Skip to Main Content

Selected Artifacts in the Edna Lynn Simms / East Tennessee Sub-Collection

Artifacts from the Edna Lynn Simms Sub-Collection of the Appalachian Collection at Berea College, collected by Simms near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, 1915-1955, selected and described by Student Curator Brittney Westbrook

About the Edna Lynn Simms / East Tennessee Collection

The Edna Lynn Simms Collection consists of artifacts from an area around present-day Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This includes the historical communities of Cades Cove, Sugarlands, Little Greanbriar, and isolated homesteads in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Edna Lynn Simms of Knoxville first visited this area around 1915.  She was fascinated by the life of the people there.  She began to visit the area often and build friendships.  Concerned that the culture and history of these mountain people would be lost with the coming of the national park, she began to collect artifacts, stories, and figures of speech.  In 1931 she opened The Mountaineer Museum in Gatlinburg.  Her artifact collection grew to about 2,000 artifacts.  The museum operated until 1955.  

After Simms' death in 1961, her collection was given to Berea College.  The artifacts form the heart of the Appalachian Studies Teaching Artifact Collection in the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center as accession 1969.1.  This ollection is regularly used in College courses with over 200 students each year experiencing encounters with these artifacts.  Simms' papers are held in Hutchins Library Special Collections and Archives as record group RG81

This eclectic selection from the Simms Collection focuses on pieces to which individual or family names were recorded in Ms. Simms' records. Many of these names will be familiar to people knowledgeable about the history of that region, such as Ogle, Trentham, the Walker sisters, and Lydia Whaley.  Others are more obscure.

Chair 1969.1.997

This settin' chair was made by Caleb Trentham for Aunt Lydia Whaley. The wood is white oak. The seat is hickory bark.  Simms attached a typed paper label on the back of the chair with the text: "AUNT LYDIA WHALEY'S 'Settin' Chair' Made by Caleb Trentham. about 30 years ... [unreadable]".  This perhaps indicates a circa date of 1880-1890. 

Melon Basket 1969.1.506

This basket was made by Lydia Whaley and given as a wedding present to Tom & Sophie Campbell.  The form is a classic melon or egg basket.  The hoops and ribs appear to be willow.  The weavers may also be willow. 

Satchel or Medicine Bag 1969.1.10

This bag was used by Lydia Whaley as a medicine bag. Aunt Lydia Whaley was known as a healer.

Bottle 1969.1.590

The bottle was used by its owner, Aunt Lydia Whaley for the mixing and storage of home remedies.  In Simms' archival collection are recorded some of her home remedy recepies.  There is a residue of iron filings in still in the bottle. 

Sifter 1969.1.783

This sifter belonged to Lydia Whaley. The sifter frame is wood and the mesh is woven horse hair.

Shoe Last & Cobbler Hammer 1969.1.277 and 1969.1.341

These are Lydia Whaley's shoe last and cobbler's hammer. Simms' records indicate the shoe last was sized to fit Whaley's own feet, a single last working for both left and right.  The cobbler's hammer was used to drive shoe pegs, small wooden "nails" used to attached the sole of the shoe to the insole. 

Boot Last 1969.1.279

This boot last was owned by Isaac Trentham. It is hand carved out of solid wood.  It was not uncommon for someone to own a wooden shoe or boot last carved to the shape of thier foot.  The last could be use to make one's own shoes, or taken to a shoe maker who would make the shoes using your last.  It was also common to have a single last that would fit either foot. 

Splinter Broom 1969.1.540

This splinter or shave broom is attributed to the Walker Sisters. It appears to be marked in pencil with the initials "LW" possibly indicating it was made by Louisa Walker.  There were six well-known Walker sisters: Margaret (1870–1962), Mary "Polly" (1875–1945), Martha (1877–1952), Nancy (1880–1931), Louisa (1882–1964), and Hettie (1889–1947). These sisters never married, which was unusual for mountain women from that region.  They lived together on land their father deeded to them in 1909. In 1934 the land became enclosed within Great Smoky Mountains National Park but the sisters were given a lease to live on the land until the death of the last one.

The small size of this broom may indicate that it was made as a pot scrubber or that it was made as a demonstration or tourist item.  It may also have been made specifically to be given to Simms for her Mountaineer Museum.

