JEFFERSON — In the early part of the 20th century, the Virginia Creeper was a primary attraction in Ashe County, and now it is the main attraction at the Museum of Ashe County History.
Thanks to a two-year project completed entirely by volunteers five years ago, a Virginia Creeper diorama sits in the far left room of the museum. Curator Don Long said, when the museum received the original seed money, he made an agreement with the Department of Transportation for one section of the museum to feature something related to transportation.
Long said adding an exhibit on the train was an easy decision, as the Virginia Creeper Trail was a key to the prosperity of Ashe County during the 20th century.
In order to complete the project, 20 volunteers rounded up materials and resources. Items were donated, gifted and some were bought with museum funds. Originally, Long’s idea was to set the entire project in the 1920s, the peak of the lumber industry in Ashe County.
Upon hearing from the volunteers that that idea could be boring, due to the lack of foliage in that time period, Long and the volunteers decided to show off four different areas of the county in four different time periods. From left to right, the diorama showcases Tuckerdale in the 1910s, Lansing in the 1930s, West Jefferson in the 1950s and Todd in the 1920s.
“It’s very interesting,” Long said. “When you point that out to people, if they’re not aware of it right away, it makes it more significant.”
The museum favorite is maintained by Charlie Earnhardt, who switches the engine, lubricates the model and cleans the tracks.
“It may be the most popular exhibit,” Long said. “For one thing, it moves. Lights, motion and sound are huge in any display in terms of attractiveness. Ashe County folks come in and say, ‘Oh, I remember that place,’ and ‘I remember when the train came by my house.’ There’s a real strong local attraction.
The attraction is not only a local one. Long recalled one visitor who traveled from Australia to check out the exhibit.
“This guy was a railroad model buff, and he had come to America with a specific intention of visiting railroad models,” Long said. “He heard about this one, and he came way out of his way, as you would have to coming to Ashe County, just to see that model. He was not disappointed. He was absolutely thrilled. He said it was one of the most detailed he had ever seen. Not the most elaborate, or the largest, but the most precise in its representation of the scenery, the buildings, the cars and the people.”
Whether from near or far, the Virginia Creeper Trail diorama is a classic piece of Ashe County history, and Long agrees with those who visit the museum.
“That model is just a gem,” Long said. “It is absolutely beautiful.”