By Connie Denney
We all need something to look forward to, and May should provide some pretty good possibilities, right? As I write in late April, it’s not all sun and flowers outside.
Take heart! The month of May will be made merrier by the reopening of the Unicoi County Heritage and Clinchfield Railroad Museums, located on the grounds of Erwin National Fish Hatchery, Saturday, May 19. This annual event gets the ball rolling for the season, which extends through October, 1-5 p.m. daily.
Curator Martha Erwin works to ensure there are reasons to visit the site, even if you have been there regularly over the years. This year Saturday, June 2, is a big day. Excitement is in the air as Martha talks about plans for the publisher and editor of “The Jitterbug,” quarterly publication of the Carolina Clinchfield Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society of Bostic, N.C., to be the special guest for the Clinchfield Pride Celebration. Ray Poteat also sings with the Royal Quartet from Forest City, N.C., so there will be music, along with yarn-spinning by railroad men. The Jim Goforth Hall of Fame Award will be presented during the 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. event. A hot dog, chips and drink will be available for $5.
Martha’s current project is a shed being built to shelter a reproduction of the grill from Clinchfield No. 1, which will then be on display and available for community events. An antique road show and silent auction is on tap for July. It will be a fundraiser, more details to come.
Always looking toward the future, Martha has been involved with the Heritage Museum from its establishment in 1982, first as a volunteer, then as assistant curator before she was named curator. Expansion and improvement have been the theme all along the way, including the Clinchfield Railroad Museum opened in 2011.
Her memories of the place, though, go back to childhood. Church or school picnics were at the Fish Hatchery. She remembers “a few round ponds” built by CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) workers. At one time a pond held goldfish and one fish was given to each child. With her signature laugh, Martha said she went home with two goldfish, after explaining that she had a brother who couldn’t come.
“Many times during my childhood my eyes would focus on the superintendent’s residence known as Quarters No. 1. The Victorian house had a wrap-around porch that was surrounded by lots of maple trees. Back then it would have been beyond my comprehension to visualize that someday that very house would become our first countywide museum.”
Martha’s devotion to the museums is evidenced in many ways. Her interest in and knowledge of local history is a constant. Certainly, I’ve been known to refer a questioner to her, explaining her name’s Erwin, like the town. It doesn’t have to be a railroad question. That, however, is a topic close to her heart. Understandably so, as her grandfather, father and husband all worked for the railroad.
She’s also known for actually getting things done. Her passion fuels her success. It’s been said of Martha, if she asks you to do something, just go ahead and say “yes.”