The History Museum of Burke County

Updated: April 2019


Going Back in Time

Located in Morganton’s former City Hall, a contemporary building from the 1960s, The History Museum of Burke County sports a collection of over 20,000 artifacts, ranging from the American Revolution (1765-1783) to the mid 20th century. Guided tours are available.

The museum’s impressively large and passionately curated collection is spread over 22 rooms, several of which recreate typical town-life settings from the 20th century, such as the Burkmont Hotel’s barber shop, Vivian’s Beauty Parlor, Dave’s Café as well as the offices of an optometrist and a dentist.

Other rooms are dedicated to historical military artifacts or fashion from a long gone-by era, furniture from the 1930s, old telephones, typewriters, and slot machines. A hallway is lined with historical maps and drawings, and the basement exhibits moonshine equipment.

Most of the artifacts on display have been donated from private collectors, such as the hundreds of scale model airplanes, which were enthusiastically built by a U.S. Air Force retiree and then donated to the museum.

The History Museum of Burke County also operates the Railroad Depot and Museum.


Offering visitors a glimpse in the distant and not so distant past,  The History Museum of Burke County  displays over 20,000 artifacts spread over 22 rooms on two levels. The museum is grouped by major historical events and by themes, such as the original  W. H. Parker Dentist Office  from the early 1940s. Dr. Parker practiced dentistry in Valdese NC for more than 45 years.

Offering visitors a glimpse in the distant and not so distant past, The History Museum of Burke County displays over 20,000 artifacts spread over 22 rooms on two levels. The museum is grouped by major historical events and by themes, such as the original W. H. Parker Dentist Office from the early 1940s. Dr. Parker practiced dentistry in Valdese NC for more than 45 years.

Another room features  Vivian’s Beauty Parlor  from the 1950s with a vintage electric perm machine (pictured on the right).

Another room features Vivian’s Beauty Parlor from the 1950s with a vintage electric perm machine (pictured on the right).

The  Children’s Room  displays toys, clothing, and furniture ranging from the 1930s through to the 1970s.

The Children’s Room displays toys, clothing, and furniture ranging from the 1930s through to the 1970s.

The  Burke County Agriculture Room  in the basement pays tribute to Burke County’s past when farming was the bedrock of the economy. It was only in the late 1800s when the emerging textile and furniture industry offered residents other ways to earn a living outside of farming. The picture shows the exhibit of Dr. Dennis R. Donahue, the first professionally trained and licensed veterinarian, who practiced in Burke County from 1948 to 1982.

The Burke County Agriculture Room in the basement pays tribute to Burke County’s past when farming was the bedrock of the economy. It was only in the late 1800s when the emerging textile and furniture industry offered residents other ways to earn a living outside of farming. The picture shows the exhibit of Dr. Dennis R. Donahue, the first professionally trained and licensed veterinarian, who practiced in Burke County from 1948 to 1982.

Although illegal and dangerous to produce, “moonshining” was still a lucrative occupation 50 years ago. On display is the “moonshine” equipment confiscated by the Burke County Sheriff during a raid in 1967.

Although illegal and dangerous to produce, “moonshining” was still a lucrative occupation 50 years ago. On display is the “moonshine” equipment confiscated by the Burke County Sheriff during a raid in 1967.

The museum is home to many extensive collections, which were donated by Burke County residents. Featured here is the collection of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts memorabilia including badges and uniforms from the 1930s through to the 1970s.

The museum is home to many extensive collections, which were donated by Burke County residents. Featured here is the collection of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts memorabilia including badges and uniforms from the 1930s through to the 1970s.

The Forney Store  is based on a real general store that was located in downtown Morganton around the early 1900s. It sold a wide variety of items including groceries, canned goods, household goods, and tobacco. These types of stores also sold animal feed to farmers, who in turn sold their dairy products, poultry, and meat at the store, providing them with a valuable connection to the outside world.

The Forney Store is based on a real general store that was located in downtown Morganton around the early 1900s. It sold a wide variety of items including groceries, canned goods, household goods, and tobacco. These types of stores also sold animal feed to farmers, who in turn sold their dairy products, poultry, and meat at the store, providing them with a valuable connection to the outside world.

