Knoxville in Knox County, Tennessee — The American South (East South Central)
Lawson McGhee Library
— Knoxville History Project —
Lawson McGhee Library (west panel)
”I intend to erect a building to be used as a
public library, and at the same time, a
memorial to a beloved child.”
-Charles McClung McGhee
The original Lawson McGhee Library was the first durable public library in Tennessee.
Knoxville's public-library movement dates back to the early 1800s, but it wasn't until 1873, following a series of short-lived projects, that several leading citizens organized a Reading Room in an old hotel. The modest library struggled financially until railroad executive and financier Charles McClung McGhee (1828-1907), lost his daughter, and made a gesture to assure that her name never to be forgotten in her home town.
In 1886, with McGhee's funds, a library organization, including what remained of the old one, completed a three-story building at the northeast corner of Gay and Vine, run on a subscription basis. In 1917 it moved into a freestanding building on the hill about a block north of Market Square, operated as a city-run free lending library. The current building and third home of Lawson
John Kelley (east panel)
Artist John Kelley grew up in Knoxville, attending Webb School and YMCA art classes at the old Dulin Art Gallery. His mother, Evelyn, encouraged his art; a family trip to Nashville's Parthenon engendered a fascination with Greek mythology, a major theme of his best-known work. He studied art at the University of Tennessee before transferring to the famous Pratt Institute in New York. He also studied painting at the Art Students League and the New York Academy of Art. Part of a new wave of interest in figure painting, Kelley has studied anatomy to help develop his current genre, realistic images of mythological figures. He has maintained a studio in Brooklyn for many years, but he also maintains a home and studio in Knoxville.
Kelley remembers Lawson McGhee Library as "a great oasis of culture and inspiration." In 1985, he was commissioned to paint this portrait of Lawson McGhee. Lawson McGhee Williams, the daughter of Knoxville industrialist Charles McClung McGhee, died giving birth in New York in 1883. Her wealthy father, who lived on Locust Street on the hill immediately to the northwest of here, memorialized his daughter with the name of the public library he endowed, the first durable public library in Tennessee. This building,
and Knox County Public Library
Downtown Art Wraps are coordinated by the Knoxville Historic Project, an educational nonprofit with a mission to research and promote the history and culture of Knoxville.
Discover other Art Wraps and learn more at knoxvillehistoryproject.org
Erected by Knoxville History Project.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Arts, Letters, Music • Charity & Public Work • Education • Women.
Location. 35° 57.73′ N, 83° 55.219′ W. Marker is in Knoxville, Tennessee, in Knox County. Marker is at the intersection of West Church Avenue and Locust Street, on the right when traveling east on West Church Avenue. Marker is located along the sidewalk, at the southeast corner of the intersection. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville TN 37902, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Charles Krutch (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Rotary Club of Knoxville (about 400 feet away); James Park HouseBeauford Delaney (about 600 feet away); Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds (about 700 feet away); Albert Milani (about 700 feet away); Burn Memorial (about 800 feet away); First Baptist Church (about 800 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Knoxville.
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker. Knoxville History Project
Also see . . . Charles McClung McGhee (Wikipedia). As director of the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railway (ETV&G), McGhee was responsible for much of the railroad construction that took place in the East Tennessee area in the 1870s and 1880s. McGhee was a well-known philanthropist in Knoxville in his later years. In 1875, he helped secure funding for Knoxville's St. John's Orphanage. In 1885, McGhee donated $50,000 for the establishment of the Lawson McGhee Library. (Submitted on June 6, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
Credits. This page was last revised on December 16, 2019. It was originally submitted on June 4, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 106 times since then. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on June 6, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.