The Colburn Earth Science Museum is the legacy of engineer and bank president Burnham Standish Colburn, who retired in the 1920s to Biltmore Forest near Asheville. Colburn moved to the area to be close to Western North Carolina’s rich mineral fields and the diverse specimens they held.
In 1931, Burnham S. Colburn and his brother, William B. Colburn, helped found the Southern Appalachian Mineral Society. The club continues today to hold monthly meetings, regular field trips and other educational and social activities.
During his lifetime, Burnham S. Colburn amassed a significant collection of North Carolina minerals, including the world’s largest collection of hiddenite, a rare variety of the mineral spodumene discovered in Alexander County, North Carolina in 1879.
After Burnham S. Colburn died in 1959, the Colburn family shared many of Colburn’s specimens with S.A.M.S. so they could be displayed to the public. Specimens from Colburn’s collection are also at The British Museum, the Cranbrook Institute of Science, the McKissick Museum and the Smithsonian Institution.
S.A.M.S. members added items from their own collections and, in July 1960, they opened the Burnham S. Colburn Memorial Museum on Coxe Avenue in Asheville.
In 1972, the museum relocated to the lower level of the Asheville Civic Center. The museum’s collections continued to grow, and in 1982, the museum became an independent nonprofit and changed its name to the Colburn Gem and Mineral Museum.
Since July 1992, the museum has served the community from its home in the multi-museum Pack Place Education, Arts and Science Center in downtown Asheville. The museum changed its name to the Colburn Earth Science Museum in 2002 to reflect the museum’s broadening mission and Earth science-related exhibits, events and hands-on classes taught to thousands of children each year.
The Colburn Earth Science Museum’s mission is to foster an appreciation for the Earth and its resources and environments through exhibits, educational programs and the care of its collection.
The Colburn achieves its mission by creating experiences that educate and inspire our diverse community about the wonders of Earth science.