Center for Pioneer Life

Founded in 2018 by the Strawbridge and Martha Wilson Young Foundation, Center for Pioneer Life is

 is located on 12 acres of prime farmland in Yancey County, three miles from downtown Burnsville in the scenic valley of Shoal Creek. The descendants of Strawbridge and Martha Wilson Young, one of the region’s founding families, settled this property more than 180 years ago.


Our Mission

To preserve the legacy of the Southern Appalachian pioneer families who settled this region and experience how they lived. 


We utilize a combination of research, publications, lectures, exhibits, oral history, genealogical studies, and hands-on activities to provide educational experiences for all ages. 

  • We partner with local schools for field trips to our historic homestead for students from elementary to high school levels

  • We host homeschool and community groups and educational programs

  • We partner with Participate Learning, a company that provides educational training for international teachers. Grounded in the history of Appalachian life, our program shares with these teachers an authentic picture of the people of the southern mountains of the United States

Our programs are designed to answer these questions:
  • Who were the pioneers who settled this region?

  • When did they come?

  • Where did they come from?

  • How did they get here?

  • Why did they settle here?

  • What did they find when they arrived?

  • How did they live?


The Homestead

Highlighted by the reconstructed Josiah and Frances Ray Young Cabin (circa 1847), it features accompanying reconstructed farm buildings and grounds that greet you with a glimpse of the past. Here, visitors learn how pioneer families lived as they take an interactive journey through time. With activities and hands-on learning opportunities for all ages, a demonstration garden, working team of draft horses, blacksmithing forge, and root cellar allow for an immersive experience on an 1850s subsistence farm.

The Earl and Betty Banks Young Center

This mid-1900's farm house updated with a modern facade and remodeled interior, offers two main areas. One side holds a gathering hall for lectures, presentations, meetings, and events. The other is comprised of offices for the SMY Foundation, the Center operations, a meeting and research room, and kitchen. There are modern amenities throughout for a high-quality academic and research environment, and other educational activities and pursuits.