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Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch Jerry Beckett shows Haylie Jordan, 8, how to make cornmeal as Heritage Farm conducts its annual Spring Festival on Saturday, May 3, 2014, at the Heritage Farm Museum and Village in Huntington.

When we think of the American West, images of Texas and Tombstone, Arizona, come to mind.

But the first American West was right here.

As the Atlantic Coastal colonies became more established in the mid-18th Century, thousands of people began to travel over the Appalachian Mountains to western Virginia, eastern Tennessee and Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley. Some were land speculators or representatives of wealthy investors, but many were individual pioneer families that literally built new homes and new lives by hand hundreds of miles from the comforts of Williamsburg and Richmond.

That is the unique American story that the Heritage Farm Museum and Village in Wayne County tells so well. With more than 25,000 square feet of historic Appalachian artifacts in seven separate museums and more than 30 log structures, it showcases the life and ingenuity of Appalachian life for thousands of school children and visitors every year.

This week, the museum gained a new distinction that not only raises its profile, but also provides new resources from the premier museum of American history.

Heritage Farm was named as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. It is the only West Virginia museum to have received that designation and one of only 180 affiliates in the United States. Others in our region include the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati and the International Museum of the Horse in Lexington.

With the affiliation, Heritage Farm will be able to host exhibits provided through Smithsonian, which is the largest museum and research complex in the world. Often, those exhibits can be related to the theme of the local museum. For example, in 2013 the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles hosted two Smithsonian exhibits on the history of Asian people in the Pacific.

The partnership also offers webcasts and other programming from Smithsonian museums for both the public and for staff training and development, and Heritage Farm has established a new distance learning classroom set up for that purpose. The Smithsonian also hosts national conferences for affiliates that provide training and networking opportunities and promotes the activities and events of affiliate museums through a national newsletter and web site.

Being accepted as part of the Smithsonian network adds an impressive "seal of approval" for the museum project begun by Henriella and the late Mike Perry almost 20 years ago. As their son Audy Perry noted last week, it also marks a "new beginning" for Heritage Farm and a chance to share the Appalachian pioneer story more broadly and more richly than ever before.

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