City Spotlight: Memphis, TN
Memphis, Tennessee was founded in 1819 by John Overton, James Winchester, and Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson. The site atop the fourth Chickasaw bluff, they felt, was an ideal place for the city they envisioned. The location provided a certain amount of natural security: it had served as a fort for early French and Spanish explorers, and the high bluffs created a natural barrier against periodic flooding from the Mississippi River. The surrounding countryside was fertile enough to support a substantial agricultural economy, and Memphis’s location nearly midway between New Orleans and the Ohio Valley would make it a valuable river port and trading center.
The new city quickly lived up to those early expectations. By the late 1840s, flatboats loaded with trade goods and cotton-laden riverboats lined the riverbank; Peddlers, fur traders, gamblers, and “river rats” filled the city’s hotels and saloons; and cotton merchants flocked to Front Street’s Cotton Row to buy and sell the area’s high-quality “white gold.” Even the War between the States, during which the city spent two years under federal occupation, failed to slow its growth. When the war ended, Memphis – though still a rough~and~tumble river town known mainly for its muddy streets and lawlessness – was the South’s sixth largest city with some 55,000 citizens. It was also one of the few Southern cities that had not been burned, shelled, or looted during the four-year conflict.
Luck, however, was not on Memphis’s side for very long. In 1872, and again in 1878, the yellow fever epidemics devastated the city, killing more than 5,000 people, and sending another 25,000 to seek safety in other cities. As a result, land values fell drastically, and crops were left to die in the fields.
The city lost its charter, forcing it into bankruptcy. Newspapers across the state suggested that the city should be burned and abandoned. But instead, of yielding to the pressures, Memphis showed the resilience and self-reliance that would mark its passage into the 20th century.
The city sold bonds and used the money to finance a new drainage system, improve sanitation, and pave the notoriously muddy streets. It formed a merchants exchange to seek ways of diversifying the local economy, thus making it less dependent on cotton.
By the early 1900s, Memphis was one of the world’s leading hardwood lumber markets, and local factories turned out a variety of goods – from hardware supplies to farm tools. But the real sign of the city’s recovery lay in the confidence of its residents. The population of Memphis now stood at more than 100,000, nearly twice the pre-yellow fever census.
As Memphis made its economic comeback, history of another sort was being made on Beale Street. Beale Street in those days was a teeming neighborhood that bore little resemblance to the stately cotton merchants’ mansions lining Adams Street. Beale was a simmering cultural cauldron of dice parlors, gin mills, pool halls, and bawdy houses, and its home-grown music reflected what its residents most keenly felt; the blues. W. C. Handy, a wandering black musician and composer, was the first to put down on paper the sometimes grim but always hopeful mix of field hollers, gospel songs, cotton-baling calls, and African tribal songs.
Forty years later, Beale Street and those same rhythms infected a young, aspiring musician named Elvis Aaron Presley, who would forever change the face and the sound of American popular music. The contributions of these two musical innovators made Memphis the “Home of the Blues” and the “Birthplace of Rock~and~ Roll.”
From 1910 until the early 1950s, the destiny of Memphis lay largely in the hands of E. H. “Boss” Crump. Though he officially served as mayor from 1910 to 1915, he was widely regarded as the unofficial mayor for nearly 40 years after that. Though in many ways it was both paternalistic and self-serving, the Crump machine is largely credited with bringing in high-paying industrial jobs, putting Memphis on firm financial footing, and significantly increasing the number and quality of city services.
Crump would no doubt be pleased with many of the changes that have taken place in Memphis in the last 30 years. The city now boasts one on the nation’s largest and best-equipped regional medical facilities. It has become the country’s leading distribution center, where air, rail, highway, and river connections converge from the four corners of the world.
Downtown revitalization has proceeded at a rapid pace with the development of Mud Island, The Pyramid, the National Civil Rights Museum, the Main Street Trolley, and hundreds of new homes and apartments. And Beale Street is once again one of the city’s favorite gathering spots with dozens of fashionable restaurants and nightclubs.
Thoughts on Memphis from Locals
The pioneering spirit in the founders of Memphis, Tennessee later flourished as Memphis gave birth to:
- The Blues
- Piggly Wiggly, the first modern supermarket
- Holiday Inns Hotels
- Federal Express
- Sun Records and rock ‘n’ roll.
By the dawn of the twentieth century, Memphis was once again, and remains today, a thriving trade center. It has been called “America’s Distribution Center” due to its central location in the U.S. and easy access to highway, rail, and air transport of goods. At the same time, it is also one of the country’s most “livable” cities, incorporating a host of parks, museums, and similar amenities into its busy structure and suburbs. The city’s founders’ insisted on and still today exists the “public promenade”, stretching along the river bluff. It’s a place to sit back and enjoy the many blessings – natural and man-made, which Memphis has to offer.
Downtown Memphis is now enjoying a rebirth and revitalization. Mud Island is worth a visit to check out the Mississippi River Museum and the Harbor Town residential development. Plans for the first hotel are underway for Harbor Town as well. While downtown, be sure to see the lighted Hernando De Soto Bridge at night, as well as the Pyramid and ride the restored, vintage trolley cars through downtown and midtown.
Spend the evening on Beale Street, home of the Blues and authentic Memphis music. See a show at the Orpheum Theater and tour the theater to soak in the grandeur. Don’t leave downtown without stopping in at the Peabody, the South’s grand hotel.
Sports in Memphis
Memphis is a basketball town, and the University of Memphis Tigers, are again making waves at the FedEx Forum. No one in memphis grinds harder than our Memphis Grizzlies. The team has truely brought our city together since their arrival in 2001. The Redbirds team is our champion minor league ball team and has packed the Autozone Park time and time again. Memphis also hosts the Liberty Bowl each year and brings some fine college talent to our town each December. The Memphis St Jude Golf Tournament is held each summer at Southwind, our PGA course located just east of town. Sporting events in Memphis are a big part of the community and play an integral role in the family life in our town.
Sports, culture, history, music, nightlife, and sightseeing–You can find it all here in Memphis, TN!
Thoughts on the Memphis Real Estate Market
The Memphis real estate market has been booming for years now. Bargain prices are something of a double-edged sword for homeowners in Memphis. Housing may be affordable and the market at less risk of a correction, but local homeowners also aren’t amassing equity at a rapid pace as in some other markets in the U.S. that now may be considered overpriced. See what listings are available in the Memphis area!