Knox County Public Library - Lawson McGhee Library

500 West Church Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37902


The Public Library System we know today can be said to date from the opening of Lawson McGhee Library on October 28, 1886.

The first Lawson McGhee Library was a subscription library. At least four earlier public libraries had been created in Knoxville between 1804 and 1873, with the last of these library associations, known as the "Public Library of Knoxville," having been founded in 1873. Its assets were merged into those of Lawson McGhee Library in 1885 prior to the Library opening. Although the founding date for the Knox County Public Library System could arguably be 1873, one unbroken element of the continuity, the name Lawson McGhee Library, can be clearly dated to 1886.

Lawson McGhee Library was a gift to the people of Knoxville by one of its wealthiest citizens, Col. Charles McClung McGhee (1828 - 1907). It was given as a memorial to his daughter, May Lawson McGhee Williams (1860 - 1883), known to the family as Lawson McGhee, who had died in 1883 as a result of complications from the birth of her first child.

Lawson McGhee Library is believed to be the oldest continuously functioning public library in East Tennessee. The original Lawson McGhee Library building, now known as the Rebori building, still stands today at the corner of Gay Street and Summit Hill Drive despite having been completely gutted by fire in 1904.

Adjusting to the setback of the fire, Lawson McGhee Library found a home in rented quarters from 1904 - 1916. First reports of the fire indicated that the contents of the Library were a total loss. Later reports, however, said that the books and library records were removed from the burning building. We have proof that this is true as all thirteen of the rare books listed in a Knoxville Journal and Tribune article published on May 27, 1900 are still in the McClung Collection today.

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