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History for Kingsport: Muriel C. Spoden Collection testament to one woman’s love of city’s past

August 3rd, 2013 11:59 pm by Leigh Ann Laube

History for Kingsport: Muriel C. Spoden Collection testament to one woman’s love of city’s past

Muriel C. Spoden amassed a large collection of items related to Kingsport's history from the mid-1960s until her death in 1999. (Credit: Clark Spoden)

Original documents from Kingsport Public School, 1913 to 1961. Anna Lee Mitchell served as first principal. It was rumored that J. Fred Johnson desired to have a “man principal” replace her. Man, O.L. Jones, from Mary Hughes wanted to apply. Photo 7, 6, 5, 1

Clark Spoden can pinpoint exactly what peaked his mother’s intense interest in the history of Kingsport and her countless hours of research.

It was the mid-1960s, and the Netherland Inn sat in disrepair along the Holston River. Built in the early 1800s by William King for the purpose of developing a boatyard from which to ship his salt, the property, by 1906, had been turned into the home and boarding house of H.C. and Nettie P. Cloud.

Nettie Cloud, the last resident of the inn, died in February 1965 and the inn was in danger of being lost forever.

That’s when Muriel Millar Clark Spoden stepped in.

“She and Lucy May Crymbal and Ben Brown in 1966 learned that the Netherland Inn might be condemned, and they got together ... and asked dad [Hal Spoden] to look at it because he was a structural engineer,” said Clark. “He could see that the chimneys were intact. Structurally, the building was in good shape — the columns, the beams. Structurally, it ought to be preserved.”

The rest, as they say, is history. The Netherland Inn Association was formed and, in 1968, it purchased the inn to be preserved as an historic house museum. The inn today is furnished to represent life as it was in an important American frontier settlement.

Until her death in April 1999, Spoden was an avid local historian and genealogist, amassing a huge collection of letters, ledgers, journals, photographs, scrapbooks, receipts, diaries, film, audio recordings, newspaper clippings, maps, architectural drawings, negatives, instructional displays, photocopies and personal correspondence.

That collection, known today as the Muriel C. Spoden Collection, has been arranged and processed and is one of the largest collections at the City of Kingsport Archives, located downstairs at the Kingsport Public Library.

Much of the research in the collection is related to Spoden’s investigation of the owners and occupants of the Netherland Inn and of related boatyard businesses. Other research relates to the historic sites of Sullivan County and early Kingsport. Some of the genealogical research is in support of her own family history, the history of prominent East Tennessee settlers, and other local families. A significant portion of the papers document the research, writing, publication, and sale of her many books and the Historic Map of the Long Island of the Holston.

The 88-box collection is available and open for patron research.

Muriel Millar Clark was born Nov. 2, 1920 in Birmingham, Ala. She met Hal Spoden in Knoxville and they married in December 1941. The couple lived in several states while Hal worked as a civil engineer. After the World War II ended, the Spodens returned to Knoxville for four years before moving permanently to Kingsport, where Hal started his own engineering firm in 1956.

The Spodens raised two children in Kingsport, Diane and Clark, who both graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School.

Clark recalls his mother’s office, right off their kitchen, where she did most of her research.

“As that filled up, she took over what was previously my basement and made it into her library. That started probably in the mid-’70s. I went to college in 1973 and it just grew for the next 30 years. When mom died in 1999, I wanted to make sure that stuff was preserved,” he said. “As dad got older and less able to go down there ... I knew I needed to get them to a place where it would be saved.”

Clark had his mother’s collection taken to a storage facility, then he contacted City Archivist Brianne Wright.
“I had them taken to a storage facility until the library was ready to take them,” he said. “Brianne coordinated with the mayor and the city to make arrangements to prepare to receive it. It was a lot of stuff.”

Clark asked the Archives to remove from the collection any items that were personal to his family, but he didn’t hesitate to donate the remainder for public use.

“I knew mom would want it preserved. She put her heart and soul into that stuff, and she did so for the benefit of the public,” he said. “It wasn’t for any personal or financial gain. There’s no question that I wanted to save it. We’re just blessed that the city sees the importance in it. A lot of people don’t care about preserving things.”

The Archives acquired the collection in May 2011. It took nearly two years to process.

“That seems like a long time frame, but this collection is so big,” Wright said. “It was overwhelming.”
Joe Penza, an intern funded by the Friends of the Archives, spent 200 hours going through all the papers and creating a dozen categories in which to catalog the collection.

“Once you come up with that intellectually, you have to separate it physically,” said Kari Roueche, a volunteer who was presented East Tennessee State University’s Graduate Student Award for Service Projects that Enhance the Public Good for her work on the collection.

Roueche took over the processing starting in August 2011 and finishing in October/November 2012. She then wrote a 33-page archival “finding aide,” similar to a card catalog, which she finished in February 2013.

Among the subjects in the collection are Bays Mountain, Blountville, the Boatyard Historic District, the Holston River, Kingsport, Netherland Inn, Rotherwood, Sullivan County, Sycamore Shoals State Park and the Col. John Carter House, and Tennessee.

“Muriel was fairly organized. It was sort of like her own personal library in a way,” Wright said. “She appeared to have some system.”

“The Netherland Inn series documents two women who saw that inn falling apart on the street,” Roueche said. “This collection documents saving the history of Kingsport. It was a pretty enlightened move to donate this stuff. It doesn’t always happen.”

For more information on the Muriel C. Spoden Collection, visit or call the Archives at 224-2559.

The Archives is open from 2 to 5 p.m., Monday; 9 a.m. to noon and 2 to 5 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; and other times by appointment. Walk-ins are welcome.

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