With its location on a high bluff above the Mississippi River and its annual floods, this site has long been highly sought for settlement. For 10,000 or so years the Chickasaw Indians occupied the bluff. In 1819 when Americans John Overton, James Winchester and future President Andrew Jackson laid out a town here they named it after another city that saw massive floods each spring - Memphis, Egypt, an ancient capital on the Nile River.
Memphis was a bawdy river town for most of its early existence but as the surrounding country settled and the railroad arrived the town population exploded in the 1950s form 6,000 to over 30,000. But lurking on the horizon was a one-two punch that would bring the city to its knees for most of the reminder of the century. The Civil War did not have a tremendous direct impact on Memphis but it did strip the town of much of its wealth. The yellow fever epidemics that appeared like clockwork in 1867, 1873 and 1878 had much direr consequences. About three out of every four people had disappeared from Memphis by 1880, either in flight or in a funeral procession. So many people left Memphis that it surrendered its city charter.
After “heavy black frost and ice one-sixteenth inch thick” on October 20, 1878 broke the last of the mosquito-borne plague the town improved sanitation and rebuilt. The first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River south of St. Louis was built in 1892, opening trade to the Southwest. As Memphis developed into a major transportation center the city became the greatest inland cotton market in the world and more hardwood lumber was bought and sold here than anywhere else in America.
But the most enduring export from Memphis would be its music. In 1909 W.C. Handy put his spin on the “lonesome songs” of the poor rural black farmers of Mississippi Delta and introduced America to the blues. Four decades later Elvis Presley provided his own interpretation on the same songs and gave the world rock and roll. In the first half of the 20th century evening visitors to downtown Memphis could hear music wafting down from the rooftop gardens of its grand hotels; today the music comes from a revitalized Beale Street that just a few decades ago was a district of falling down brick buildings.
Today about 600,000 visitors a year - about the same number as the people who live here - come to Memphis to see a single house, Elvis Presley’s Graceland, a National Historic Landmark open to the public since 1982. Not quite so many spend a lot of time looking at the downtown but that is where our walking tour will investigate, starting in a remnant of the original 1819 plan for the town...
Court Avenue between 2nd Street and Main Street
This is one of four original parks laid out by city planners in 1819 and the only one remaining in its original form. The land came from John McLemore, one of the founders of Memphis. Court Square comes by its name honestly - a court house was planned for here but never built. The fountain with the iron rendering of Hebe, the mythological Greek cupholder to the golds, was erected in 1876. Court Square did a star turn in the Memphis-based movie, The Firm, serving as a backdrop for a meeting between Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman.
EXIT THE SQUARE ON THE EAST (2ND STREET) SIDE ONTO COURT AVENUE.
The Court Square Building
30 North Second Street at southeast corner of Court Avenue
The first issues of the Appeal appeared in 1841, printed in the wooden shack where Colonel Henry Van Pelt lived. Van Pelt published his newspaper - just a sheet of paper - once a week. By the Civil War twenty years later the Appeal had morphed into an important voice in the Midsouth and its editors were determined to continue trumpeting the Confederate cause during the conflict. In 1862 the presses and plates were loaded into a boxcar and began a journey to Mississippi and then to Georgia and finally to Alabama and Georgia before Union troops destroyed the equipment on April 6, 1865, just days before Robert E. Lee’s surrender. Within six months, editor Benjamin Dill had returned to Memphis and started the Appeal again. By the time the newspaper constructed these offices in 1905 it had merged with the Memphis Commercial and absorbed The Avalanche to become the Commercial Appeal. The picturesque Beaux Arts design was provided by architects Charles O. Pfeil and George M. Shaw. The Appeal introduced radio to Memphis from its radio station WMC on the top floor in 1923. Before radio the paper’s employees hung a large a green diamond-shaped sign outside the second floor windows and posted play-by-play coverage of Southern League baseball games and the World Series as results came in over the telegraph. Thousands would gather in Court Square to follow the progress of the national pastime. After the Commercial Appeal, still the dominant newspaper in town, outgrew its facilities here the building served as headquarters for Welcome Wagon, a company founded by a former Commercial Appeal account executive in 1928. Most recently the building has been restored to its original splendor by Bank Tennessee.
