Library Construction Unearths Firefighter Memorial

It’s just plain serendipity that a granite panel honoring the first two Knoxville firefighters who died in the line of duty was unearthed—literally—during construction at Chilhowee Park May 28, within a week of the Knox County Public Library Foundation revealing its intention to build a new downtown master library, likely at World’s Fair Park. The panel, which apparently had been buried on the site for more than six decades, honored firefighters William F. Maxey and John J. Dunn, who died on the night of February 2, 1904, battling flames that destroyed several buildings on the east side of Gay Street. One of those buildings was the original Lawson McGhee Library, now known as the Rebori Building, still standing today at the corner of Gay Street and Summit Hill Drive despite being completely gutted in the blaze. The library survived, too; though it had to find a home in rented quarters from 1904-1916, its books and records were rescued. Open since 1886, it’s the longest continually operating library in East Tennessee. The two men’s memorial has survived another move, too, out of the earth and onto display at Knoxville Fire Department headquarters. No one yet knows if the other seven panels from that same memorial are buried elsewhere on the construction site.

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