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Going Places: Sycamore Shoals Interpretive Center takes visitors on stroll through history

November 4th, 2013 1:03 pm by Amanda J. Vicars

Going Places:  Sycamore Shoals Interpretive Center takes visitors on stroll through history

Eighteenth-century life meets 21st-century innovation at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton.

Visitors may now take an interactive stroll back through the region's rich history inside the site's new $500,000 interpretive center, designed to engage passers-through visually, audibly and emotionally.

The interpretive center, which opened June 28, 2013, is located inside the Sycamore Shoals Visitors Center and effectively 'interprets' the lives and conflicts of Cherokee natives and early European settlers to the Sycamore Shoals and Watauga areas between 1770 and 1780 by taking a unique, first-hand approach in telling their stories. 

The stories that people read are going to be about people that did something heroic or stories that we know that have been written down through time,? Sycamore Shoals Park Manager Jennifer Bauer said. ?As we put this together, we wanted it to be very much about this place, what we know of specific people throughout history and their contributions to the Watauga Settlement and to the Sycamore Shoals area.?

Distinctive characteristics of the interpretive facility paint a colorful and likewise chronological picture of the Sycamore Shoals region and the role its people played in gaining American independence. 

It includes museum-quality mannequins donned in traditional 18th century garb and accoutrements hand-sewn by Steve and Susie Ricker; four murals created from original paintings by Richard Luce; overhead sound effects; visual aids; audio representations of historical figures' perspectives of the monumental events which took place at Sycamore Shoals; and a theater, which shows a 15-minute film reenacting these events. They all work in collaboration to bring the past to life.

Upon entering the exhibit, visitors are met with the sights and sounds of nature as they read about the history of Sycamore Shoals before European settlement. As they walk further, they are drawn to the left by the room's thoughtfully-designed layout. Around the corner lies a parallel between two cultures; the Cherokee on the right and European (Spanish, French and English) settlers on the left. Both of their lifestyles and examples of their hunting and gardening tools are highlighted in this segment, demonstrating, Bauer said, ?the fact that they were culturally very different people, who were striving to live and work together amidst events in their lives that often made that challenging. ?

The next display explains the formation of the Watauga Association in 1772, the first democratic style government implemented by settlers on the continent.

?Every free man had a vote and [it]was signed four years prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence,? Bauer explained. 

Next, visitors arrive to a large pre-American Revolution map of North America where they learn about the key players and specific details of the Transylvania Purchase of 1775, the largest private real estate transaction in the history of the United States - 20 million acres of land were purchased from the Cherokee for 10,000 pounds of British sterling.

The room broadens as the interactive experience leads the guest to the portion of the exhibit dedicated to the American Revolution and past the talking figure of Dragging Canoe, the son of a Cherokee chief who violently opposed the sale of his tribe's land. Visitors will then step inside the front wall of Fort Watauga -  recreated from archaeological evidence - to the sound of battle heard above where they can read stories of brave women and men of the settlement. 

This room winds around to meet the final segment of the region's decade-long story. This part is dedicated to the Muster of the Overmountain Men at Sycamore Shoals during the American Revolution, their two-week march and subsequent victory against the British at the Battle of King's Mountain on Oct. 7, 1780. The battle is depicted by a diorama that was donated to the exhibit.

Bauer said following this portion visitors have the option to watch a short orientation film inside the Patriot's Theater. Interestingly, all the actors in the film are volunteers from past re-enactments at Sycamore Shoals.

The interpretive center took three and a half years to complete, Bauer explained. Architectural design was provided by Reedy and Sykes with exhibits design by Natural Concepts and exhibits construction by Essyx Design and Fabrication and Rainey Contracting. The design team at Sycamore Shoals consisted of Bauer herself, along with Herb Roberts, Jason Davis and Chad Bogart.

Since the summer's grand opening of the center, Bauer said the feedback has been nothing but wonderful.

?We've had the nicest comments and complements,? she said. ?It's something I hope everybody that lives in upper East Tennessee will be proud of because it tells the story of so many of our ancestors... These are our people; these are the people without [whom] we wouldn't be here in the first place. It's a wonderful thing.?

Sycamore Shoals is located at 1651 W. Elk Avenue in Elizabethton. The interpretive center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., and on Sunday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. It's closed Mondays. For more information, call 423-543-5808.

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