Seashell museum nears opening

Dr. Peter Stimpson reviews some shells he will have on display in his museum.

Dr. Peter Stimpson for years has wanted to open a seashell museum showcasing his vast collection.

The Stimpson Seashell Museum could be open within two or three weeks, he said.

“It’s labor-intensive,” Stimpson said. “Every one of these have to be wrapped, brought down here by hand and unwrapped again. Then we have to make labels for all of them. It’s taken a long time.”

So far the shells on site consist of about 5 percent of the collection in one room, but Stimpson estimated it alone was potentially about 1,000 shells.

Stimpson’s work dates back to 2015 when he initially planned to have the museum at the old Loudon High School building, but that changed to the old McGill Karnes Funeral Home at 406 Wharf St., in downtown Loudon, where he signed a two-year lease.

“Well, the goal was ... education and tourism,” he said. “I’m not doing this to make money. The tourism would be much better and the school system it will be available for them. Tourism and education is the main thing. We’re just trying to get open. Once we’re open and going we’ll be opening more back here.

“There will be an exhibit of stuff that’s not actually seashells, things like a killer whale tooth, sperm whale tooth and ... stuff that’s not seashells,” he added. “There will be that, but these rooms back here will have more of the same.”

Expansion could occur within a couple months, he said.

Stimpson has been in contact with the Tennessee Department of Tourism, who have said they hope to bus people to the museum.

“From a tourism aspect just being one of two in America, if not the world, that certainly gives you some sense of ... uniqueness,” Rachel Harrell, Loudon County Visitors Bureau executive director, said. “From our perspective having a new attraction and one that is so unique, it gives us the opportunity to welcome back visitors that may not have been to Loudon County in a long time or ones that make annual trips. They’ll have something new to explore and it will just add to our list of things for people to do while they’re here.”

Stimpson said his museum is one of two in the country, with the other in Florida.

“We’re going to have kiddie pools back here with sort of junk shells in it that they can pick up and hold and feel and play with if they want to,” he said. “Of course, in the much further distance we hope to have maybe some education films and a gift shop and so forth, but that’s a bit on down the road.”

Stimpson’s love of collecting shells started in 1988 while on a trip in Tahiti. He has so many shells he is not sure how many he owns.

“I was in Tahiti and I was in a store that had some shells and I saw a couple of them I knew were rare,” he said. “I bought those two and started checking. I didn’t know there were clubs, I didn’t know there were conventions, I didn’t know there were dealers. I had to learn all that. So back in those days I didn’t have a clue. Of course, now there’s probably no one in the seashell world that doesn’t know who I am now. That was just the beginning. The seashell community is not a huge community but it is worldwide.”

Tickets are $15 per adult and $5 for children, which will help pay for staffing and other expenses.

For more information, visit www.stimpson