Last week, Julia Barham printed labels and rearranged cases for the Aug. 16 opening of a new Farragut Museum exhibit, “Timeless Toys.” The featured toys, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, are on loan from volunteers or are part of the museum’s extensive collection. Kids will giggle at what was considered entertaining back then, but grandparents will remember the toys fondly.
Julia is the town of Farragut’s historic resources coordinator. She started her job fresh out of college in 2008 and brought a level of professionalism to the museum that began as a collection of old pictures and vintage clothing pulled together for Gov. Lamar Alexander’s Tennessee Homecoming ’86 initiative. That temporary exhibit, assembled in the former town hall located in the dairy barn behind the Campbell Station Inn, proved so popular that it became the Farragut Folklife Museum.
In 1989, volunteer curator Mary Nell McFee learned of a batch of Admiral David Farragut artifacts for sale. David Glasgow Farragut was born approximately five miles from Town Hall and became the first commissioned admiral of the U.S. Navy. He’s best known for saying, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” during the Battle of Mobile Bay.
Museum volunteers raised $10,000 and the town chipped in another $70,000 to purchase the items, which included Farragut’s personal china, family photos and a large collection of scrimshaw. Eddy Ford, who was vice mayor at the time, drove to Washington, D.C., with his wife, Linda, to pick up the artifacts, and Linda oversaw the growing Admiral Farragut collection for several years.
In 1991, the museum moved into the newly-constructed town hall. A museum committee was appointed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to oversee the growing institution, and the committee’s dedication ensured that Farragut’s history would be preserved for coming generations. Mary Nell retired from her volunteer post in 1992, and Doris Woods Owens was appointed as volunteer museum director until she retired in 2008.
Julia, the museum’s first professional staff member, made major changes when she arrived. She updated the Admiral Farragut gallery and labeled and rearranged items to create a more accurate chronology.
The museum was renovated in 2012. A wall between the third gallery and the gift shop was removed to allow patrons to circle through the museum. A vignette space was added to the first gallery, and new flooring was installed throughout. Cases were sanded and painted, and new labels were created.
“Literally everything came out except the Admiral Farragut collection,” Julia recalls.
The name of the museum later changed from Farragut Folklife Museum to Farragut Museum. The modification better reflects the inclusion of Admiral Farragut and the Battle of Campbell Station artifacts.
“The Admiral Farragut collection is our biggest draw for people outside of this area,” she says.
The collection has continued to grow over the years and is now one of the largest in the country. In 2014, several more items, including an ammunition box and Marine Corps drum from the U.S.S. Hartford, Farragut’s ship, and the flag presented to him upon his appointment to admiral in 1866, were purchased at auction by the museum.
Another major change came in 2018 when a viewing gallery was created to show excerpts from “A History of Concord & Farragut,” a documentary commissioned by the museum.
“I feel like the museum is consistently evolving,” Julia says. “Every few years, we make a big change. It just keeps getting better and better.”
The Farragut Museum, located inside Farragut Town Hall at 11408 Municipal Center Drive, is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Admission is free.
Wendy Smith coordinates marketing and public relations for the town of Farragut.