About the Monteith Farmstead and the ‘Sisters’
The house was built by Elias Brendel Monteith and his wife Mary Magdalene Carson Monteith. The couple had two daughters: Edna Corrine, born in 1908, and Edith Irene, born in 1915. Growing up, the girls’ lives focused on education, religion, farming, household chores, needlework and their pets. As adults, during a time when it was rare for women to live alone, the two sisters shared the responsibility of caring for the home place. Fiercely proud and loyal to their family heritage, they worked hard to preserve what had been left to them by their parents. Keeping the farmstead much as it had been when their parents were alive, the two sisters maintained a simple lifestyle.
Edith managed the house and farm while Edna served for forty-five years as the Dillsboro Postmaster. They tended their flower garden and made quilts and crafts to augment their income. In their later years, they managed on Edna’s postal service pension and by letting others grow crops on their land for half shares.
The sisters lived on the farmstead their entire lives. Together they witnessed and experienced the cultural impact of the Twentieth Century on their community: the growth of Dillsboro and Sylva, the construction of the county courthouse, the building of the Dillsboro Dam, the advent of electricity in the mountains, the activity of the railroad close by the farm, two World Wars, the depression, prohibition and the passage of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote.
After the deaths of Edith and Edna the executors of the Monteith Estate offered the property to the Town of Dillsboro for purchase in the hope that the town would agree to keep the property intact and preserve the farmhouse and outbuildings. In 2003, the Town of Dillsboro entered into negotiations with the executors of the Monteith Estate. With the assistance of a N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Grant and a $50,000 donation from Duke Energy, the town purchased the Monteith Farmstead and surrounding property which has been developed as a public park with fishing and picnic areas, a greenway along the banks of Scott Creek and other recreational facilities.
How the AWM began
In 2005, the Dillsboro Town Board appointed a committee, the Monteith Farmstead Restoration Committee (MFRC), and charged them with the task of finding ways to protect and restore the farmstead buildings. The MFRC recommended the establishment of the Appalachian Women’s Museum (AWM) as a way to preserve and share with residents, scholars and visitors alike, the buildings and the many artifacts found at the site. The Dillsboro Town Board accepted the MFRC recommendation and entered into a partnership with the Appalachian Women’s Museum, an all-volunteer, 501 (c) 3 non-profit corporation.
In September 2009, the AWM and the Town of Dillsboro was awarded a grant to restore the Canning House Kitchen and create Women’s Work: Preserving the Past, Educating the Future, a series of programs, demonstrations, and hands-on activities focusing on traditional canning house activities. The exhibit opened September 11, 2010.
In August, 2013, the AWM signed a lease on the Monteith House with the Town of Dillsboro. According to our lease, “If Lessee has shown significant progress toward fund development for the museum project or significant progress toward restoration at the end of the initial five (5) year term, Lessor shall deed the 1.14 Acre Acquisition Area to Lessee.”
After a fulfilling relationship with the Town of Dillsboro the Appalachian Women’s Museum has now been granted the deed to the property.
Through a series of grants, donations, and many volunteer hours, the house was stabilized and cleaned. The AWM’s attention turned to locating funding opportunities for the restoration of the farmstead structures and to create exhibits. Meanwhile, during Covid-19 the museum has pushed to have “virtual museum” since we were unable to open our doors during our usual May through October season in 2020. We have dedicated a portion of our time to creating a Mountain Life experience here on our website since we are unable to show off our physical exhibits. We also took this opportunity to show off some Behind the Scenes operations that our board and staff have worked on during the pandemic.