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Rock of Ages

East Tennessee’s Marble Industry

East Tennessee marble is prized the world over. Come explore the industry that launched the rock’s fame and crowned Knoxville as the Marble City!

November 19, 2016 to May 14, 2017
Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery

The marble industry was once an important sector of East Tennessee’s economy. By the mid-1850s, East Tennessee marble from Knox County had been chosen for the interiors of the Tennessee State Capitol and marble from Hawkins County was being installed inside the new House of Representatives and Senate wings of the United States Capitol. In the decades that followed, East Tennessee’s varicolored marble was sought by architects and patrons for the interiors of public buildings: state capitol buildings, courthouses, and city halls. Tennessee marble would soon also be ordered for high traffic railroad terminal flooring across the United States and Canada.

In the 1870s, with the example of Knoxville’s handsome new Custom House, the marble became known for its strength and durability as an exterior stone. The Custom House marble was extracted from a quarry in the Forks of the River district, near the confluence of the French Broad and Holston rivers. By 1873, this quarry was being operated by the Knoxville Marble Company, one of East Tennessee’s first modern marble businesses. Others were soon to follow on both sides of the Tennessee River, the Crescent Marble Company in the Boyd’s Bridge area providing marble for the Memphis Custom House (completed 1885) and the Ross and Mead Marble quarries, developed by John M. Ross in the Island Home section, furnishing marble for two exemplary museum buildings: the Morgan Library (1906) and the National Gallery of Art (1941). While the Mead quarry pit is now filled with water, the integrity of the Ross quarry has been preserved. Both quarries are situated in Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, within the Ijams Nature Center. What remains of the industrial landscape includes a rock wall created from marble waste blocks, two intact pits that demonstrate bench quarrying techniques, historic road traces and railroad berms, scattered piles and stacks of marble blocks, and the location of the former railroad bed.

Along this same railroad line, about 4 miles south in the Vestal neighborhood, is the Candoro Marble Company’s office and mill buildings. Candoro, founded in 1914, housed a marble mill, finishing plant, and shipping office for the John J. Craig Companies, which had quarries in both Knox and Blount counties. The company office building, a Beaux Arts masterpiece designed by Knoxville architect Charles Barber in 1923, is a fine example of exterior use of light pink marble. The interior walls and floors served as a showroom for the types and finishes of marble offered by the company.

Reminders of the once prominent Tennessee marble industry can be seen today, in late-19th, early-20th century buildings on Gay Street and other corners of downtown, in building facades, steps and entranceways, and interior lobbies. The Knoxville Post Office and Federal Building on Main Street is a particularly fine example dating from the 1930s. And Knoxville, a city that has won national recognition for historic preservation, continues to embrace its marble heritage in modern buildings. Notice how seamlessly the new three-story East Tennessee History Center adjoins the original Custom House and how the exterior marble of the contemporary Knoxville Museum of Art brings the building’s formal geometry to life.

Rock of Ages: How East Tennessee Marble Formed

Rock of Ages: Working East Tennessee Marble

Rock of Ages: East Tennessee Marble’s Legacy

Structures with Tennessee Marble Exteriors

Ramsey House, Knoxville, Tenn. (1797)

Knoxville Customs House, Knoxville, Tenn. (1874)

James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, Conn. (1896)

Adriance Memorial Library, Poughkeepsie, N.Y. (1896)

The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, N.Y. (1906)

Mechanics National Bank Building, Knoxville, Tenn. (facade) (1907)

Chilhowee Park bandstand, Knoxville, Tenn. (1910)

The Holston, Knoxville, Tenn. (lower Gay St. and Clinch Ave. facades) (1913)

James J. Hill Research Library and St. Paul Public Library, St. Paul, Minn. (1917)

Richard C. Lee U.S. Courthouse, New Haven, Conn. (1919)

Candoro Marble Company Office/Showroom, Knoxville, Tenn. (1923)

U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, Knoxville, Tenn. (1934)

Tennessee Supreme Court Building, Nashville, Tenn. (1937)

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1941, 1978)

National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. (1975)

Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, Tenn. (1990)

East Tennessee History Center, Knoxville, Tenn. (2005)

Howard Baker Center for Public Policy, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn. (2008)


