Highlands Museum offers an entertaining education

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 18, 2004

ASHLAND, Ky. - Most visitors to the Highlands Museum & Discovery Center quickly find out that learning can be fun, too.

"We are a history museum and a discovery center, so our goal is to entertain and educate," said Nancy R. Smith, executive director. "We have the history education for adults so they can go around and read the cards to learn. The children can see things that they can touch and do to get the same thing."

Celebrating its 20th year, the museum hosts more than 20,000 visitors each year. Many of these are children from 128 schools across the Tri-State.

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The museum has three focuses - heritage education, community collections and cultural tourism.

The Highlands features several permanent exhibits that focus on local themes, including country music heritage, a Lionel train collection, native American history, a one-room schoolhouse, World War I and II from a local perspective, area industry of the past and much more.

The Discovery Center is the museums' most popular attraction - at least as far as the younger crowd is concerned.

The vibrantly colored playroom features several educational but fun displays that include an aviation exhibit with a flight simulator, a miniature Poage's Landing town that teaches about living along the Ohio River and the Little Joe exhibit that was once a working tug boat.

"The Discovery Center is about learning through exploration," operations manager Lynne Marsh said. "Hands-on is important to kids learning. They need to play to learn."

Lisa Johnson, originally of Ironton and now a Raceland, Ky., resident, brings her two children to the museum at least twice a month.

"The museum is fabulous, absolutely wonderful," Johnson said. "There are so many activities for them to do. They look forward to it."

Even with so much to see and do, 3-year-old Alyson Johnson did not have too much trouble choosing her favorite attraction.

"I like the choo-choo the best," she said with a smile.

The museum opened a new exhibit Friday as part of its seventh annual Black History Month celebration that will get into full swing with several free events scheduled throughout February.

This year's black history program, entitled "Building on the Heritage" features the "Play Ball! The Achievements of African-American Athletes" exhibit that displays photographs and memorabilia from the collection of John Carpenter, a Firebrick, Ky., resident who holds the world record for the largest private sports collection.

Carpenter loaned the museum a wide variety of items from his massive collection, including a jersey signed by Karl Malone, a football signed by O.J. Simpson, autographed pictures from Satchel Paige, Mohammed Ali and much more.

James Hall of Grayson, Ky., visited the museum Friday for the first time and was impressed with the exhibits.

"I just came in to look around. I am about as old as some of this stuff," the 58-year-old said. "It is really interesting and I may have to bring my son down."

Without a doubt, Carpenter said he is extremely excited about sharing these pieces with the Tri-State.

"It don't matter which religion or race you are. I know these people are important," Carpenter said. "Some of these people didn't get a chance to play. They were unbelievable on what they could accomplish."

The celebration really gets rolling at 7 p.m., Feb. 6 with a performance by Haley S. Bowling who will portray Anna Mac Clarke, the first black woman in Kentucky to enlist in the military during WWII.

Noted author Frank X. Walker will present Affrilachia: Redefining the Literary Landscape at 7 p.m., Feb. 12. He will read some of his own poetry and works by Affrilachian poets. The I-Town Soldiers step team from Ironton High School will also be a part of the event.

Also part of the black history exhibit, two displays, "Postcards from Africa" and "Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame" will open Tuesday.

Children can take their own tour through Africa with a Discovery workshop offered Saturdays for walk-in visitors.

Children will have the opportunity to look at the animals, arts and landmarks of the continent.

The museum is located at 1620 Winchester Ave. in the former Parsons Department Store. Museum tours are available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and Mondays by appointment.

Admission is $3.50 for adults and $3 for senior citizens, students and children. Members and children under of 2 are admitted free.