea for the Pioneer Museum of Alabama in the late 1960s as a way to save old farm equipment so future generations could learn about their ancestors' lives. With the help of his wife, Margaret Farmer, a historian and author, and several friends, Farmer petitioned the nearby community of Troy to donate old farm equipment as well as land on which to exhibit it. In 1969, the Farmers established the Pike County Pioneer Museum and continued to accept donations of various agricultural artifacts, including tractors, plows, and other farming implements. During this time, the Gibson family donated land for the museum, and in 1971, the Farmers opened the Pioneer Museum to the public.
In 1972, Curren Farmer coordinated the move of the first log cabin to the museum grounds, expanding the museum's focus to include daily pioneer life. The Farmers directed the museum for 20 years and were integral in developing the museum's mission to teach others about the state's history. A board of directors was established and in the 1990s, approved a name change for the museum to reflect its expansion to include many structures that were not from Pike County. The board and the Farmers chose to refocus the museum's interpretation to encompass nineteenth-century Alabama pioneer life more generally and changed the name to the Pioneer Museum of Alabama.
The most notable structures in the museum's collections are its two cabins. The Dogtrot House, originally built by Thomas Madison in Pike County in 1830, is an example of a typical nineteenth-century pioneer home. The house has two main rooms separated by an open hall, or "dogtrot," that aided in airflow and cooling in Alabama's hot environment. The one-room Tenant House has wooden shingles covering the outside, and the interior walls are insulated with cardboard and newspapers, some of which date back to the Spanish-American War. It is an example of the type of dwelling used by sharecroppers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In addition to the cabins, the museum's collection of historical structures includes a church and a covered bridge from the nineteenth century.
The Pioneer Museum's Main Gallery contains four thematic exhibition halls that focus on historic farm equipment, textile arts, material culture, and southeastern Native Americans. The hall also showcases Alabama's involvement in the Civil War and World War I as well as life in Victorian-era Troy. A recreated farmstead exhibits a copper turpentine still, a sugar-cane processing mill, and period chicken coops. The site also includes a functioning nineteenth-century locomotive to interpret the effect of the steam engine on agriculture in frontier Alabama. The museum houses a stereoscope designed by Oliver Wendall Holmes around 1840. The stereoscope provided some of the first three-dimensional images and was important to developments in photography and the fine arts. The museum also has a horse-drawn jail and a "moon tree," grown from one of 500 seeds carried into space on the Apollo 14 mission in 1971 and then raised and planted all over the United States in 1976 as part of the national bicentennial.
The museum is heavily involved in Pike County events and offers many programs in conjunction with county festivities throughout the year. The museum hosts three annual events as part of its mission to educate the public about Alabama's pioneer history: Pioneer Days, Spring Plantin', and Old Time Christmas. Pioneer Days is a weekend event in the fall that includes demonstrations of nineteenth century chores such as woodworking, blacksmithing, rope-making, spinning, and quilting. In addition, visitors can attend Wild West shows, Civil War reenactments, and retellings of the "Legend of Davy Crockett." Spring Plantin' is a weekend event that is held in conjunction with the Pike County Master Gardeners Association. Museum staff plant a spring garden and the Master Gardeners host a spring plant sale. Staff and volunteers also host nineteenth-century games such as "whinididdles," "whirligigs," "Jacob's ladder," and "hoop and sticks" for children. Old Time Christmas is a winter holiday-themed event in December in which staff and volunteers demonstrate how Christmas was celebrated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Visitors can try hot chocolate made on a wood stove, roast marshmallows, sing Christmas carols in the church, and visit a holiday-themed gift shop.
The museum has a staff of approximately seven individuals overseen by an executive director and a 12-member board of directors. The facilities are available to rent for a variety of occasions.
Published:  September 14, 2017   |   Last updated:  September 14, 2017