Special thanks to the exhibition lenders for their generosity and willingness to share history, as well as the families/friends of marble workers who came forward with stories
Guest curator: Susan W. Knowles, Ph.D., Digital Humanities Research Fellow, Center for Historic Preservation, Middle Tennessee State University
Volunteers: Denise Alfrey, Dan MacDonald, B. J. Wiseman
Special thanks: Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection, Knox County Public Library, Steve Cotham, manager, and staff; Center for Historic Preservation, MTSU, Dr. Carroll Van West, director; Tennessee Marble Company, Monica Gawet, president; TDS Exhibits; Ullrich Printing; Tennessee Division of Geology, Peter J. Lemiszki, Ph.D., chief geologist, East Tennessee Field Office; East Tennessee PBS, Chris Smith, William Isom; Molly Gilbert, Tennessee Pink Marble Trail; Knoxville Museum of Art, David Butler, director; University of Tennessee Department of Art, Beauvais Lyons, chancellor professor; Kate Katomski and Judd Mulkerin, Quarry Project-Tennessee; Ijams Nature Center; Tennessee State Library & Archives; Tennessee Historical Commission; Knox Heritage​; George Webb, Tennessee Books & Autographs; Candoro Arts & Heritage Center, Sharon Davis, board president; Jean Vestal; Don Byerly; John J. Craig; Jeff Craig; Sonja Jones; Finbarr Saunders; Priscilla Rogers; Justin Dothard; Paul James; Tom McAdams; Zada Law, MTSU, Department of Geosciences; Lucy Gump; James Hooper
Presenting Sponsor:

Stories in Stitches

Quilts from the East Tennessee Historical Society’s Permanent Collection

August 7, 2017 to January 2, 2018
Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery

East Tennessee families treasure quilts made by their ancestors. Besides warming and decorating the bed, quilts also serve as reminders of important events—births, weddings, service to our country, the death of loved ones. Often, these memories are preserved in notes attached to the quilts or through stories handed down to younger generations. Sometimes notes are lost and memories fade, leaving families with a “mystery quilt.”

Did Grandma Jones or Granny Smith make this quilt? Or, was it Aunt Jane? When did she make it? Why did she choose this pattern? What caused this stain or that tear? These are some of the mysteries that quilt historians try to address through genealogical research and technical analysis.

From histories handed down to mysteries that remain, this exhibition provides visitors the opportunity to learn the “stories in stitches” from the quilts that have been trusted to the East Tennessee Historical Society since 1992.

“Knoxville Crazy Quilt” made by Lillie Harvey, 1898-c. 1915


Guest curators: Merikay Waldvogel and Jan Wass


In the Footsteps of Sergeant York

A Travelling Exhibition from the Museum of the American Military Experience

January 20, 2018 to August 26, 2018
Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery

Between 2006 and 2009, an international team of historians, archaeologists, and geographers traveled to France to rediscover and document where Fentress County-native Sergeant Alvin C. York made his heroic stand. In the Footsteps of Sergeant York, a traveling exhibition from the Museum of the American Military Experience, showcases this groundbreaking research and allows visitors to retrace the steps of one of America’s best-known military heroes.



“Expedition to France”

American Military Exhibits, a division of MOTAME

A Home for Our Past

The Museum of East Tennessee History at 25

September 15, 2018 to June 9, 2019
Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery
Let us hasten to redeem time that is lost.
Dr. J.G.M. Ramsey to those in attendance at the East Tennessee Historical Society’s first annual meeting, May 5, 1834
Dr. J.G.M. Ramsey’s plea to save Tennessee’s past continues to reverberate in the galleries of the East Tennessee Historical Society’s museum, a permanent home for our region’s cherished stories, traditions, and artifacts.
This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Museum of East Tennessee History, and we invite you to celebrate the milestone by visiting A Home for Our Past, a new feature exhibition showcasing the museum and its collection.
Presenting Sponsor:

“It’ll Tickle Yore Innards!”

A (Hillbilly) History of Mountain Dew

June 29, 2019 to January 27, 2020
Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery

Please note that while this exhibit ended in 2020, a few of the artifacts are still on display in the Museum of East Tennessee History.

[Mountain Dew]’s pretty much a religious obsession for me.
Chris Whitley, 27-year-old superfan of Mountain Dew, Jackson, Mississippi

Mountain Dew. Your parents likely warned you about the neon-green soda. Doctors and dentists despise it. Yet, across the United States—especially in the South and Midwest—there are “superfans” of the beverage who will not drink anything else.

High in sugar and caffeine, it’s the all-night elixir of gamers and programmers. It fuels skateboarders, snowboarders, and racecar drivers. And for some, it’s the perfect pairing for Doritos or Taco Bell fare.

Mountain Dew ranks as the third most popular “liquid refreshment brand,” behind only Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola. How did Mountain Dew become so popular, at a time when many Americans are looking for healthier beverage options?

