NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Preserving Tennessee history for future generations, the Tennessee State Museum has thousands of artifacts that aren’t on display.

One irreplaceable Tennessee beacon in their care is the original Tri-Star flag.

Curators wear purple nitrate gloves as they rolled out the flag for News 2. The practice insures nothing from their hands gets transferred to the cloth. Additionally, the flag is wrapped in tissue paper for an extra layer of protection.

“This was given to the state by Col. Le Roy Reeves himself,” said Dan Pomeroy, Director of Collections for the Tennessee State Museum.

Col. Reeves, who served as a member of the Tennessee National Guard, designed and created the state flag in 1905, when it flew outside an armory in Johnson City.

“In terms of Tennessee, you don’t get much more important than this for an artifact,” said Pomeroy.

Before April 17, 1905, when the current state flag was adopted by the General Assembly, Tennessee did not have one.

“There was an attempt to create a flag in 1861, with the impending Civil War, but it never passed both houses of the General Assembly,” explained Pomeroy. “When we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Tennessee statehood – created in 1796 – a semblance of a state flag was created, but it was never adopted as an official state flag.”

The centennial flag is known as the Volunteer State flag. It was divided into three parts: red, blue, white. ‘The Volunteer State’ was embroidered in the middle, and to the lower right the number 16 sewn, which represented Tennessee becoming the 16th state in the Union.

Col. Reeves thoughtfully placed each part of the Tri-Star flag. “You’ll notice the configuration of the stars in the circle – representing East, West, and Middle Tennessee – are all equally distant and none more important than another, which has always been an important ingredient in Tennessee’s story,” said Pomeroy.

Volunteer State Flag 1897Tennessee State Flag

Now more than 105 years after Col. Reeves masterpiece was adopted, his flag remains an icon Tennesseans proudly display. Pomeroy said, “It’s a beloved flag through all of Tennessee. You can tell that.”

Tennessee 225: Dive into the history of the Volunteer State.

The original sketch by Col. Reeves of the flag can be found in the Tennessee State Library and Archives collection.