WALK DOWN COURT AVENUE AWAY FROM COURT SQUARE.
46 North 3rd Street at northeast corner of 3rd Street
Dave Dermon was an immigrant from Ukraine when he set up a tinsmithing shop in Memphis 1909 but from the beginning he had an eye for real estate. Within a few years he was buying property in his neighborhood and by 1915 he began to develop what came to be known as “Auto Row” along Union Avenue. In 1925 he plowed $800,000 into the construction of this 10-story building as his company headquarters. Architects Charles 0. Pfeil and George Awsumb outfitted each dark brown brick facade with a vibrant display in town of yellow, green and white terra cotta details - a novelty on the Memphis streetscape. Dermon sold the building in the 1930s but despite a parade of subsequent owners it still retains much of its original decorative appeal.
TURN RIGHT ON 3RD STREET.
8 North 3rd Street at northeast corner of Madison Avenue
This was the tallest building in the South when it was constructed in 1930 and civic boosters were quickly calling 29-story Neo-Gothic tower the “Queen of Memphis.” The Sterick took its name from the two Texans who owned it, R.E. Sterling and Wyatt Hedrick who contracted their names to attach to the $2.5 million landmark. Hedrick was an architect with a prolific Texas practice. Here he outfitted the lower floors of the 365-foot building with polished Minnesota granite and Indiana limestone and capped the confection with a green tile roof. Inside, the main lobby was said to “rival the beauty of a Moorish castle.” Despite opening at the height of the Depression, the building was fully occupied with office workers from Chrysler and Union Pacific and other blue chip companies. The Sterick remained the Sky King of Tennessee until the Life & Casualty Tower was built in Nashville in 1957. That year the building was whitewashed and in 1958 it was sold for $3.8 million but began a long decline that led to vacancy in the 1980s.
Tennessee Bank Tower
165 Madison Avenue and southwest corner of 3rd Street
This was originally the home of the Goodwyn Institute, a gift to the city from William Adolphus Goodwyn who made his money in cotton in Memphis and then left for Nashville. Distance makes the heart goes fonder because after he died in the capital city in 1898 he left his entire fortune for this public library and auditorium. The seven-story Beaux Arts landmark was sacrificed in 1962 for this tower to house the First National Bank.
TURN LEFT ON MADISON AVENUE.
195 Madison Avenue
Stephen Cummings Toof was born in Montreal in 1834 but was on the Iowa plains with his family by the age of five. His mother forced him into a printer’s apprenticeshipin Keokuk, Iowa at the age of 16 but he liked it well enough to seek work as a printer in Memphis in 1852. By the end of 1864 Toof had set up his own printing business under the name of S. C. Toof’s Franklin Job Printing House, a concern which continues in some form today. The Toof Building was constructed in 1913, three years after S.C. Toof died, to house printing presses and offices. Designed by G.M. Shaw, the building is an early example of the Chicago Style of modern architecture emphasizing function over ornamentation. It boasts a steel frame construction and large plate glass windows laid out in a grid. When the Memphis Redbirds constructed their new home baseball park, the Toof Building was incorporated into the leftfield corner. S.C. Toof was the original owner of Graceland Farms; Elvis Presley’s home was named for Toff’s daughter who inherited the farm and built the mansion.
between Union Avenue and Madison Avenue, between 3rd and 4th streets
The Memphis minor league baseball team is owned by a non-profit community foundation, an ownership arrangement unique in professional baseball. When their new baseball stadium opened in 2000, construction costs were estimated at $80.5 million, by far the most ever spent on a minor league stadium. AutoZone Park features the largest video board in minor league baseball, a 23-by-30 foot screen. The video board can produce 16.2 million different colors and is 127 feet (or 13 stories) above the playing field.
Medical Arts Building
240 Madison Avenue at northeast corner of 4th Street
This building, now on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1929 for doctors’ offices. The Gothic Revival styling was provided by Cincinnati architects Rudolph Tietig and Walter H. Lee.
