Barberton was established in 1884 when Fred and Henry Barber and their cousin, Graham, discovered gold here. On 24 July 1884 the Gold Commissioner, David Wilson, christened the reef with a bottle of gin, champagne not being available, and named the place Barberton.
Prospectors and fortune seekers flocked to Barberton. The town only flourished for a brief period until gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand and only the larger mines continued operating. By 1898 the nucleus of a museum collection had already been established when Mr. Otto Elkan donated a collection of, among other things, quartz and other mineral specimens and natural history curios which were displayed in the Carnegie library.
From these humble beginnings the museum now consists of a Main Museum where the geology, mining, Swazi and general history of Barberton are displayed, as well as Belhaven and Stopforth House Museums, Fernlea Museum and the Block House.