Explore the drink’s storied history, which began here in the hills of Appalachia.


Dr. Daniel Pierce

Special thanks to “Dewologist” Dick Bridgforth for his generosity and support of the exhibition

In the exhibition’s text, mountain dew (lower-cased) refers to the colloquial nickname for whiskey. Mountain Dew (initial-capped) refers to the soft drink owned by PepsiCo. All artwork and likenesses are copyright of their owner(s), if applicable, and are used solely for historical and scholarly illustrative purposes.

Related Resources:

Dick Bridgforth, Mountain Dew: The History, 2007

Anthony Harkins, Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon, 2004


An Artist of Rare Merit

Shaver: An Artist of Rare Merit traces the artist’s maturation through the 19 portraits held by the East Tennessee Historical Society and the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection, Knox County Public Library. The exhibition is organized on the occasion of three recent Shaver acquisitions, making the East Tennessee History Center the largest repository of the artist’s works.

April 23, 2021 to January 30, 2022
Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery
There are two ways of understanding portraiture–either as history or as fiction.
Charles Baudelaire, 1846

Portraits were the “social media posts” of the American colonial and antebellum periods.

Today, social media allows users to not only visually document and share life’s moments but also curate how others see themselves.

Early Tennessee portraits afforded the sitter the same duality. “They are,” as one art historian puts it, “the rhetoric–not the record–of self-representation.”

As viewers two centuries removed, how are we to understand early portraiture in East Tennessee? Is it history, fiction, or perhaps a bit of both? This exhibition of works by Samuel M. Shaver, East Tennessee’s first native-born artist, provides interesting examples for discussion.

About Samuel M. Shaver (1816-1878)

Samuel Moore Shaver was the youngest or next to youngest child born to David and Catherine Barringer Shaver on Reedy Creek (near present-day Kingsport) in 1816. Little is known about his formative years. He may have studied at Jefferson Academy in Blountville; a Leonidas Shaver is listed as a teacher there, and his older brother David, Jr., operated a tavern nearby.

In 1833, William Harrison Scarborough (1812-1871), a traveling portrait painter from Middle Tennessee, visited Sullivan County. What impact did Scarborough’s stay have on 17-year-old Shaver? Did he watch Scarborough paint the portraits of his neighbors? Or did he simply benefit by imitating the works Scarborough left behind?

Whether by native talent, with formal instruction, or both, Shaver possessed the skill set to begin producing competently done portraits by the late 1830s.



In memory of Philip Scheurer

Based on the original research of Prentiss Price, Hawkins County historian

Volunteers: Lina Bahrom, Harrison Pierson, Nathan Richardson

Special thanks: Steve Cotham, Danette Welch

Related Resources:

Bishop, Budd H. “Art in Tennessee: The Early 19th Century.” vol. 29, no. 4, Tennessee Historical Quarterly, 1970-71.

Bullin, April S. “‘The Powell Boys:’  Poignant and Political Messages of Samuel M. Shaver.” vol. 8, no. 1, Journal of Backcountry Studies, 2013.

Hennig, Helen Kohn. William Harrison Scarborough: Portraitist and Miniaturist. Columbia, SC, R. L. Bryan Company, 1937.

Keith, Zachary. “Powel Law Office.” Architectural and Historical Assessment. Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, 2019.

Kelly, James C. “Portrait Painting in Tennessee.” vol. XLVI, no. 4, Tennessee Historical Quarterly, 1987.

Masler, Marilyn. “Painting in Nineteenth-Century Tennessee.” A History of the Arts in Tennessee, University of Tennessee Press, 2004, pp. 79-98.

Price, Prentiss. “Samuel Shaver: Portrait Painter.” East Tennessee Historical Society’s Publications, vol. 24, 1952, pp. 92-105.

Staiti, Paul. “Character and Class: The Portraits of John Singleton Copley.” Reading American Art, Yale University Press, 1998, pp. 12-37.

Young, Namuni Hale. Art & Furniture of East Tennessee. Knoxville, TN, East Tennessee Historical Society, 1997.


Black & White

Knoxville in the Jim Crow Era

a new exhibition featuring the stories of African American artists Beauford Delaney, Joseph Delaney, and Ruth Cobb Brice

February 14, 2020 to June 14, 2020
Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery


Knoxville occupies a unique place in the American South. Following the Civil War, residents felt it was one of the few racially tolerant cities in the region. Unlike most cities in the South, African Americans in Knoxville could vote, hold public office, serve as police officers, and sit on juries. Despite this, racial tensions still held the city captive, and life for black citizens was not the same as that for white citizens.