TURN RIGHT ON 4TH STREET. CONTINUE ON 4TH STREET AFTER IT BENDS RIGHT ON UNION AVENUE.
W.C. Handy House
352 Beale Street at southwest corner of Peabody Place
William Christopher Handy is generally credited with bringing the music of the Mississippi Delta plantations into the American popular mainstream. “The Father of the Blues” was Alabama-born in a log cabin and traveled through rural Mississippi listening to various styles, remembering all that he heard. He moved to Memphis in 1909 when he was 35 and lived in this tiny clapboard shotgun shack while writing “Beale Street Blues” and “Memphis Blues” and others. His music publishing actually made him money - unheard of for black musicians - and landed him in New York City by 1917 where he continued to bring the blues to a wider audience. W.C. Handy’s house was actually a mile south of here and moved to this location on Beale Street, where he began playing the clubs a century ago.
TURN RIGHT ON BEALE STREET.
Robertson Topp was an energetic developer of South Memphis in its early days and created Beale Street in 1841. He named it after a long-forgotten military hero. Running east from the Mississippi River, the muddy thoroughfare became the home of trade merchants and retail shops. By the early 1900s Beale Street was hopping with clubs, restaurants and shops, mostly black-owned. The most successful was Robert Church, said to be the first black millionaire in the South; he paid for the creation of Church Park at the southeast corner of 4th and Beale streets in 1899. Today the two blocks of pedestrian-only Beale Street reigns as the world-famous birthplace of the blues.
340 Beale Street
This was the Monarch Club a century ago when it was run by Jim Kinnane, popularly known as the “Czar of the Memphis Underworld.” The Monarch was considered the finest gambling house in the South with a mirror-walled lobby and trap doors with secret exits in the case of a raid. Around town it was known familiarly as the “Castle of Missing Men” and it was said Bad Sam the bouncer would just dump the dead bodies in the street.
TURN LEFT ON HALEY CIRCLE AND WALK A FEW STEPS TO ITS END.
191 Beale Street
The Fed Ex Forum was built in 2004 for the City of Memphis by Ellerbe Becket, a Minneapolis firm known for its work with sports arenas. The price tag of $250 million was partially offset by $92 million paid by FedEx for naming rights. Fred Smith, the first to recognize that time meant even more money in the jet age, founded Federal Express in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1971 before starting overnight operations at Memphis International Airport in 1973.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO BEALE STREET AND TURN LEFT, CONTINUING YOUR EXPLORATIONS OF BEALE STREET.
203 South Main Street at southwest corner of Beale Street
The Grand Opera House was built here in 1890 and became part of the Orpheum Vaudeville circuit in 1907. It had been renamed the Orpheum by the time it burned down in 1923. The new Orpheum was designed as a movie palace in 1928 by America’s foremost theater architects, brothers C.W. and George L. Rapp of Chicago working with a $1.6 million budget. The Orpheum closed in 1982 but a renovation rebuilt it as a performance venue.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO GAYOSO AVENUE.
Goldsmith’s (Center For Southern Folklore)
123 South Main Street at northwest corner of Gayoso Street
Goldsmith’s Department Store, “Memphis’ Greatest Store,” traces its roots back to before the Civil War when a German immigrant named Louis Ottenheimer made his way from Arkansas to open a store with Moses Schwartz on Main Street. Ottenheimer brought his nephews, Isaac and Jacob Goldsmith, into the business but as soon as the boys had pocketed $500 they opened their own store on Beale Street in 1870. Goldsmith’s moved here in 195 as it evolved into the town’s first true department store. It was the first place to shop with air conditioning, the first store to feature a bargain basement and the first business to issue charge cards. It was the place Memphis went to go Christmas shopping - Elvis did his after business hours. The Downtown store closed in 1993 and now is the home of the Center For Southern Folklore.
TURN LEFT ON GAYSOSO STREET. TURN RIGHT ON FRONT STREET.
