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Knox County Public Library Celebrates 125th Anniversary

lawson mcghee library

KNOXVILLE -- On October 28, 2011 Knox County Public Library will celebrate its 125th Anniversary Celebration. It is the oldest, continuously operating library in the state of Tennessee.

The Knoxville community is invited to join festivities throughout the county in honor of this important milestone. In addition to lectures, film screenings, birthday party story hours, and tours of the original space at 128 S. Gay Street, the library has installed a permanent exhibit in the Lawson McGhee meeting room, produced a short documentary, and a special publication on its history.

On October 28, 1886, community leaders cut the ribbon on Lawson McGhee Library, which was located at 128 S. Gay Street. The Library was made possible by a $50,000 gift from Col. Charles McGhee to memorialize his daughter, Lawson, who died from complications during childbirth. It was the same day on which leaders in New York City cut the ribbon on the Statue of Liberty.

From 1917 to 1934, the library partnered with TVA to provide materials to its residential camps during the dam building projects. In 1929, the Library launched book mobile service to rural areas. In 1950, Lawson McGhee Library quietly opened its doors to Black citizens, effectively desegregating 10 years prior to lunch counters in downtown Knoxville.

In recent years, the Library has implemented technology to provide more convenient access. As the first in the state to offer downloadable audiobooks, the Library now provides ebooks, mobile access, and a variety of apps making its collections available 24/7.

"One hundred and twenty-five years after a new library opened in downtown Knoxville, the Lawson McGhee Library and our public library system have grown into an extremely important part of the Knox County community," Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said. "As Lawson McGhee Library did in 1886, our now 19 public libraries and facilities continue to provide outstanding service to Knox County residents of all ages. I hope everyone will join us in celebrating this 125th anniversary."

All events are free and open to the public. For a schedule of events, please visit

Published October 22, 2011

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