The Customs House Museum & Cultural Center is partially housed in the historic 1898 structure located on the corner of Second and Commerce Streets in Downtown Clarksville, Tennessee. Featuring a unique blend of architectural styles, the magnificent edifice was originally constructed as a Federal Post Office and Customs House to jointly handle large volumes of domestic and foreign mail, as well as government business created by the area’s international tobacco trade.
In 1891, Congress approved $35,000 to construct the building, and three years later the federal government purchased a property for $6,500. The building was designed by William Aiken, Supervising Architect of the US Department of Treasury. After years of wrangling over plans and costs, a ceremonial groundbreaking took place on September 1, 1897, and the facility was opened to the public in November 1898 at a final construction cost of approximately $42,000.
Over time, the influence of the tobacco trade diminished and the post office was moved to a new location in 1939. From 1939 until 1983, the structure housed the offices of the Clarksville Department of Electricity. The 1898 building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
In 1983, the Clarksville City Council and the Montgomery County Commission jointly approved the organizational charter of the newly organized Clarksville-Montgomery County Historical Museum. The City of Clarksville leased the 1898 building to the Museum, which opened to the public in June 1984 in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of the City’s founding. In 1996, a major building expansion was completed more than tripling the size of the facility. Along with the physical expansion, the Museum’s mission and scope of programming were greatly enhanced.
On January 22, 1999, Downtown Clarksville was devastated by an F3 tornado. Although the Museum suffered significant damage, the historic 1898 building was spared from ruin. Nearly 18 months later and after $1.8 million in repairs, the Museum was reopened to the public. During the closure, the Museum board decided to re-introduce the Museum with a new name and branding to reflect a new era of service. Since then, the institution has conducted business as the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center.
The citizens of Clarksville and Montgomery County have entrusted the Museum with the collection, preservation, interpretation and presentation of this area’s history, arts and culture. From its inception, the Museum has been committed to serving this diverse community. This commitment is reflected through a broad spectrum of services such as permanent exhibit installations, numerous temporary art exhibits, traveling science, crafts and historical themed exhibitions, multi-cultural presentations, music and theater performances, lectures, educational and enrichment activities for youth and adult audiences and frequent family-oriented special events. The Museum offers group tours to public school and homeschool students. The Museum participates in multiple reciprocal membership programs, is a Museums for All and Blue Star Museum military family participant, and is a member of the Tennessee Association of Museums and the Southeastern Museums Conference.
OUR SUSTAINABILITY MISSION The Customs House Museum & Cultural Center believes museums have the privilege and power to impact the sustainability and resiliency of their communities through education, exposure to the arts and thoughtful usage of natural resources.
We holistically approach sustainability by encouraging informed citizenship, while acknowledging that access to the arts and education, cultural heritage, availability of resources and a deeply rooted sense of place all directly contribute to happy, healthy and safe communities. Our comprehensive approach means we have mobilized all Museum departments in our efforts to maximize input and expertise from every employee and stakeholder.
Education & Programming
Explorers Landing focuses on drawing connections between our waterways, native animal species, energy and material usage and healthy habits! Aimed at engaging our youngest citizens, this space uses experiential learning to spark questions like: How many resources are used when you turn on the light switch? What fish species call your town home, and how can we care for that home? What foods keep our body healthy, and how hard do farmers work to get those foods to your grocery store?
Exploring Our Town is a self-guided walking tour that uses local historical landmarks and interesting sites to combine placemaking and physical health. It promotes quality time with loved ones, peers and friends while celebrating what makes Clarksville unique! Our Explore-at-Home online activities improve access to our educational programming and offer engaging, themed educational content without the trip and cost of admission to the Museum. The Museum participates in and hosts many reduced admission programs throughout the year, including First Thursday Art Walk, Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day, Museums for All, community film screenings, and is a proud member of Blue Star Museums. These programs allow us to welcome thousands of community members a year, all at a free or reduced admission price.
Collections & Exhibits
Our collections department is in the process of replacing all our lights with LED bulbs. The exhibit galleries within the Museum were successfully converted last year, and both spaces have environmental controls set to minimize energy usage while maintaining optimal conditions for collections care, preservation and exhibition. We are in the process of uploading all of our collections to our website! While this is an ambitious undertaking, it will remove the cost barrier, circumvent the limitations of our exhibit schedule and allow instant connection to our shared history..
Facilities & Operations
The Montgomery County Green Certification Program was launched in 2011 to help organizations learn and implement best practices in environmental stewardship. In 2021, the Museum became Green Certified at the Gold level. Additionally, in 2020, the Museum earned an Award of Excellence in Resource Conservation as a result of our ongoing transition to LED lighting. We currently have our sights set on Platinum, the highest certification available, for our recertification in 2023! We are participating in Culture Over Carbon, a national two-year research project funded through an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant. Together with our colleagues at the Missouri Historical Society, Phipps Conservatory, Detroit Zoological Society, Strawbery Banke Museum, The Field Museum, Frye Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Madison Children’s Museum and many others, we are helping the entire museum sector better understand our energy use and how to reduce it. The research results focus on the unique needs of the cultural sector and aim to stave off the worst impacts of climate change on our facilities and culture.
Our Green Team
Eric Shanley Facilities Manager