130 South Front Street
Robertson Topp, a prosperous planter in the early decades of the 1800s, had a vision for Memphis becoming the leading city of the American South and his cornerstone was going to be the Gayoso House, a grand hotel to rival those found in Eastern cities. Esteemed New Orleans architect James Dakin was his builder and he delivered a stately Greek Revival hotle in 1842 that instantly became a recognizable landmark to travelers on the Mississippi River. In the next decade English architect James B. cook doubled the size of the hotel to 150 rooms and added wrought iron balconies overlooking the river. Guests checking into the Gayoso House could bask in the luxury of indoor plumbing with water delivered through silver faucets into marble tubs. The Gayoso remained a Memphis landmark throughout the 19th century until it burned to the ground on Independence Day in 1899. James B. Cook, who had liked Memphis well enough to stay, designed this distinctive U-shaped replacement. The Gayoso carried on as a hotel into the middle of the 20th century before it was bought by the surrounding Goldsmith’s Department Store and used as storage. The building has now been restored for residential and commercial use.
Memphis Cotton Exchange
65 Union Avenue at southeast corner of Front Street
It didn’t take long for the early settlers in West Tennessee to realize they grow cotton there better than just about anywhere else. Memphis would be the largest spot-cotton market in the world and Cotton Row along Front Street was the center of the worldwide cotton trade. Farmers would bring their annual harvest to sell to traders who, in turn, sold it to textile manufacturers across the world. The Memphis Chamber of Commerce organized a cotton exchange in 1874 to provide a central location where buyers could meet sellers. The Exchange moved into this building in 1925 that came from the pen of George Mahan. Mahan was a life-long Memphis resident known for his flamboyant residential designs although he reeled in his creative instincts for commercial buildings, as you can see here.
TURN RIGHT ON UNION AVENUE.
Memphis Business Journal Building
88 Union Avenue at northwest corner of Main Street
This early Art Deco skyscraper was constructed in 1927 on designs by E.L. Harrison and Nowland Van Powell. Van Powell, a Memphis native, was only 23 at the time and embarking on a 50-year career in town. The building, adorned with icicles of stone dripping from its roof, was constructed for money-man C.F. Farnsworth but its most enduring tenant was the Memphis Business Journal, which stuck its name on the roof during its time here.
149 Union Avenue at southeast corner of 2nd Street
Few cities not named New York or Chicago or Washington have a nationally known hotel. The Peabody is one. The original Peabody was built a block closer to the Mississippi River on Union Avenue by Robert Campbell Brinkley in 1869. As it neared completion Brinkley heard of the death of George Peabody, a Baltimore banker and America’s first philanthropist, and named the hotel after him. The original closed in 1923. This Peabody Hotel was designed by Chicago architect Walter Ahlschlager in the Italian Renaissance style. It too would close, in the early 1970s. It was purchased by the Jack Belz family for $400,000 who then poured $25,000,000 into renovating the Peabody, which has emerged as the linchpin for downtown revitalization. The Peabody is best known for the ducks which live in the hotel. The first ducks appeared in 1933 after hotel manager Frank Schutt returned from a hunting trip and he let three of his live decoys play in the hotel fountain. The guests enjoyed the ducks so much that five Mallards have frolicked in the fountain every day since. In 1940 the ducks were trained to march through the lobby and today the procession goes ceremoniously from their penthouse accommodations to the lobby and back via elevator for appreciative crowds.
TURN LEFT ON 2ND STREET. TURN LEFT ON MADISON AVENUE.
Goodwyn (Commercial Bank Building)
129 Madison Avenue at southwest corner of 2nd Street
This Beaux Arts heritage tower from 1909 has one of the finest pedigrees in Memphis. Created for the Commercial Bank, it sprung from a collaboration between James Gamble Rogers and Neander M. Woods, both architects with national reputations.
Memphis Exchange Building
9 North Second Street at northwest corner of Madison Avenue
Neander Montgomery Woods arrived in Memphis when he was 13 years old in 1889 as his father came to town to take over as the pastor of Second Presbyterian Church. He stayed barely a year before he was sent on an educational odyssey that included Washington University in St. Louis, Vanderbilt, and Auburn. He landed in Chicago with an engineering degree and working in an architect’s office. He returned to Memphis in 1900 to pursue a career as an architect and opened his own shop in 1906. Woods would stay in Memphis only until 1912 before leaving for New York City where he would work prominently for 44 more years. In his time in Memphis Woods was known mostly for his residential work, creating over 500 houses, but he took time out in 1910 to design this exuberant 19-story Beaux Arts building for the Memphis Cotton and Merchants Exchange.