Chest 1969.1.993

This chest belonged to Caleb Trentham.

Crock 1969.1.023

This one gallon crock was owned by Caleb Trentham. Crocks of many sizes were once ubiquitous in rural homes, used for food storage and fermenting, such as making sauerkraut.  

Saber 1961.1.922

This saber belonged to Dolphe Greene. The saber and scabbard are from the Civil War era.

Cradle 1969.1.981

This hand-made pine wood cradle was taken from the Giles Ragan Home.  The pair notches on each side of the top may have been where a rocking stick was attached.  

Cow Bell 1969.1.501

This cowbell belonged to Levi Trentham. At one time, on isolated Appalachian homesteads, cows and sheep were permitted to graze outside of pens and fences.  Bells aided in locating them.  

Splinter Broom 1969.1.541

This splinter or shave broom was made by the Walker Sisters. The Walker sisters are Margaret Walker, Elizabeth Walker, Martha Walker, Nancy Walker, Louisa Walker, Sarah Walker, and Hettie Walker.

Pail 1969.1.566

This brass pail belonged to Cecilia Owenby.

Dough Tray 1969.1.1

This was the very first Smoky Mountain artifact collected by Edna Lynn Simms.  It belonged Wiley Oakley (1885–1954) who claimed it was in his family much earlier.  The tray is hand carved from a single piece of wood, possibly poplar. A dough tray, also called a batter bowl, was used to mix in kneed biscuit, bread, or hoe cake dough.  It is like a combination of a countertop and a mixing bowl.  Flour, water, and other ingredients were put in the bowl and mixed, kneaded, and formed into loaves all in one place. After use it was wiped out and hung on the wall.  It is an efficient tool for a cabin with few clean, flat work surfaces. 

Lamp 1969.1.103

This glass oil lamp was owned by Steve Whaley. It is not a complete, missing both the burner, wick, and the chimney.

Favorite Mill Coffee Mill 1969.1.432

The grinding mill was owned and used by Caleb Trentham. This model can be found in the 1902 Sears catalog. Stuff to be ground, such as coffee beans, were placed in the top.  Turning the handle ground the stuff into to the drawer.  

Lamp 1969.1.101

This small brass oil lamp is belonged to "Grandma Ogle," most likely Martha Ogle.   

Broad or Hewing Axe 1969.1.493

This axe belonged to Noah Ogle. The broad head is a hand-wrought iron. The deliberately bent or offset handle is hand-carved out of hickory. Hewing axes were used for shaping or squaring building timbers, not for cutting trees or firewood.  

Gourd Trinket Basket 1969.1.557

Simms' records call this artifact a trinket box, but it may also have been a bird house.  It belonged to Aunt Mary Cole. it is made from a "birdhouse" gourd. Gourds were one of many common materials in Appalachia used to make useful and decorative items, such as storage containers, musical instruments, and birdhouses.  A healthy population of certain kinds of birds around a property reduced insect pests.

Grave Stone 1969.1.383

This is a portion of the original hand-carved gravestone for Sara Reagan Emert (October 18,1787 - June 6, 1855).  It was taken from the old "burying ground" in Emert’s Cove, now called Pitman Center, Sevier Co., Tennessee. This stone was removed by the family and replaced by new marble gravestone.  Sarah was the wife of Daniel E. Emert and the daughter of Timothy & Elizabeth Trigg Reagan.  

Wall Vase 1969.1.168

 	The wall vase is yellow in color with a green painted border. The vase is hand-made out of porcelain that has been decorated with a green and brown leaf design on its surface. The vase is irregularly shaped and is chipped on its top area. The vase is in fair condition.

Simms’ records indicate that the vase was removed from Tom Campbell’s grave. Decorating family graves with household objects, especially decorative items was a common practice in Appalachia. We don't know if Simms removed the item or the family removed it, but given her relationship with the local families we assume it happened with their permission. 

Letter Opener 1969.1.1201

This item, cataloged as a letter opener, is carved from a horn-like material. It is 11-inches long and has Java inscribed on one side.  It has a few chips and may have been chewed by a mouse.  Simms' notes indicate it was owned by Arthur Trentham, son of Isaac Trentham.  Arthur may have acquired it when he was in the Philippines with U.S. Army, ca. 1910.