The  Camera Room  showcases a collection of vintage cameras covering almost 100 years of photography equipment from the late 1800s through to the 1980s.

The Camera Room showcases a collection of vintage cameras covering almost 100 years of photography equipment from the late 1800s through to the 1980s.

Another room shows the office of  DeVere & DeVere Optometrists , who opened the practice in Morganton in 1940 and served the area for over 30 years.

Another room shows the office of DeVere & DeVere Optometrists, who opened the practice in Morganton in 1940 and served the area for over 30 years.

On the main floor, an area is dedicated to wartime memorabilia and personal belongings from Burke County residents, who served in all branches of the military.

On the main floor, an area is dedicated to wartime memorabilia and personal belongings from Burke County residents, who served in all branches of the military.

Pictured here is a model of the  U.S.S. Arizona BB-39 , which was commissioned in 1916 and sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Behind it is the  U.S.S. New Jersey BB-62 , which earned 19 battle stars and is the most decorated battleship in the U.S. Navy’s history. Decommissioned for the first time in 1957, she was reactivated for one year in 1968 to support U.S. troops in Vietnam. As part of the Navy modernization program, the  U.S.S. New Jersey  was modernized to carry missiles and put into service once more in 1982. She was decommissioned for the last time in 1991 and today serves as a museum ship in Camden NJ.

Pictured here is a model of the U.S.S. Arizona BB-39, which was commissioned in 1916 and sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Behind it is the U.S.S. New Jersey BB-62, which earned 19 battle stars and is the most decorated battleship in the U.S. Navy’s history. Decommissioned for the first time in 1957, she was reactivated for one year in 1968 to support U.S. troops in Vietnam. As part of the Navy modernization program, the U.S.S. New Jersey was modernized to carry missiles and put into service once more in 1982. She was decommissioned for the last time in 1991 and today serves as a museum ship in Camden NJ.

The hammock on display belonged to resident James B. Powell of Drexel NC, who enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944. Small treasures can always be found throughout the museum, such as a “Cricket”, which was used by the paratroopers, who landed on D-Day in WWII, to identify whether the person near them was friend or foe. They clicked it one time, and when they received a two-click response, they knew that the person was friendly.

The hammock on display belonged to resident James B. Powell of Drexel NC, who enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944. Small treasures can always be found throughout the museum, such as a “Cricket”, which was used by the paratroopers, who landed on D-Day in WWII, to identify whether the person near them was friend or foe. They clicked it one time, and when they received a two-click response, they knew that the person was friendly.

The hundreds of scale model airplanes covering a century of aviation history were built by a U.S. Air Force retiree and then donated to the museum.

The hundreds of scale model airplanes covering a century of aviation history were built by a U.S. Air Force retiree and then donated to the museum.

The museum pays tribute to a rare find in Burke County just 8 miles north of Morganton: the old Spanish settlement of  Fort San Juan . The Spanish built the fort under the command of conquistador Juan Pardo in 1567. It was the first European settlement in North Carolina and also the first inland settlement in the U.S., predating the earliest British settlement at Roanoke Island NC by 18 years. It was destroyed by native American Indians a year later killing all but one of the 31 soldiers stationed there.

The museum pays tribute to a rare find in Burke County just 8 miles north of Morganton: the old Spanish settlement of Fort San Juan. The Spanish built the fort under the command of conquistador Juan Pardo in 1567. It was the first European settlement in North Carolina and also the first inland settlement in the U.S., predating the earliest British settlement at Roanoke Island NC by 18 years. It was destroyed by native American Indians a year later killing all but one of the 31 soldiers stationed there.



201 West Meeting Street, Morganton, NC 28655
Tel.: → (828) 437-1777

 
 
 

Tue. to Fri.: 10am to 4pm.

Sat.: 10am to 2pm.


All year.


Free admission.

Guided tours by volunteers are available upon request.


Free on-premise parking.


The History Museum of Burke County is family friendly and showcases many artifacts that kids may have read or heard about, but have probably never seen, such as an old telephone, typewriter or old school equipment.


The History Museum of Burke County is an ideal indoor destination on a rainy day.


The History Museum of Burke County is accessible by wheelchair. An elevator can be used to access the basement.


Restrooms are available.