From Custom House to History Center

The East Tennessee History Center has a unique past. Learn how Knoxville's Custom House became the region's History Center.

The East Tennessee History Center houses three separate entities: the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection, the Knox County Archives, and the East Tennessee Historical Society and Museum.

The Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection is the local history and genealogy department of the Knox County Public Library System.  The McClung Collection is a reference and research collection, so the books or library materials do not circulate, and are not available for interlibrary loan.

The Knox County Archives serves as a central repository for the permanent records of Knox County government and its agencies.

History of the Custom House

The East Tennessee History Center, Knoxville’s first Custom House and Post Office, was constructed 1871–1874 at the corner of Prince (now Market) Street and Clinch Avenue. The architect was Alfred Bult Mullett (1834-1890), at that time the chief architect for the United States government. A major addition doubled the size of the building in 1910.

Of neoclassical Italianate design, the Custom House served as Knoxville’s federal building until 1933, housing the federal court, excise offices, and post office. The Custom House was the first major building built entirely of East Tennessee marble, and the former federal courtroom on the third floor (now the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection) features notable neoclassical decoration.

From 1936 to1976, the building served as one of the main offices of the Tennessee Valley Authority. In 1977 the Custom House was awarded to the Knox County Public Library to be developed into the East Tennessee History Center. A new wing was added to the Gay Street side of the building in 2004, doubling the size of the building.

Weather Information Kiosk

The weather information kiosk, left, was erected at the intersection of Clinch Avenue and Prince (now Market) Street by the U. S. Department of Agriculture around 1895. Updated weather forecasts were regularly posted here by the Knoxville Weather Station, housed in the adjacent Custom House from 1874 until 1898. During World War I, casualty lists were also posted. Sometime after 1920, the kiosk ceased to be used and was moved to Greenwood Cemetery on Tazewell Pike, where it remained until 2005, when it was restored and returned to its original location alongside the Custom House.