AT MAIN STREET, TURN RIGHT. THE TALL BUILDING ON YOUR RIGHT IS...
D.T. Porter Building
10 North Main Street
This was the first steel-frame skyscraper to be raised in Memphis, in 1895. It did not, however, trigger a race to the sky - by the turn of the century it was still the only steel-frame high-rise in town. This was one of the last buildings designed by Edward Culliat Jones, then 72 years old. Constructed for the Continental Bank Building, it was the tallest building south of St. Louis at the time and boasted the world’s tallest hog-water circulating system. The pioneering tower was later sold to the heirs of D.T. Porter, a pharmacist and town mayor. They named the building after him. This is also the first building in Memphis to have an elevator.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO MADISON AVENUE AND CROSS, CONTINUING SOUTH ON MAIN STREET.
10 Main Apartments
10 South Main Street
The original three-bay core of this Neoclassical tower was erected for the Memphis Trust Company in 1904. A decade later the northern half of the building came along.
William Len Hotel (Residence Inn)
110 Monroe Avenue at southeast corner of Main Street
This 12 story, Art Deco structure was built in 1930 after three years of construction as a hotel, and converted into an exquisite 89-unit apartment building in 1984. The brick hotel was developed by Southwest Hotels whose president Grady Manning named it after his father-in-law, William Len Seaman. Seaman was a native Tennessean who crossed the river and became one of the richest men in Arkansas. When it opened each of its 250 rooms had air conditioning and a bathroom, amenities uncommon at the time. It is currently an extended stay guest house.
TURN RIGHT ON MONROE AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON FRONT STREET.
66 Monroe Avenue at northeast corner of Front Street
The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, also commonly known as Shriners was established in 1870 as an appendant body to Freemasonry. The Shrine Building was built in 1923 to serve as the headquarters of the Al Chymia Shrine, a group of Shriners. William J. Hanker and Bayard S. Cairns provided the Gothic-flavored design of the building that came to be known for its sweeping views of the Mississippi River from its Shrine Roof Cafe. The restaurant was not actually on the roof but on the top floor with floor-to-ceiling windows.
U.S. Customs House
1 North Front Street
The federal government established a presence in Memphis with a Customs House designed by James Hill in 1876. The multi-towered Italianate Revival building sitting on a natural bluff overlooking the Mississippi River also did duty as a federal court house. In 1929 Supervising Architect of the Treasury James Alexander Wetmore lopped off the towers and enclosed the building in a monumental Neoclassical granite facade to create space for a post office. The last mail was picked up here in 1963. In 2006 the University of Memphis Law School purchased the building for $5.3 million and poured another $42 million into renovations for classrooms.
Metro 67 Madison Apartments
67 Madison Avenue at southeast corner of Front Street
William Farrington founded the Union and Planters Bank in 1868 using money he had made during the Civil War. Prior to the war the two biggest banks in Memphis had been the Union Bank and the Branch Planters Bank. Both had their assets seized and liquidated during the fighting and Farrington hoped to capitalize on their good names. Union Planters Bank grew to become the largest bank in Tennessee and had over 760 branches in 12 states when it was acquired by Regions Financial Corporation in 2004. In 1923 Union Planters moved into this building, retaining the storied New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White to do design honors, although the principals of the firm had all departed by that time. The New Yorkers were the acknowledged masters of the Neoclassical style which can be seen here in the rusticated arches and carved stone details. The building, which picked up additions in the 1950s, recently received a $29 million facelift and conversion into luxury apartments.
TURN RIGHT ON MADISON AVENUE.
81 Madison Avenue
This heritage building that began life as the home of Tennessee Trust bank was one of the town’s first skyscrapers when it was constructed in 1905. Architects Charles O. Pfeil and George M. Shaw followed the convention of the age in designing the 14-story tower to resemble a classical Greek column with a defined base (the rusticated stone lower floors), a shaft (the unadorned, orderly grid of middle floors), and a capital (the decorative cornice). In 2002 the deteriorating building received a makeover and begins its second century as a boutique hotel, whose gym is located in the old bank’s underground vault.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO FRONT STREET AND TURN RIGHT, CONTINUING NORTH.
