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A Community Museum

The Tobacco Farm Life Museum was founded by a group of volunteers who felt strongly that the history of our community needed to be preserved and shared with others. That history was strongly tied to tobacco and farming. A rural area where farming has been the prevailing industry for most of its history, Kenly and the surrounding regions were beginning to change in the 1980s when the museum was founded. The Museum was founded to preserve our agricultural roots even in the face of change. Agriculture remains an important part of our economy and culture but today a lot fewer people grow up on farms or have firsthand knowledge of farming. The Museum seeks to share that knowledge with locals and visitors alike. Our mission is to preserve and present the history of the small farming families of North Carolina between 1880 and 1950.

We carry out our mission in a number of ways. One is of course the museum itself, which is usually open 5 days a week for self-guided tours of our 6,000 square foot gallery and 7 outdoor historic or reproduction buildings. Our indoor exhibits cover all topics related to the daily life of farmers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries including the process of tobacco farming, tobacco warehouse auctions, other crops grown in North Carolina, home life, technology and its development over time, tools, machinery, clothing, leisure activities, health, education, community gatherings and organizations, and more. Our 7 outdoor buildings bring history to life by exhibiting historical items as they might have appeared in the original buildings.

These historic buildings answer questions such as what would a homestead have looked like in the early 1900s, why might a kitchen have been detached from the house, why would a blacksmith workshop have been helpful to farmers, how did a smokehouse work, where did farmers do the work of preparing tobacco to cure, what does it look like inside a tobacco barn, and how were rural children educated in one-room schoolhouses. We use a collection of historical artifacts as well as the historic and reproduction buildings that we maintain to tell the stories of our community's past. Maintaining and caring for all of the artifacts and buildings that have been entrusted to us is a big responsibility and the support of donors and sponsors helps us to continue to do that work which is at the heart of our mission to preserve our community's history.

In addition to the daily operation of the museum's physical site, we also fulfill our mission to present the history of our farming community through guided groups tours, public programs, special events and outreach. Under usual operations we offer guided group tours for field trips, senior groups, and any other groups. With our field trips we offer hands-on learning activities including butter churning, candlemaking, heritage games, and artifact discovery. Learn more about our group tours here. We look forward to being able safely offer guided group tours in the future.

Our public programs include our Saturday series called Stepping into the Past. Once a month, live demonstrations or hands-on activities are included in regular admission. These demonstrations and activities keep traditional arts, crafts, and trades alive. View our Saturday Series Schedule for 2020 here. We are not sure what the future holds so please check in with the museum closer to any event you are interested in to find out if it will be held. The Museum remains closed for now and our May Saturday Series event has been converted to a virtual event. Our June event was in conjunction with the Endless Yard Sale and has been rescheduled for 2021.

Each summer we offer a low-cost summer day camp called AgCamp. Usually one week, 2020's plans include splitting the age groups into two separate week-long camps. This educational camp shares the history and present of agriculture in North Carolina. Campers learn about careers in agriculture and the various agritourism sites in our area. Plans are underway for this year's camp. Stay tuned to our website and social media for updates.

Two other special events our community members look forward to each year are the BBQ Cookoff and the Candlelight Tour. The BBQ Cookoff is a friendly competition that includes good food, family-friendly activities, and educational demonstrations. The Candlelight Tour opens the museum to the public for free for a festive evening of holiday music and touring our historic buildings by candlelight.

We pride ourselves on being a part of our wonderful community. We love our visitors, volunteers, vendors, demonstrators, farmers, and everyone that makes the museum what it is. We miss you all and hope you are all staying safe and well. As we look forward to reopening, we do ask that if you feel able, you consider supporting the museum. The Museum is a private non-profit which means we do not receive government funding and we rely on donations from individuals and corporations, admissions, gift shop sales, memberships, and grants in order to preserve and present our community's history. We are fortunate to have the support of our sponsors and members. If you would like to help us continue our mission in these uncertain times, there are a number of ways in which you can do so:

You can make a one-time donation. Any amount helps. Donate here.

You can also make a monthly recurring donation at the same link above. Just check the box to make it monthly.

You can join the museum's membership program which includes several benefits. Learn more here.

When you purchase an Honor or Memorials page you save and share a piece of local history, honor a loved one, and support our mission to preserve our community's history. Find out more here.

You can also quite literally become part of the museum by purchasing a brick in our Heritage Trail. Contact our staff to learn more about size options and engraving.

Finally, you can support us as well as many local artists and craftspeople by shopping in our online gift shop.

We hope once we reopen you will make plans to visit with us and attend some of our programming in whatever form it may take in the coming months. Until then, we hope our At Home Learning Resources help keep you occupied and engaged with our history. We enjoy sharing our past with all of our visitors, in person or from a distance!

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