Past Exhibits

Unearthing Our Forgotten Past: Fort San Juan



“Unearthing Our Forgotten Past: Fort San Juan” was developed as part of the celebration of the 450th anniversary of the Juan Pardo expeditions. Several decades ago, archaeologists identified a site near Morganton as the location of Joara, one of the largest Native American towns in what is today Western North Carolina. Joara was occupied from approximately 1400-1600 A.D. Two Spanish expeditions (led respectively by Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo) visited the town in the 1500s. The Pardo expedition was part of a larger effort to establish a string of forts from the coast of present-day South Carolina to Mexico.

In 2013, archaeologists confirmed that Joara was also the site of Fort San Juan, established by Pardo in 1567, nearly 20 years before the English settlement at Roanoke on the coast of North Carolina and 40 years before the settlement at Jamestown. Through various artifacts uncovered by the archaeologists, the exhibit showcases the Spanish occupation of Fort San Juan and the lives of the native people who lived in the Joara area. The exhibit is on loan from the Exploring Joara Foundation Inc. Exploring Joara engages the public in archaeology in the Carolinas, and emphasizes the discovery of the Native American town of Joara and Fort San Juan.

When All God’s Children Get Together: A Celebration of the Lives and Music of African American People in Far Western NC

Curated by Ann Miller Woodford & the Mountain Heritage CEnter at Western Carolina University


“You can hear an old record playing: ‘When All God’s Children Get Together by Minister Keith Pringle.”  

That’s the sound of the gospel song, “When All God’s Children Get Together” playing as part of an exhibit at the Western North Carolina Historical Association in Asheville.  The exhibit is based around Ann Miller Woodford’s book by the same name.  Published in 2015, it chronicles Black history in what she calls, “the far west” of North Carolina – counties west of Asheville. The book includes over 600 pages of photographs, memories and research about local Black churches, families, and the region. 

North Carolina in the Great War

Curated by NC DePT. of cultural resources, mountain heritage center, and WNCHA


The exhibit is on loan from the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and has been supplemented with artifacts from the Smith-McDowell House collection telling the stories of local men and women from western North Carolina who put their lives on the line in service to their country.  

The exhibit seeks to put the local men and women who served in context with the larger events happening in North Carolina, the United States, and the world. In the exhibit, visitors will find displays and interactive elements telling the stories of just a few of our hometown heroes.

View the supplementary virtual exhibit 1918 vs 2020 curated by WNCHA.
In the midst of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, we take an in-depth look at the 1918 influenza epidemic in Western North Carolina through newspaper clippings, advertisements, ephemera, photographs, and oral history and place the events of 1918 into context with our present-day response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Infused in History: A Tea Exhibit

Curated by Lynn Karegeannes & LISA WHitfield


Tea has a long and storied history. “Infused in History: A Tea Exhibit” presents a series of vignettes from this exciting history of tea.

Tea was introduced to America in the 1640s, approximately two hundred years before the Smith-McDowell House was built. Tea was brought to the American colonies by the Dutch. In the 1600s and 1700s tea was sourced from China first by the Dutch and then British East India Companies. It became an established fixture in early American upper-class households. In this era, it was an expensive, luxury product and out of reach of the common American colonist.

Historical events affected the consumption of tea in the colonies. For example, the Tea Act of 1773 imposed by King George III raised the price of tea and caused a sharp decline in tea drinking for both economic and political reasons. Tea consumption in America increased once again after the War of Independence as American merchants imported tea directly from China.  By the mid-1800s, merchants in the United States were importing tea from newly-established gardens in India. By the century’s end, America was drinking green tea from Japan and black tea from the island of Ceylon as well.  

Tea drinking remained primarily an upper class habit in the early 1800s. The residents of the Smith McDowell House, well off themselves, were certainly influenced by tea’s popularity among their economic class in that time. By the century’s end, tea had become more readily available to all social and economic classes in this country, and no doubt continued to be a fixture in the parlors of this historic home.

Douglas Dobell Ellington: Asheville’s Boomtown Architect

Curated by John Turk


Asheville’s economic and building boom of the 1920s created a rarified atmosphere unique within Western North Carolina.  Douglas Ellington is known as the architect who changed Asheville into an Art Deco showplace. With his ability to combine architectural styles he produced a series of one of a kind buildings—buildings which changed the face of Asheville—the City Building, Asheville High School, First Baptist Church and S&W Cafeteria. Douglas Ellington: Asheville’s Boomtown Architect presents a look at his iconic Asheville creations along with other buildings he completed throughout his career in other cities.

HillBilly Land: Myth & Reality of Appalachian Culture

Curated by Dan Pierce


Hillbillyland explores the power, prevalence, and persistence of the hillbilly stereotype from the days of its beginnings in the late 19th century to the present day. The exhibit takes a unique approach by focusing on photography featuring the people of the region, some of them stereotypical images, combined with poetry and short prose pieces that challenge and complicate these stereotypes.