What was life like for African Americans in Knoxville during the Jim Crow era?

What influence did the city have in the early lives of artists Beauford and Joseph Delaney?

Could an African American artist, such as Ruth Cobb Brice, gain recognition without leaving home?

This exhibition, presented as a timeline, provides historical context to these questions beginning with Reconstruction and continuing through the height of segregation during the Jim Crow era.

Who were Beauford and Joseph Delaney?

Brothers Beauford and Joseph Delaney were internationally known artists whose works are now part of some of the world’s most prestigious collections. The Delaneys were born in Knoxville in the aftermath of slavery and the Civil War. Their education was often informal and sporadic, as they attended one rural school after another while traveling with their circuit-riding preacher father. They grew up amidst racial segregation, witnessed the upheaval of Knoxville’s race riot in 1919, and were aware of the lynching of blacks throughout the South. They were part of the Great Migration, during which thousands of African Americans left the South looking for opportunities.

Beauford and Joseph took different paths, yet their paintings reflect the world they experienced, beginning with life in Knoxville.

Who was Ruth Cobb Brice?

Ruth Cobb Brice was a Knoxville-born educator, writer, and artist contemporary with Beauford and Joseph Delaney. Like the Delaneys, Brice grew up amidst racial segregation. But unlike them, Brice worked from Knoxville.

Even without the direct influence of large art centers, Brice’s paintings and poems gained national notoriety.

Zoom Through East Tennessee: Gallery Tour of “Black & White: Knoxville in the Jim Crow Era”


Contributions by historian Robert J. Booker

Related Resources:

For more information on Beauford Delaney, visit the Knoxville Museum of Art’s exhibition Through the Unusual Door (through May 7, 2020), which provides a groundbreaking look at Delaney and his creative exchange with writer James Baldwin.

Exhibition reviews

Inside of Knoxville, “Beauford Delaney, James Baldwin and Knoxville’s Jim Crow Era Reconsidered”

Les Amis de Beauford Delaney, “Black and White and ShadowLight: Beauford’s Life in History and Song”

UT Daily Beacon, “East Tennessee Historical Society’s latest gallery dives into Knoxville’s troubling history”

In Partnership with

They Sang What They Lived

The Story of Carl & Pearl Butler

Experience the Golden Age of Country Music from Happy Holler, Knoxville to the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville.

Available Until August 19, 2024
Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery
They were like second parents to me.
Dolly Parton on her relationship with Carl and Pearl Butler

They Sang What They Lived: The Story of Carl and Pearl Butler is the first retrospective exhibition of Carl and Pearl Butler, the iconic country music duo whose timeless lyrics and harmonious melodies left an indelible mark on country music. The exhibition is organized by the Museum of East Tennessee History and opens to the public on Saturday, October 7, 2023.


With a career spanning over four decades, Carl and Pearl Butler became celebrated figures in the world of country music. “Carl made scores of major-label records during the 1950s,” says Bradley E. Reeves, the exhibition’s guest curator and author of the new book Honky Tonkitis: On the Road with Carl Butler and Pearl. “These are some of the best bluegrass, gospel, and hard country records ever made, although none could be called a massive hit.” That honor would come in 1962, when Carl and Pearl recorded “Don’t Let Me Cross Over.” The song remains among the fastest ever to ascend to No. 1 on Billboard Hot Country Singles.


Carl and Pearl’s unique “Knoxville sound,” along with heartfelt lyrics, earned them a dedicated fan base who supported them at performances across the United States and Canada through the 1970s. The exhibition offers visitors a rare glimpse into the lives of these music legends.

Key highlights of the exhibition include:

  1. Rare Family Archives: Museums guests will have the opportunity to view the Allen “Junior” Butler Family Collection, which has been made publicly available for the first time and includes never-before-seen photographs, home movies, original instruments, and stage costumes that belonged to Carl and Pearl Butler. “I’m grateful to the Allen Butler and his family for opening their home and archives to share with us,” says Reeves.


  1. Musical Journey: Explore the duo’s musical journey through a feature film, which transports visitors through various periods of their career and traces their unfiltered, raw singing style, one that derived from and advanced the “Knoxville sound.”


  1. Behind-the-Scenes: Gain insight into the lives of Carl and Pearl Butler through never-before-seen family photographs and recently uncovered anecdotes from the family and fellow musicians, including Dolly Parton who viewed the Butlers as her “second parents.” “Despite their successes,” says Adam Alfrey, Assistant Director for Historical Services at Knox County Public Library, “Carl and Pearl faced personal and professional struggles, which are intimately documented through the family’s photographs.”


