Please welcome guest authors Carolyn Warnock and Emily C. Roush. Warnock has been the Curator of Vintage Clothing and Quilts at the Highlands Museum & Discovery Center in Ashland, KY for the past 16 years. She is also a member of the museum’s Board of Directors and has served as its president in the past. Roush is the museum’s Education and Marketing Director. She has a bachelor’s in history and a master’s degree in public history from Wright State University.
September is always a busy month at the Highlands Museum & Discovery Center in Ashland, KY. Back-to-School is in full force, filling the museum with children on fall field trips. Staff members and volunteers work endlessly at planning and preparing for fall and winter holiday events. Yet this September is special because it is the Highlands Museum’s 30th birthday.
In the early 1980s the Tourism Committee of the Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce decided the city needed a museum to represent the local history of Ashland and its surrounding area. The Kentucky Highlands Museum Society, Inc. was incorporated in the early 1980s and found its first location in the landmark Mayo Manor, a house in Ashland’s historic residential district. A team of volunteers assembled the first exhibits, which included Native American artifacts, aviation history, the 1937 flood, and local industry. The Kentucky Highlands Museum officially opened its doors on September 16, 1984.
The museum moved to its current home in the former Parsons Department Store building, opening on September 19, 1992. It broadened the scope of its original mission and focus on historical exhibits to also include interactive educational activities for children. In 1999, the museum formally adopted its current name, “Highlands Museum & Discovery Center, Inc.,” to reflect this expanded vision. The addition of the Discovery Center and inclusion of educational activities attracts school groups from throughout the tri-state region of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia.
The museum completed a successful capital campaign in 2005, raising money for a major redesign of the 20,000 square feet of the space that the Museum occupies on the lower level, first floor, and mezzanine of the building. This support from the community funded major renovations, including new floors, expansion of the Museum’s chronological and thematic exhibits, refurbishment of the Discovery Center on the lower level, and development of the mezzanine area into additional space for the exhibition of the museum’s burgeoning collections.
On November 15, 2013, the Museum purchased the Parsons building from its landlord. The purchase, termed “A New Beginning,” represents a milestone in the Museum’s history because it opens opportunities for additional improvements and expansion onto other floors of the building. This theme of new beginnings is highlighted in the museum’s latest exhibit.
“A New Beginning: the Highlands Museum is 30!” chronicles the museum’s journey over the past three decades. Carolyn Warnock, Curator of Vintage clothing, created the exhibit with the mission of highlighting the best of the Highlands Museum & Discovery Center’s collections.
Vintage clothing is Warnock’s specialty — she had to resist the urge to make “A New Beginning” a clothing exhibit. She made an effort to really examine the artifacts to find special treasures that represent all areas of the collections. For example, the museum has an extensive collection of sports memorabilia from local schools.
“A New Beginning” features a football helmet from the 1920s and a 1960 varsity letter sweater from Ashland High School, located in Ashland. She also included popular items from past exhibits, such as a collection of political campaign buttons that spans over 100 years, a Victorian era travel chest, and a 1920s raccoon fur coat.
“A New Beginning” also features items from the Seatons and Poages, two of Ashland’s most prominent historical families. Artifacts donated by a descendent of the Seaton family make up over half the museum’s vintage clothing collection. The exhibit includes three pieces from the Seaton family: a purple velvet dress from 1870, an 1890 portrait of three Seaton children, and the dress worn by Isabella Seaton in the portrait.
The Poages are the founding family of Ashland, with the first members settling the area that would eventually become Ashland in 1796. Warnock chose the Poage family bible and a portrait of Anna Quinn Poage to represent the founding family of Ashland.
Military history is a major part of the Highlands Museum’s collections, as well as a highlight of many special events. A large portion of the museum’s mezzanine is devoted solely to military exhibits. Warnock chose a 1904 United States Army Uniform to represent this portion of the museum’s collections.
Country music is one of the cornerstones of the Highlands Museum’s heritage. One of its most well-known permanent attractions, the Country Music Heritage Hall, contains exhibits of famous musicians from towns located on the portion of US Highway 23 in eastern Kentucky designated as the “Country Music Highway.” One of the most famous country music artists on display is Ashland native Naomi Judd. Besides the myriad items she has donated to the museum, Judd loaned the red dress and shoes she wore for the 1988 American Country Music Awards for the museum’s birthday exhibit.
In addition to pieces representing different themes in the collections and permanent exhibits, Warnock also included some of museum’s most unique artifacts. One such item is a trophy presented by the National Cleanup and Paint Campaign to the City of Ashland in 1929 for being the “cleanest town in Kentucky.” A hat and its box purchased in the 1960s from Parsons Department Store, the building that would later become the museum’s permanent home, are on display as well. The exhibit also includes the museum’s oldest artifact, a pre-Revolutionary War box, and its most recent acquisition, a 1910 mourning hat.
Serving as the backdrop for the exhibit is a detailed timeline comprised of panels that share important milestones and developments in the Highlands Museum’s history, from its inception to the present.
School tours and educational workshops have started again. This September begins more than just the busy back-to-school and holiday seasons. The museum just held its annual Attic Sale fundraiser during Ashland’s Poage Landing Days festival. Now staff members are busy preparing for its highly anticipated “Dining with the Past” event, a walking tour of the historical Ashland Cemetery held on October 18.
Over the past three decades the Highlands Museum & Discovery Center has grown into a thriving institution housing over 9,000 artifacts and welcoming upwards of 25,000 visitors each year, and the its staff and volunteers look forward to seeing where the next 30 years lead.