The Tobacco Farm Life Museum has begun a push to attract more business from events and tour groups.
With funding from the state Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, the museum recently held an open house to showcase its exhibits and restored buildings. A number of other attractions and tourism groups set up booths at the event, including the Ava Gardner Museum, Benson Museum of Local History, Johnston County Visitors Bureau and Gov. Charles Aycock Birthplace in Fremont.
Local caterers were on hand with free samples of food, while area artisans demonstrated traditional skills such as quilting, knitting and basket weaving.
The museum has attracted lots of group tours in the past, curator Melody Worthington said, and it is now hoping to persuade motorcoach associations to add the farm-life museum to their itineraries.
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“We’re trying to get some bigger groups on site,” she said.
The museum also wants to promote its grounds as rental space for events, such as weddings, family reunions and birthday parties.
Founded in 1983, the mission of the Tobacco Farm Life Museum is to preserve and present North Carolina’s heritage of rural agriculture. Through live reenactments and a 6,000-square-foot indoor gallery of antiques and exhibits, the museum shows how many locals lived from about 1880 to 1940.
Outside are seven historical buildings, including a tobacco barn, one-room school house, blacksmith’s shop, pack house and a traditional homestead with a separate house, smoke house and kitchen.
The first open house failed to attract much buzz from its intended audience of tour group planners, but it quickly evolved into a pleasant reunion for locals and museum stakeholders. The threat of rain might have scared some people off, Worthington said, and she plans to make the open house an annual event.
“I would love to see this grow in future years,” she said.
The Tobacco Farm Life Museum pulls a lot of traffic off of Interstate 95, including a good number of traveling Yankees and Floridians who want to learn about rural Southern life. That tradition predates both the museum and I-95, said Rachel Thomas, who grew up farming tobacco less than a half-mile down the road.
Years ago, Thomas said, tourists driving between New York and Florida on U.S. 301 would often stop at her family’s farm outside Kenly. Those travelers wanted to observe their work, she said, and ask questions about the highly-specialized skills required to raise tobacco.
“We had a constant stream of visitors and tourists who were wanting to see us hand tobacco, and string the tobacco, and talk to us in the shade and see it growing,” she said.