A Visit to Jan Karon’s Mitford Museum

I first discovered Jan Karon several years ago in the pages of Victoria magazine, which my “adopted mom” used to send me. Jan was Victoria‘s “Writer in Residence” one year. I don’t remember what she wrote in those pages, but I liked it and was inspired to look up her books.

Jan has written a whole series of novels set in Mitford, a fictitious small North Carolina town. The main character, Father Tim, is not your typical novel hero. He’s not suave, handsome, young, and muscular. He is middle-aged, balding, a little overweight, and often unsure of himself. But he and the other Mitford residents are some of the most endearing characters in literature.

I loved the stories and characters, but I was also amazed at the amount of spiritual truth woven in them. These books were not marketed as Christian fiction, yet they contained clear salvation decisions, Scripture, and scriptural applications.

I know I have read through all the Mitford books at least once, maybe twice, and I have listened to the audiobooks once. I have not reviewed them individually, but I gave a brief synopsis of each Mitford book here.

My friend, Melanie, is also a Mitford and Jan Karon fan. I think she was the one who alerted me that a Mitford Museum was being created in the school Jan attended in Hudson, NC. Their grand opening was last October, with many special events planned for the day. We would have loved to have gone then, but felt it would be too busy. Plus Covid was more active then. We decided we’d try to go this spring.

And we finally went this past week! My dear husband agreed to drive us. The museum was a little over three hours from us, but we planned to leave about 8, get there by 11:30, have lunch, and then spend the next few hours at the museum before heading back home.

It was closer to 12:30 by the time we got there, due to traffic, weather, and detours.

Melanie is on a few Mitford Facebook groups and had asked for recommendations for restaurants. We went to the Vintage Cafe and Bakery. It was so good. I loved the atmosphere of the place. They brought the best yeast rolls and sweet butter I have ever had to the table as an appetizer. We didn’t take a picture of any of the food–we were too hungry. But it was wonderful.

One interesting tidbit about the Vintage Cafe: sometimes they make the Orange Marmalade Cake that appears in almost every Mitford book. They didn’t have it when we were there. They don’t make it often because it is expensive, plus the owner had just made several servings of it for a Mitford tea the week before at the Museum.

We also had a couple of neat encounters at the cafe. Melanie knew a couple of people who worked at the museum through the Facebook groups. One of the ladies was eating there as we came in. Melanie had asked her to tell another lady that we would miss her, because we were running late, and this lady got off before we’d get to the museum. But in a little while, the second lady came to the cafe to see Melanie after she got off. I thought that was a sweet gesture.

On to the museum.

I had not realized that the museum was only one part of a larger enterprise. I did not take a picture of the front of the building, but I had seen it here. I thought that was the whole building, and that all of it was the Mitford Museum. But the building is three times the length of what’s in the picture and houses several businesses, arts-related offices, little shops, etc. It’s called the Hub Station and was formerly the Hudson School. The Mitford Museum takes up two classroom-sized rooms and a gift shop. One of the rooms was Jan’s actual classroom.

These are in the hallway leading up to the museum door.

Jan Karon's Mitford Museum

The two rooms that make up the museum are filled with memorabilia. There are notes from Jan at each display, telling what objects were or explaining some behind-the-scenes detail about them. Some items are from her childhood, like a big cast iron pot that her grandmother did laundry in. Some have to do with Jan’s life as an author. I had not known that she wrote ads for NC before writing books, but some are on the walls there–I think I have even seen them in magazines. Her descriptiveness and way with words shines through even there. One section shows the different houses she lived in and which books she wrote in which house.

One of Jan’s actual desks is in the museum, along with some of her manuscripts. I wish I had taken a picture of the whole desk–it’s massive.

Jan’s typewriter, a gift from her daughter
An edited part of a manuscript

Above the desk is framed art work from the original covers of several of the books.

I had not read Jan’s children’s books, but one, Miss Fanny’s Hat, was based on her actual. . . I can’t remember if it was her mother or grandmother. But there is a picture of the real “Miss Fanny” wearing her hat, and the hat itself in a curio cabinet.

This was in a space between the two rooms:

If you’ve read Shepherds Abiding, you know Father Tim picked up an old, broken down Nativity set that he restored for Cynthia. That story grew from an old Nativity set Cynthia bought. If I remember correctly, I think Jan had a local artist restore it and included some of her experiences in Father Tim’s. That Nativity is in the museum. It’s huge.

Another interesting story was that Cynthia married Father Tim in an aquamarine suit. Some time later, Jan saw this suit on eBay and said it looked exactly like what she had envisioned for Cynthia’s wedding suit. So Jan bought it, and now it’s in the museum.

I don’t know if you can read the print here, but this house was the basis for the Meadowgate Farm in the books, home of Father Tim’s friend and veterinarian who becomes his adopted son Dooley’s mentor.

And I took this picture for the Author game that inspired Jan (which I had never heard of but now what to find!) But at the time, I missed reading the plaque above talking about how Jan declared to herself in the mirror passed down from her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother that she was going to be an author some day. I wish I had gotten a photo of the mirror, too!

The friendly and informative docent took this picture of Melanie and me “with” Jan.

Melanie and I with Jan

Unfortunately, we didn’t get any pictures with Jim!

The gift shop is called Happy Endings after the bookstore in the books.

Those are some of my favorite spots in the museum. Melanie shared some of hers here. There is much more to see.

We made it just a day trip since there wasn’t much else to see in Hudson (though I spied some antique shops for those interested). Blowing Rock is nearby, but we didn’t want to stay overnight this time.

Because of the distance, I don’t know that I would go to the Museum again unless there was something going on I didn’t want to miss. They had just had a Mitford Tea at the Museum the week before, with Jan in attendance, and they’re planning another next May. I’m thinking about that. There is also a play about Mitford that I’d love to see sometime with Jim, since he’s not familiar with the books, but probably not this year. It sounds like they’ve done it before, so hopefully they’ll do it again.

I’ve shared links to the museum and Jan’s web page above, but the Museum has an active Facebook page with photos of events and the latest news here. And Jan Karon shares a lot of neat things on her Facebook author page here.

Are you a Mitford fan? Have you been to the Museum? I’d love to hear about it.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)