ETSU Reece Museum features growth of Elizabethton

Published 4:57 pm Friday, June 1, 2018

Over 50 years of Elizabethton history is currently on display at East Tennessee State University.

While change took place, it didn’t come without opposition. The “urban renewal” for Elizabethton was first mentioned in 1965 in the Elizabethton City Council meeting minutes and continued to circulate until the last property involved with the project was sold by the city in 1986. Different accounts of opposition were documented by media outlets. Organizations like the Downtown Business Association was against it while the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce support it – according to newspaper clippings from that time.

A timeline of the urban renewal is just one of the different photos that are displayed in Gallery B of the ETSU Reece Museum. The gallery, titled “Renewal” by Katie Sheffield, takes the public back in time with various photos from the past provided by Joe Penza, Elizabethton archivist. Sheffield used the photos provided and went around the city to take updated photos to show how times have changed.

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The exhibit, which lasts until July 20, was a joy to be part of, according exhibition coordinator Spenser Brenner. Brenner is also no stranger when it comes to working alongside Sheffield.

“Even when I was in school – I graduated in 2013 –  she helped me do prints,” Brenner said about his past experience with Sheffield. “I already organized two photography exhibits and I wanted another to keep the theme going. I mentioned this to Katie and she told me she has worked with Joe Penza since 2016 and that she was developing these photographs. This was about two months ago.”

Sheffield took time to speak with the Elizabethton Star Thursday prior to teaching a class at ETSU. After getting in contact with Penza, she realized the project would be something that could make an impact for the public.

Showcasing history through photos, she said, gives the public a way to get a snapshot of development. Brenner commended Sheffield’s eye for the exhibit. Beside each photo from the early 1970s is an updated photo taken by Sheffield – at the same angle as the archived photo.

“It’s all about the changing landscape of Elizabethton,” Brenner said. “I really loved the way she came at it from an artistic standpoint, along with the documentation.”

Brenner added the exhibit allowed him to get a good grasp of the development that Elizabethton has gone through and how that applies with Northeast Tennessee as a whole. The coordinator noted he’s watched the way things have changed in downtown Johnson City and seeing the public’s reaction on different plans – much like the ways residents in Elizabethton were against, or for, urban renewal years ago.

“You see these talks going on all around us,” he said. “These are exhibits that mean a lot to me. It gives the public a chance to see where we were and where we are now.”

A reception for the exhibit will be held July 12. To view the exhibit, stop by the museum during regular business hours.

To learn more about the museum, visit or call (423) 439-4392. The museum is free and open to the public while parking arrangements can be made. Three parking spots are also available for the general public in front of the museum.