Article and photos by Larry Crain
Being an auto enthusiast I know that there are many automotive museums, both big and small, scattered across our great country. I am also pleased to say that there is an automotive museum within a 15 minute drive from my home. I enjoy seeing what unique vehicles these museums have on display, and just sometimes the museum is also a part of automotive history like the one in Greeneville, Tennessee.
The City Car Garage Museum building did not start out with an automotive connection unless it was the cars and trucks that came to it to pick up seed or other farm related supplies. The first building on this location was a Kasco Feed Store in the 1930’s, but in the 1940’s it was purchased by W. R. Bullen and his business partner Jack O’Keefe. These two gentlemen bought the property and building after their Plymouth-Dodge dealership in town burned down and turned this location into a new dealership and garage.
After Jack O’Keefe’s death, W.R. Bullen bought out his part of the dealership and brought in his sons Oscar & Fox Bullen to help run the dealership. The Bullen family ran the Plymouth-Dodge dealership in this location until the late 1970’s. After that time the old building passed through different hands and as different businesses. It was not until Kent Bewley came into possession of the building and opening it in 2008 as a museum that it once again had ties to the automotive field. A little background on Kent’s family shows that they must have had gas and oil in their veins so to speak. The automotive ties start with his father who owned a Packard dealership and the family having owned dealerships since 1937. Kent and his wife Betty Anne both own numerous collector cars so the idea of putting this building to use as a museum was a perfect fit for them.
When you first enter the museum you will see a very unique display of Texaco memorabilia and early Texaco delivery vehicles. Signage from one of the Bewley dealerships adorns the walls along with other auto related material. Starting with the very first twin row of vehicles you will notice the diversity of what they have on display. Parked along the row of vehicles you could find a 1969 Camaro Z28, a Pantera a 1940 Ford coupe in a moonshine display or the 1972 Rolls Royce from the movie Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Another area features some NASCAR history with the Daytona 500 winning car of Sterling Marlin along with one of his driving suits. More automotive history can be found in the form of a DeLorean and a pair of John DeLorean’s personal office chairs. The inventory of vehicles does change with some being on permanent display while others are rotated out by owners of private collections.
The museum also features areas known as the Emporium, the Palace Movie Theater and last but far from least is Suzie Q’s Diner which can seat 50 plus patrons. Each quarter during the year there are different areas of automotive history being featured in displays and in video. There are on average at least two special events each month with a new feature being added called “Car Side Chat”, which will involve a vehicle and people that have history with it interacting with the audience. The museum maintains a presence with the community by having school groups and others come into the museum to learn more about automotive history through what is on display.
The City Garage Car Museum is located on Main Street in the historic downtown district of Greeneville, Tennessee and is open to the public Wednesday-Saturday from 10am-4pm. Admission is $5 for adults and ages 10 and under are free. The museum is also available for special events and for the car loving crowd, it has been host to at least one wedding so far. For more information on this museum please visit their Facebook page, www.citygaragecarmuseum.com or call 423-639-6971.
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top visited while in town, so be sure to stop by for a tour because you just never know who you will see. Plus you never know what cars might be parked outside that just happened to be in town. Check out the American Graffiti Race article for more on these two beauties!