  1. Interpretive Experience: Engage with exhibition to understand how both Knoxville and Nashville played a role in the development of country music. Also learn how chart-topping artists can quickly become all but forgotten, even in their hometown. “The Butlers somehow fell thought the cracks,” reflects Reeves. “It’s my hope that this book and exhibition will contribute to a reappreciation of their great body of work.”


The They Sang What They Lived: The Story of Carl and Pearl Butler promises to be a heartfelt educational experience for country music enthusiasts and fans of all ages. It serves as a testament to the enduring influence of Carl and Pearl Butler on the world of music.


The exhibition will run through August 18, 2024. It is sponsored by the Clayton Foundation with support from the Downtown Knoxville Alliance.

Thanks to our sponsors for their support.

“You Should’ve Been There!”

The 40th Anniversary of the 1982 World’s Fair

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the 1982 World’s Fair, the Museum of East Tennessee History invites you to visit the interactive, one-of-a-kind exhibition “You Should’ve Been There!” in the Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery through October 9, 2022.

Collector's plate form the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, TN
March 19, 2022 to October 9, 2022
Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery

The exhibition’s theme is not only a nod to the international exposition’s marketing catchphrase, “You Have Got to Be There! The 1982 World’s Fair!” but also an acknowledgement that four decades removed, there is a generation of East Tennesseans who were not alive to experience the historic event.

“You Should’ve Been There!” traces the fair’s development from conception to the pivotal moment when The Wall Street Journal referred to Knoxville as a “scruffy little city” and questioned its ability to host an international event. The negative publicity, however, brought out the “I’ll show you spirit” and stiffened local resolve to make it a highly successful fair. More than 11,000,000 visitors from around the world were informed and entertained in the various pavilions, exhibitions, and attractions put on by 22 countries and some 50 private organizations. Popular fair souvenirs were shirts and buttons proclaiming, “The Scruffy Little City Did It!”

The fair’s theme, “Energy Turns the World,” played to the region’s reputation as technology and science center. In fact, it was at the 1982 World’s Fair that users were able to try out a touchscreen for the first time. To honor that spirit of innovation, “You Should’ve Been There!” incorporates engaging touchscreen experiences alongside, of course, displays of original fair materials from pickle pins to deely boppers and everything in between.

We invite you to come visit this “scruffy little exhibition,” as Knoxville looks back on—and revives the spirit of—when the world came to town!

We live our dreams. We make them come true. Our ideas and energies combine in a dynamic force–the kind of force that made the developments and breakthroughs and discoveries in this building possible.
President Ronald Reagan, dedication of the US Pavilion, 1982 World’s Fair, Knoxville, Tennessee

Visit “You Should’ve Been There!” before October 9, 2022

Lights! Camera! East Tennessee!

Witness the marvel of moving images

Our relationship to moving images is constantly evolving. Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, for example, our use of–and reliance on–streaming services to access Hollywood blockbusters not only changed how we watch movies but also disrupted traditional models for financing and distributing such productions.

November 19, 2022 to September 3, 2023
Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery

How did our relationship with moving images begin? What technological and cultural events sparked our interest in motion pictures as entertainment? And what role has East Tennessee and its people had in moviemaking?

Lights! Camera! East Tennessee! a new feature exhibition at the East Tennessee History Center, answers these questions by chronicling Knoxville’s contributions to film from the promotion of Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope in 1895 to its use as a location for major productions currently in development. At the heart of the story is 35 mm film, shown both in urban theaters and suburban cineplexes and shot by itinerant filmmakers, documentarians, industrial filmmakers, and news reporters. Multiple screens featuring highlights from these genres anchor the exhibition.

Equally intriguing are the stories of how Knoxvillians made Hollywood history. Learn about Clarence Brown, a graduate of Knoxville High School and the University of Tennessee, who became one of MGM’s most prominent directors. And see why James Agee, known to us today as a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, was better known as a film critic and screenwriter during his life.

Lights! Camera! East Tennessee! will also spotlight the numerous actors from across East Tennessee who became Hollywood A-listers and the variety of films that were shot in East Tennessee, including A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970) and That Evening Sun (2009), both of which premiered in Knoxville.

Lights! Camera! East Tennessee! is open daily in the Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery, Museum of East Tennessee History Center, 601 S. Gay St., in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee.

Exhibit Sponsored By