SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. -- The history of South Pittsburg has a home now.
The South Pittsburg Heritage Museum at 302 Cedar Ave. in the century-old Cameron-Patton Hotel building opened recently to rave reviews.
South Pittsburg Historic Preservation Society Chairman Bob Hookey said there was "quite a crowd" at the museum during the National Cornbread Festival and "we're still getting the word out to the community.
"You'd be surprised at the number of people who come to these small towns who want to come and look at the history, even though they may have no connection to the town," he said.
The historic society's members and some area residents have been donating items for such a museum since 2001, which Hookey and Secretary Carolyn Millhiser had been storing in their basements and attics.
"People just had things that they were willing to share," Millhiser said.
"Folks who have visited the town have always asked where the museum was," Hookey said. "We didn't have one, so we thought this was the next step to take."
The opening of the small facility comes on the heels of the recent reopening of the city's Princess Theatre, which the group had a major part in helping to restore.
"We're testing the waters for a museum," Millhiser said. "We're going to see how it goes. We don't want to get into another big project like the Princess Theatre right away. We need to catch our breath."
Officials said the museum quickly is becoming a repository for the town's historical documents, and in the future could be a research facility for the history of South Pittsburg and the surrounding area.
"A lot of the young people don't realize why South Pittsburg is the unique town it is," Hookey said. "They don't know about the early years, and how close the steel industry came to making it the Pittsburgh of the South. We hope they'll visit the museum to find out."
The wealth of items already on display includes advertising material from past businesses; an original World War I uniform that belonged to Lt. Albert Cook Jr.; a set of brass knuckles from Sheriff Ross Coppinger, who was killed in a downtown shootout on Christmas Day 1927; and a handbook about South Pittsburg written by W.M. Bowron, one of the city's founders.
The museum is open from 9 a.m. to noon CDT each Friday and Saturday, and admission is free to the public.
Groups may call 837-8327 or 837-8714 to set up an appointment to visit.
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.