Have you ever had a dream that you wanted to see come to fruition? That is the story behind Historic Collinsville. JoAnn and Glenn Weakly created Historic Collinsville after Joanne saw a need for children to learn about history hands on. Keith and I are honored we got to visit with this magnetic couple on a recent hosted trip to Clarksville Tennessee. Historic Collinsville, is located in nearby south Montgomery County. This recreated village/museum offers a glimpse into mid 19th century life.
The idea to start Historic Collinsville began when JoAnn was teaching the 5th grade. She had some students that flat out couldn’t read. Being married to a farmer, the two are tied to the land. When the opportunity came to purchase land in the 1960’s near their farmstead, they jumped in feet first. “It was 1960’s, and I thought I could save the world,” JoAnn said.
While maybe she couldn’t save the world, they have made a difference in their neck of the woods. After seeing a Walnut Grove Plantation in South Carolina, they got the idea to build a pioneer town. Here, people of all ages could learn how pioneers of the 1800’s lived. It was the pioneer drive and values that JoAnn and Glenn wanted kids to pick up and take home with them. Placing their settlement in the former town of Collinsville, in 1974, they started on their village. They opened to the public in 1997.
Keith and I met JoAnn at the visitor’s center. The center has a very special meaning to her because this cabin originally belonged to Glenn’s grandparents Newton and Savannah Weakly. Built in the 1830’s, Glenn’s father was born in the cabin back in 1906. The Weaklys have been married for 66 years. Glenn’s father became a minister, and JoAnn shared that he married the two of them.
“I was an accountant. Most of the buildings were traded, bartered, or a donation,” JoAnn said. She became an accountant when her former employer wooed her away from her school teaching job with an offer she couldn’t refuse. She has been educating kids ever since at Collinsville with the history onsite.
Historic Collinsville is comprised of many buildings. After enjoying the Visitors Center we headed towards the Irby-Bumpus Wildlife Center. A former slave house, the building displays both animals of Tennessee and animals of the world. Many of the animals play a role later on in the tour for children. It doesn’t hit the kids that these animals were what was for dinner until they see a menu from an 1879. On the menus are selections of animals, many include those that they just saw in the Wildlife Center! The menu represents the Maxwell House. A few items on the menu include rabbits, oysters, buffalo tongue, Prairie Grouse, Bones Wild Boars Head and more!
The Wildlife Center also has an extensive Native American collection of items all found onsite. Glenn explained, “This is the land where the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, Iroquois and Shawnee Indians traveled.”
Visitors will also enjoy the Vertrees tobacco barn from around 1870. Made of Chestnut, the Weaklys explain how the tobacco was raised and dried.
Keith was quite taken with the blacksmith shop. I really enjoyed the smokehouse. JoAnn explained, the Smokehouse was a very important building used to preserve meat for the whole family. Built in 1842, the saltbox inside is amazing. It is made from a 350 year old Tulip Poplar tree it is still intact. “To preserve meat, you would kill the hog, then scald it, then cover the hog with salt for 18 days, then hang it up and smoke the meat, JoAnn said.”
My favorite buildings were the cabins like the 1842 Lewis House. This two-room house is furnished in 1840’s period and housed 13 children! Then, there is the beautiful 1855 dogtrot Batson house. Built by Thomas Hatton Batson in 1855 for his daughter, this house is filled with beautiful furniture. Glenn and JoAnn designed the house to show one side set before the Civil War and the other side to after the War. There is also a school house, church and other buildings like the chicken house, and farm tools that bring this historic village to life!
Today, the ownership of Historic Collinsville is moving from JoAnn and Glenn to the County. JoAnn feels good about the upcoming change though. She thinks its time and this will allow their life’s work to continue. More children will have the chance to see Historic Collinsville down the road.
While the ownership is changing, many things are not. ”We will continue to live in our house which will become a life estate. It is a museum itself. I came from the mountains. I’m going to donate the furnishings. We hope to close by November 1st. The Bible says to use what gifts you have. We have been blessed from day one.”
We felt blessed just being in the presence of such generous people who share their time and talents. And I must say, they can do most anything.
Over the course of the day, I saw that JoAnn besides serving as a teacher, administrator and tour guide also plays the piano, works a loom and often cooks for guests. Glenn tends to the grounds and buildings and together they have filled them with period antiques that make the visit interesting all by itself! You feel the love that JoAnn and Glenn have for this beautiful place. Stop by, you will be glad you did. Historic Collinsville is open from May 15 to October 15 and for special events; check out the website http://www.historiccollinsville.com/aboutus.htm for details.