Murfreesboro Has A Great Natural History Museum

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Alan Brown welcomes everyone to The Earth Experience.
Tyrannosaurus rex
Alan Brown, he is holding a picture of more exhibits. Just not enough space to locate them.
Some stones look different under "black light"
Alan Brown, Executive Director
(L-R) William Jackson, Bart Walker and Alan Brown
Retired MTSU Mass Com Professor William Jackson

Did you realize there was a museum of natural history in Murfreesboro? The Earth Experience at 816 Old Salem Road is the only facility of its type in the mid-state. It's open Thursday through Saturday from 11:00AM to 4:00PM.

We asked the Museum's Executive Director Alan Brown about his dream of having this facility . . .

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It's the dream of MTSU Geosciences Professor Alan Brown, who loves fossils, and Lewis Elrod, who is deep into minerals.

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Local Exhibits

The public may not realize how many local prehistoric finds there are in Tennessee. One of the largest mastodon finds is in East Tennessee's Gray community. Plus, a few years back, it was learned that Murfreesboro's 20's era speak easy, The Black Cat Cave, was also found to have been inhabited by humans from the prehistoric ice age.

NewsRadio WGNS asked Brown if the Earth Experience was going to feature a Black Cat Cave display . . .

Black Cat Cave

Here's more on that unique cave that's near the Alvin C. York VA Medical Center here in Murfreesboro. Doctors Tanya Peres and Shannon Hodge, both archaeologists with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Middle Tennessee State University, are working with Aaron Deter-Wolf with the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, and members of the Native History Association in a collaborative effort to preserve, protect, and study the unique prehistoric and historic occupations of Black Cat Cave.

It was not unusual to use caves as public gathering places in the days before air conditioning. Keep in mind that a cave maintains a temperature in the mid-50's year around, even on steamy hot summer days and nights. One of the more popular ones was Dunbar Cave in Clarksville, where Roy Acuff used to entertain on a regular basis.

Dr. Peres advised that state of Tennessee records show that approximately 275 prehistoric sites are located in Rutherford County, the majority of which are in the Percy Priest Lake vicinity.

This number is markedly low compared to Davidson and Williamson counties, which have a combined total of over 1,300 registered prehistoric sites. Some believe the low number of sites in Rutherford County is because Native Americans did not physically live in this area in the centuries and millennia before European settlers arrived, instead using this area as a communal hunting ground.

In reality, there is much more to the story, but since Rutherford County is still largely agricultural, few archaeological surveys have been undertaken to identify and locate areas where prehistoric Native Americans lived. This collaborative project between the Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department, MTSU, and the TDOA may result in some re-writing of the county's prehistoric story.

Museum Founders

Alan Brown, Executive Director

Alan has always loved museums, growing up in central Illinois he would often visit the museums in Chicago. His favorite was the Field Museum of Natural History, although his early fondest memories of the museum were the archeology displays and not the dinosaurs. When he went to college and became a Geology major his interest was rekindled. He received a Bachelor's of Science in Geology from Illinois State University. He took all the classes available in Paleontology and considered pursuing a master's degree in Paleontology but decided to stay and get a Master's of Science in Hydrogeology because the job market looked much better. He worked for 8 years in the environmental consulting business. While traveling for work he would visit Natural History museums around the country and he collected fossils when he could. In 2006 he took a job teaching Introduction to Earth Science classes at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). MTSU had a small mineral museum, which later closed, and he volunteered there, giving tours and making displays. Around this time he joined the Middle Tennessee Gem and Mineral society and met Lewis Elrod and they often talked about how much they wanted to have a Natural History Museum in middle Tennessee. Mr. Brown also volunteered at the now closed Highlands Prehistoric Center in Cookeville, TN. There he met Jerry Jacene who invited him to come dig dinosaurs in Montana. The trip Montana was a pivotal moment and he promised himself that he would return to Montana every year for the rest of his life. In 2012 Mr. Brown went to Lewis and said "if we want a natural history museum we are going to have to do it ourselves." To which Lewis replied "I have been hoping you would say that, let's do it." In 2014 Earth Experience - The Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History opened its doors.

Lewis Elrod (1938-2016) and Anna Elrod

Lewis Elrod's lifelong passion for collecting minerals and fossils was matched only by his enthusiasm for sharing his interests with others. Anna, his wife, supported Lewis in his collecting of minerals for more than 40 years.

Lewis was eight years old when he first began his collection with crinoid stems (Indian money) that he found while visiting relatives in Oklahoma. He kept these fossils in an old coffee can. In college, Lewis enrolled in a craft class in which he cut and polished a blue tiger eye gemstone and several other pieces he had collected. After he and Anna married, Lewis began making jewelry for her and, with her help, began acquiring interesting and unusual minerals found both locally and worldwide. Their collection gradually grew from a few crinoid fossils in a small tin can to a barn full of boxes of minerals collected over the years. Lewis founded the Mid-Tennessee Gem and Mineral Society in Murfreesboro in 1978 and served as the club's first president. While looking for ways to build public interest in the club and hobby, he became aware of the beautiful minerals found at the Elmwood Mine in Carthage. He contacted the mine operator and was loaned several nice specimens to show at club meetings. He was fascinated by these beautiful minerals and began extensive research about them. He also began acquiring many specimens from Elmwood to add to his personal collection. Some of his Elmwood and other specimens are on display here in the museum.

Lewis had always dreamed of starting a natural history museum. His dream took shape in 2012 when he and Alan Brown founded "Earth Experience the Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History." Shortly after the museum moved into its current facility in early 2014, Lewis and Anna purchased an unassembled cast of the Fort Peck T. rex dinosaur skeleton. The museum opened to the public in September 2014 and their T. rex dinosaur went on display in October 2015. Lewis was the first president and chairman of the board of the Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History. Lewis passed away in 2016.

The museum's "Hall of Minerals" is named after Lewis and Anna in honor of their dedication to and passion for sharing their love of natural history with the residents of Middle Tennessee.

The Earth Experience

Visitors are surprised at the professional quality of the Earth Experience Natural History Museum . . .

Again, the Earth Experience, natural history museum, is located at 816 Old Salem Road. It is a few blocks from Mayday Brewery on one side, and a block from UPS on the other. Admission is $7 for age 12+, $3 for ages 4-11, and free for those age 4 and younger. Check their website: www.theEarthExperience.org.

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816 Old Salem Road, Alan Brown, Murfreesboro, natural history museum, The Earth Experience, WGNS
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