Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center

Joined in August 2019

About Us

The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center opened in Townsend, Tennessee in 2006, dedicated to showcasing artifacts of the Native American indigenous people and European settlers who inhabited the southern Appalachian region. Artifacts of the Native American peoples dating back to 9,000 B.C. were curated by the Cherokee nation, and other local artifacts related to European settlers in the 18th and early 19th Century were obtained through loans from the National Park Archive, the McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee, and donations from private individuals.


The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center preserves, interprets and shares the history and culture of the diverse peoples and Native Americans who have inhabited the Southern Appalachians including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and offers exhibitions and programs for educational and cultural enrichment.   


The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit. The Center is overseen by a Board of Directors. 

 Physical assets:

The Center sits on 10 acres on the edge of Townsend, Tennessee. It is less than 1 mile from the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Adjacent to the Center is the National Park Archive and Collection Center, and there is an artifact sharing agreement allowing the Center to exhibit artifacts not seen previously by the public. The main building includes three galleries (Main, National Parks, and Proffitt’s Gallery for temporary exhibits), a Museum store, administrative offices, an auditorium which seats approximately 100 guests, two classrooms, a large archive, and a 500 seat outdoor amphitheater which hosts multiple concerts and festivals each year. The Transportation Gallery is a separate building with an attached “bus shed” which is also used as event space. A pending construction project will add another large gallery. Located behind the main building, the Historic Village features historic buildings representing structures common to mountain communities. Examples include a family cabin, cantilever barn, blacksmith shop, church, stagecoach station, and an authentic moonshine still. In addition to the Pioneer Village, the restored home of the founder of Maryville College sits near the property entrance.

Exhibits & Programming:

The Heritage Center is actively involved in providing hands-on educational opportunities for visitors of all ages, but with special emphasis on school children. Programs for children include, but are not limited to, demonstrations of pioneer living (hearth cooking, toys, using a washboard), using the atlatl (a Native American device used in hunting and battle), making corn husk dolls and simple clay pots, and pioneer games. All programs are managed by the full-time GSMHC Educator, are curriculum based, and include docent led tours of the exhibits. “Family Fun Days” present similar programs for summer visitors. 

The Proffitt’s Gallery is used for temporary exhibits. Recent notable exhibits include the Kentucky Rifle Association exhibit of guns from the Revolutionary War era, an exhibit of quilts by the Walker Sisters who were the last residents allowed to remain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and a collection of modern Cherokee pottery. 

The Transportation Gallery includes examples of transportation modes from horse drawn vehicles to a fully restored Ford “wagon” (a precursor of the pickup truck). 

Cades Cove Heritage Tours, a Heritage Center subsidiary, owns four tour buses, holding 14 or 18 guests and specializes in guided tours inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Revenue streams:

The Heritage Center has multiple revenue streams, including membership dues, event admission fees, special event sponsorships, sales in the Museum store, grants, large and small donors, and state / federal funding. The Guild holds one major fundraising event per year to support the Center. Cades Cove Heritage Tours (CCHT) provides guided tours of Cades Cove with a limited number of special tours to other significant historic sites in Tennessee, North Carolina, southern Virginia, and Kentucky. Some excursions include an overnight stay for guests. CCHT has served more than 6,000 guests in the past year. 

Strategic Planning:

A 3 year Strategic Plan was updated in mid-2019. The full Board participates in the process, as well as the Executive Director, the staff, and selected volunteers. The plan currently is focused on six areas: Board Development, Fiscal Sustainability, Marketing and Member Engagement, Human Resources, Facilities, and Exhibits. Board Members serve as Coordinators for each of the Goals, with additional Board Members, Staff, and Volunteers actively working on the action steps.

Community Description:

Townsend, TN is located on “the Peaceful Side of the Smokies.” and is a Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Approximately 2 million visitors access the National Park through Townsend annually. Located 40 minutes from Knoxville, 20 minutes from Maryville/Alcoa, 30 minutes from McGhee-Tyson airport, and 30 minutes from Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge which home to Dollywood and many other significant year-round tourist attractions.  It is convenient to shopping, entertainment, and the excellent medical services of both Blount Memorial Hospital (in Maryville) and the University of Tennessee Medical Center. There are multiple options for housing, including communities with the best of mountain living. Recreational opportunities include all outdoor activities. Both casual and fine dining opportunities are located within minutes of the Center. There is a very diverse artist community and an active Artisan Guild. There are multiple churches in the area. Maryville and Alcoa boast the two most highly rated school systems in the state, and the Blount County Library is one of the leading libraries in the state. 

Townsend is a community of families with deep roots in the history of the area. Many of the residents are descendants of families who came through the Cumberland Gap to find new opportunities in Tennessee. The history of Townsend is entwined with the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These families have proved to be valuable resources in the development and support of the Heritage Center.

The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center opened in Townsend, Tennessee in 2006, dedicated to showcasing artifacts of the Native American indigenous people and European settlers who inhabited the southern Appalachian region…

Issue Areas Include

  • Children & Youth

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