The Ask Doc Knox column ["Whittle Uprising" by Z. Heraclitus Knox, June 16, 2011] mentions that Whittle Communications employees likely sent the first e-mails from Knoxville in their shiny new HQ building around 1991. While it is exceedingly difficult to nail down when an e-mail could've been sent from Knoxville, it was likely in the early '80s, if not the late '70s. UT Computer Science students had e-mail access in the mid-'80s, if not earlier. Professors likely had access prior to that. My dad introduced me to e-mail via a terminal session on our C64 when I was in the 5th grade. That would've been around 1983 or 1984 and he had been using it for years prior.
With UT and ORNL in the region, Knoxville had a very strong, early presence on the networks that became "The Internet."
I love the Doc Knox articles—I've been desperately trying to come up with a worthy question to submit. Keep up the stellar work!