Remembering Knoxville historian Pollyanna Creekmore

Dr. Jim TumblinUncategorized

Pollyanna Creekmore was born in Jellico, Campbell County, Tenn. on Sept. 23, 1920. She was the fifth of the six children of Lewis M. and Dillie Creekmore. When she was only two years old, the family moved to Knoxville. There she attended the public schools and entered Knoxville High School, graduating in 1938.

She entered the University of Tennessee and graduated in 1942 with a bachelor’s degree, majoring in history  with a political science minor. She showed early promise as a student assistant in the College of Education and History Department and was awarded the Mathes-D.A.R. Award in American History. After graduation she taught briefly in the Greenback High School and then began working at the Lawson McGhee Library.

Mary Utopia Rothrock (1890 –1976), had been head librarian at the Lawson McGhee Library since its re-birth as a public library in 1916. In the 1940s, she began work as editor of the landmark book, The French Broad-Holston Country (A History of Knox County, Tenn.), which has become the backbone of any local historian’s library. She chose Pollyanna Creekmore, still only in her mid-20s, to research and to write the three essential chapters on the Civil War and Reconstruction. Creekmore also performed a large amount of the fact-checking and the indexing for the remainder of the book which was published in 1946 and remains a classic 71 years later.

Later in her career, Miss Creekmore also contributed several very labor-intensive research tools for local historians: Early East Tennessee Taxpayers (1778-1839) (1980), Tennessee newspaper extracts and abstracts (marriage, death, and other items of genealogical/historical interest) (1995) and numerous bibliographies, census summaries and population schedules for Tennessee counties.

In 1947, Creekmore took time away from her library position to earn a graduate degree at the prestigious Columbia University Graduate School of Library Science in New York City. Later, her natural love for genealogy influenced her to take advanced work in the field at first the National Institute of Genealogical Research in Washington and later at Stanford University’s Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research.

Although she first worked in the Lawson McGhee Library’s reference and circulation departments, Creekmore joined the staff of the library’s C.M. McClung Historical Collection in 1947 and eventually became its chief. The MHC had been established in 1921 with its initial core of some 4000 books plus historical documents from the personal library of Calvin M. McClung donated by his widow upon his death in 1919. Over several years, she visited libraries and court houses all over East Tennessee to copy documents and to add them to the collection.

When urban renewal took iconic photographer Jim Thompson’s Lowry St. business in the 1960s, it was Creekmore who sought Thompson’s permission to collect stacks of his glass negatives of historical scenes and to move them to the library, preserving their photographic record of local history.

Beginning in 1939, she became active in the East Tennessee Historical Society and served as its secretary from 1948 to 1969. She was a member of a number of historical societies and of the National Genealogical Society and was a frequent lecturer at local and state meetings in both those fields. She traveled widely in the New England, mid-Atlantic and Southern states in search of relevant manuscripts and books.

When she retired from the library in 1970 after 25 years of service, she agreed to move to Johnson City and to join the faculty of East Tennessee State University as head of the Government Documents Department of the Sherrod Library. While there she became a founding member of the Watauga Association of Genealogists and edited its bulletin for several years. Active also in the Historical Society of nearby Washington County, Va., she served as its recording secretary, chair of the program committee and two time president.

When she retired again in 1987, she returned to Knoxville and could most often be found performing research and assisting patrons at her precious McClung Historical Collection. Many local researchers, the author included, will recall her gentle touch on the shoulder and the question, “What are you working on?” Quite often she would then direct the person to a book or a document file that would markedly assist in the project.

Pollyanna Creekmore passed away on May 3, 2009. After services at the Messiah Lutheran Church, she was interred in Highland Memorial Cemetery.


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