The Museum of the Middle Appalachians: From the Ice Age to the Space Age

Hidden among the rolling hills and mountain peaks of Smyth County lies an unexpected experience inside the Museum of the Middle Appalachians. 

Aerial Photo of Saltville Valley.
Through time the history of the Saltville Valley has revolved around its vast salt deposits – evaporated residue from an ancient inland sea. Photo courtesy of the Museum of the Middle Appalachians.

So Much More than Salt

Saltville has a story to tell that surprises and delights history buffs and children alike. Experience that story at the Museum of the Middle Appalachians! Thoughtful exhibits invite visitors to step through the window of time “From the Ice Age to the Space Age.” Although the museum may look small, we recommend carving out 2 hours to fully explore. In total, the museum has seventeen natural and cultural salt related exhibits of Appalachian heritage and history.

Why is salt such a big deal, when it seems like an ordinary and mundane material found in the pantry? This is the question on most visitors minds before they enter the museum. Inside, visitors find that the unique geology of Saltville has influenced the area’s history for millions of years. The museum boasts full-size replicas of ice age mammals that roamed the region over 15,000 years ago. Other exhibits cover the birth of the American chemical industry, and the unexpected significance of salt to the area, and the nation.

Photo of ice-age animal skull on display at the Museum of the Middle Appalachians in Saltville, VA.
Numerous Ice-Age fossils are on display at the Museum of the Middle Appalachians. Photo courtesy of MOMA.

Hailed on Trip Advisor as standing alongside “the Smithsonian Museum of Art in Washington, DC…as one of the top museums in the entire country”, the Museum of the Middle Appalachians is a must see while visiting Smyth County, VA. For visitors who may just be passing through on I-81, you’ll be glad you carved out a couple of hours to check out this museum.

Although the museum is self-guided, it’s staffed by enthusiastic experts who welcome questions. They offer a living history of Saltville, often including facts about architectural styles of homes throughout the town and additional Civil War information, like where to get the best views of the battlefields while visiting.

Mastodon skeleton at the Museum of the Middle Appalachians
The main attraction of the Museum of the Middle Appalachians is this full-size Mastadon Skeleton on display.

Planning Your Visit

While you explore the excellent exhibits arranged by timeline, be sure not to miss the Salt Theater. Inside the small but comfortable movie theatre, video programs offer further exploration. Spend as much or as little time as you like, diving into the region’s history. Different videos cover Salt Works in the Civil War, Saltville’s industrial history and significance as a “company town” and the Well Fields. This ecosystem tis he area’s unique salt-water marsh located 400 miles from an ocean.

Looking to add to your visit to the Museum of the Middle Appalachians? Consider making room to explore the Salt Park, Well Fields, Walking and Birding Trails, and Civil War sites and fortifications. Level up your vacation by planning around one of the annual events in Saltville like the Labor Day Celebration, Paleontology Digs or the Woolly Day Weather Prediction event – where an animatronic Woolly Mammoth outshines Puxatawny Phil as the chief meteorogist for SWVA!

Photo of children digging for fossils in Saltville, VA. Photo by Bristol Herald Courier.
Photo of children digging for fossils in Saltville, VA. Photo by Bristol Herald Courier.

Choose Your Smyth County Adventure!

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