In 1935, the Hesler Biology building also started showcasing birds, butterflies, alligators and other zoological specimens in one of the upper rooms. Around the same time, the Department of Anthropology was created so that proper excavations of artifacts could be performed by the University after concerns from the Tennessee Valley Authority. Archeologist would now study, preserve and restore much of the natural history throughout the state. Within just a few years, an official archaeological laboratory was in operation at UT and a curator was hired from Chicago to run the lab.
Thomas Lewis, a supervisor of excavations, began to push the university to create a proper museum to house the thousands of artifacts that their teams had collected in the first few years. There were so many “mini museums” throughout campus, the collections would be better served in one museum where people from all over the state could come and enjoy them. Finally, In the fall of 1954, Lewis was appointed as head chair of a committee to plan the university museum.
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A few appropriations for the museum fell through until 1955 when a couple, Judge John W. Green and his wife Ellen McClung has willed a great deal of money to the building of a Natural History building at the University. In 1957, the money became available to the committee with the specific rule that the museum be called Frank H. McClung Museum, in memorial of Eleanor’s father. o and be made of brick or stone and be made as fireproof as possible.
Henry Hudson house was purchased in early summer of 1959 and Lewis was appointed director of the museum. The building was renovated and completed two years later. Before the opening of the museum Lewis and the Assistant director, Madeline Kneberg married and retired.
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The museum had 35.000 square feet of space and new director Alfred Guthe, enabled the Fine Arts Department to have the East Gallery to house the arts collections they had amassed. The museum had a limited opening that began in fall of 1961. Archaeologists could start using the museum for research. The museum became open to the public in late 1963 after the official dedication.
More than 1.4 million people have visited the McClung Museum. Their focus today is on education and programming with roughly 9,000 square feet dedicated to exhibition space and the same amount dedicated to storage of the various collections not on display and for research. There is also an auditorium where university classes and lectures are held. Photo: McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture
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