The Catawba County Museum of History offers testimony to the hardy settlers of the Catawba River Valley and their resourceful descendants who carved a world-renowned furniture and textile empire out of the backwoods.
It is the story of the American Dream as perceived by the self-sufficient Scotch-Irish, German, English, and African peoples who followed the Native American trails along the Catawba River in search of a place to call home. The story is artfully displayed in the unique setting of the former Catawba County Courthouse, an imposing National Register Renaissance Revival structure built in 1924, on the square in downtown Newton.
The collections include agricultural tools and implements forged from hand-dug iron ore, and handcrafted household cupboards, wagon benches, beds, tables, chests, cradles, plantation desks, a firkin, and miniature furniture samples shown by “drummers” or early salesmen.
Closed Monday and Tuesday
We spent about 2 hours at the Catawba County Museum of History on a Sunday afternoon. My daughters (ages 11, 8 and 7) love to learn and enjoy history. They weren’t excited by the World War II exhibit the museum had when we visited but they couldn’t get enough of the two full-scale antebellum parlor reconstructions, the doctor’s office, the dentist’s office and the jail. They spent some time checking out everything in the court room and thought the spiral staircases were beautiful. The oldest is fascinated by weaving so she really enjoyed the gallery of looms and spinning wheels. “Oh, look at that!” and “Mommy, did you see…” were frequent phrases as we made our way through the museum at a leisurely pace. The Clinton A. Cilley Collection of Civil War items got a lot of attention, especially the field desk and surgical kit. A display case full of cameras was a fun stop. They really liked a tiny Japanese made camera. They were delighted to recognize some of the brand names on packages in the display of household goods that would have been available at a general store.
Hands-down, the favorite room was the Pioneer/Native American room where they could play with things. They tried their hand at grinding corn and played some instruments. This room was our last stop and they would have happily spent more time checking out the contents of the baskets. We left just ten minutes before the museum closed for the day and all 3 daughters want to go back.
The museum of history is a popular field trip destination for area schools. Two of my daughters had been to the museum on a field trip and shared bits of information they remembered as we walked through. They were happy to take things at a slower pace today and to visit rooms/areas they hadn’t toured with their classes.
As one might expect, this is not a place to take children who need to touch everything.
The historical settler reenactments are a key program at this small history museum, located in the former Catawba County Courthouse in Newton's Downtown Square.
The Catawba County Museum of History pays tribute to the brave settlers of the Catawba River Valley and their descendants who are responsible for establishing a world-renowned furniture industry.
The significant collections include agricultural tools and implements forged from hand-dug iron ore, produced by the area's Scotch- Irish, German, and English settlers. Handcrafted household cupboards, wagon benches, and other furniture items are on display.
You will also find military uniforms, including a British Red Coat from the Revolutionary War era, Civil War weapons, and other objects. The museum has also re-created antebellum parlors and an earlytwentieth- century medical office here. A gallery of looms, spinning wheels, and other items commemorates the area's textile heritage.