Welcome to the East Tennessee History Center.

Welcome to the East Tennessee History Museum. You are participating in the Visually Impaired Person (VIP) Program. Throughout the museum you will find QR codes linking you to text descriptions of each exhibit.  

The East Tennessee History Center is a unique resource for anyone interested in the heritage and culture of East Tennessee. Located here are the offices and museum of the East Tennessee Historical Society, the Knox County Archives, and the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection of the Knox County Public Library.

Visitors are invited to experience history by climbing aboard a streetcar, discovering the voices of past and present East Tennesseans, tracing their ancestral roots, participating in various public programs, or simply enjoying a tour of this facility’s magnificent architecture.

The original portion of this building, the Old Custom House, was designed by federal architect Alfred Mullet and completed in 1874. Mullet used local stone to create this Italianate structure, leading to the widespread use of East Tennessee marble on public projects such as the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of History and Technology, the National Gallery of Art, the Lincoln Memorial, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City’s Grand Central Station, and numerous others across the country.

Originally, the Old Custom House contained Knoxville’s main post office, federal offices, and the grand federal courtroom, once known as “the most beautiful room in Knoxville.” Additions to the original structure were completed in 1910 and 2004. The offices of the Tennessee Valley Authority were located here from 1936 to 1977, at which time TVA gave the building to Knox County for use as a regional history center.

Currently you are standing in the main lobby. Directly behind you is the lobby gift shop. To your left is a set of elevators that lead up to the Knox County Archives (2nd floor) and the McClung Historical Collection (3rd floor). To your right is a welcome desk for admissions and questions. Directly in front of you is a hallway leading to the museum exhibits.  

Pass through the doorway and you will find a small bench on your right. Pass through an additional doorway and the restrooms are located through an opening on your left. When facing the restrooms, the women’s is on the left, the men’s is on the right, and a water fountain is in the middle. An additional entrance to the auditorium is directly across from the restroom.  

Continuing past the restrooms, you will pass through a doorway labeled Edward S. Albers, Sr. Streetscape. A small bench is located on each side past the doorway. A portrait of Edward S. Albers, Sr. hangs above the bench on the left.  

Continue through the next doorway and the main entrance to the Bilo Spencer Nelson Auditorium is on the right. Directly across from the auditorium entrance is a stained glass window from the L&N Train Station. The window is 135.5 inches tall and 43.5 inches wide and made of green, blue, tan, and yellow glass. It contains an oval in the middle with a large L&N logo and is decorated with a floral and heart swirl design.  

L&N Stained-Glass Window


Louisville & Nashville Railway Station, Knoxville

The stained glass of the L & N Depot smoldered like an exhausted butterfly and at the middle of the viaduct they paused to inhale the burst of smoke from a switch engine which passed under. -From A Death in the Family by James Agee

The railroad dramatically transformed East Tennessee by providing access for trade in and out of the valley. The first rail line through the valley was completed in 1858. By the early twentieth century, Knoxville depended on two companies-the Southern and the Louisville & Nashville-for most of its rail transportation.

This stained-glass window is from Knoxville’s Louisville & Nashville (L & N) Railway Station, completed in 1904. It was located near the entrance of the Ladies’ Waiting Room but was removed in 1968 when the building was slated for demolition. The L&N Railway Station was eventually saved, but the stained glass had already been removed and sold.

This window, a twin to one owned by the Frank H. McClung Museum and on display in the gallery lobby, was installed in the L&N Station to the right of the entrance leading to the Ladies’ Waiting Room. It remained in place until 1968, when the building was to be demolished as part of the plan for improving “Malfunction Junction”. The stained-glass windows were removed and put up for sale, with the first one – this one – going to Mrs. Paul Richardson. It remained leaning against a basement wall of the family home until it was purchased by ETHS in 2000.

Continue straight to enter the Streetscapes Exhibit. Find a QR Code located on the left of the next doorway to learn more about Streetscapes.