The Appalachian Women’s Museum finally has a home to call its own.
Dillsboro town council members agreed Monday to lease a section of the historic Monteith farmstead to the organization, whose members have sought a brick and mortar place to honor the feats of Appalachian women.
Private land in Dillsboro might spare the historic Monteith House site from becoming home to a turntable for the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, part of a plan to return regular train service to this tourism-dependent town.
Kim Albritton, the railway’s vice president and general manager, confirmed railroad representatives will talk with private landowners about the possibility of using their land for a turntable instead of Monteith Park as originally proposed. That has not taken place yet, she said.
Without a turntable, engines must travel in reverse, pushing the train’s cars instead of pulling them, when making the return trip back to Bryson City after an excursion to Dillsboro.
Previous discussions had involved putting the turntable in front of the barn near the Monteith House. The old farmstead house faces the proposed turntable site just a few hundred yards away. It would change — if not stop — plans to renovate and turn the house into an Appalachian Women’s Museum. The museum would honor and recognize the contributions of Appalachian women to this region.
Dillsboro Mayor Mike Fitzgerald emphasized that town leaders had considered using the town-owned, historic Monteith Park as “a last resort” only.
That falls in line with stipulations from the state, which in 2004 gave Dillsboro $250,000 to help fund the park. State rules mandate the town must “explain in detail which sites have been evaluated and where they are located and why Monteith Park is the only alternative” for a train turntable, according to an email dated Feb. 24 received by the town from LuAnn Bryan, a consultant for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
If the requirement to use “all practical alternatives” is met and no other site is viable, the town does have the state’s OK to let the train use Monteith Community Park, according to the email.
The turntable would then be built on about three-quarters of an acre. In return, the town would offer up two acres, known as the Vanderwoude property, for recreational development, according to town documents. The town would be required to replace the lost parkland.
Dillsboro resident Emma Wertenberger, who is heading up efforts to turn Monteith House into a museum, said she and other committee members haven’t given up on the idea.
“We still hope to have a home at the Monteith homestead,” she said.
A long-range plan to create a museum highlighting the role and contribution of Appalachian women might be in limbo.
The Dillsboro town board last month informed representatives of the Appalachian Women’s Museum — which wants to renovate and turn the historic Monteith farmstead into the museum — that they were tabling, for six months, a request to sell or lease part of the property.
“That leaves us up in the air as far as securing funding for the project,” said Emma Wertenberger, president of the museum board. “We are considering options. We would like the partnership, but if it doesn’t work out, there will still be an Appalachian Women’s Museum somewhere.”
Dillsboro Mayor Mike Fitzgerald said he knows the museum group is disappointed by the town board’s decision, but that it might well resurface before the six-month stipulation has passed.
“They are looking at it still,” Fitzgerald said of his board. “They just don’t want it to keep coming up every meeting and taking up time.”
Additionally, the town board’s members are simply acting as good stewards of taxpayer dollars by carefully reviewing any possible legal ramifications of such a deal, he said. The group is eying 1.4 acres that comprise the core farmstead out of a total 16-acre tract.
The delay, in the short term at least, will hinder attempts to secure certain grants, Wertenberger said. The group says gaining title to the property is critical to secure funding to restore the historic farmhouse, which would house the museum.
The town of Dillsboro bought the Monteith farmstead in 2003. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places five years later.
By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer
Shoes stained with red clay mud and covered with sweat and bits of hay from a morning spent cleaning out the shed on the back of the Monteith property, Sam Hale leads a one person tour through the farmstead’s nearly century-old house pointing out artifacts along the way.