22 North Front Street
John Gaisford, an Englishman who came to Memphis in 1905, designed this eclectic office tower for cotton merchants in 1910. Gaisford had a thriving practice, specializing in churches, in Mississippi and Tennessee but died prematurely in 1916 at the age of 43.
CROSS FRONT STREET INTO THE PARK OVERLOOKING THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER, WHICH IS...
51 North Front Street
In 1901, landscape architect George Kessler created plans for a parkway system like the emerald necklaces gracing towns like Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco. Confederate Park was part of that pattern of preserved greenspace, intended as a memorial to the Battle of Memphis in the Civil War. After the Union troops battered the Confederates at the Battle of Shiloh federal gunboats descended on an unfortified Memphis on June 6, 1862 and captured the position in 90 minutes. The town remained in Union control for the rest of the war. The park had actual Confederate cannon at one time but they were sacrificed fro scrap metal drives during World War I. In 1964 the statue of Confederacy President Jefferson Davis, who spent time living in Memphis after the war, was installed.
WALK OVER TO THE EDGE OF THE MISSISSIPPI.
125 North Front Street
Mud Island, a peninsula actually, first appeared in 1900 and became permanent in 1913. In 1960, the Wolf River was diverted so that it went north of Mud Island, and Mud Island opened to the public in 1982. That year the 52-acre Mississippi River Park was created as well, highlighted by a hydraulic scale model of the lower Mississippi River from Cairo, Illinois where the Ohio River joins the flow, to New Orleans.
RETURN TO FRONT STREET AND TURN LEFT TO CONTINUE WALKING NORTH. CROSS JEFFERSON AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT ON ADAMS AVENUE.
109 North Main Street as southwest corner of Adams Avenue
Guests have been staying on this corner since the 1860s when first the Worsham House and then the Arlington Hotel stood here. That guest house was torn down in 1924 to make way for the Hotel Claridge, the tallest of the downtown Memphis hotels. The Roof Garden and the elegant Balinese Room were beloved destinations in town with entertainers like the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and Elvis Presley regular performers. Thomas P. Barnett, John Ignatius Haynes, and George Dennis Barnett, prominent architects from St. Louis, provided the Beaux Arts design for the 17-story Claridge. The hotel closed in 1968 and the building was shuttered until the 1980s when it was renovated as apartments.
100 North Main
100 North Main Street at southeast corner of Adams Avenue
In 1962 Robert Lee Hall designed a 20-story tower in Milwaukee,Wisconsin to be constructed over top of the town’s bus terminal. Three years later he built an almost identical version in Memphis, 17 stories higher. This building has reigned as the town’s tallest building ever since. The protrusion on the roof was originally a revolving restaurant, a fad of the times.
Fire Museum of Memphis
118 Adams Avenue
The first independent Fire Company Number 1 was formed in 1846. Horses were still pulling fire equipment around the city when this firehouse was constructed in 1910. The first motor fire engine would not be put into service until two years later. The beautifully proportioned design came from Charles O. Pfeil and George M. Shaw, who did the police station next door in 1911. Today the building houses the Fire Museum of Memphis where you can see the largest collection of fire apparatus toys in the South.
Memphis Police Station
128 Adams Avenue at northwest corner of 2nd Street
Charles O. Pfeil and George M. Shaw were known for their ornate, classical styling and that is what they delivered for this Beaux Art police headquarters in 1911. The symmetrical building of rusticated stone is centered around a projecting entrance fronted by a quartet of Ionic columns.
Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church
102 North Second Street at southeast corner of Adams Avenue
The congregation was founded in 1832 and the nave was constructed of hand-made clay bricks in 1844. It is the oldest public building in Memphis still in continuous use. Several Gothic-influenced additions have come along since that time: a tower in 1848, the chancel in 1881, and the parish hall in 1903.
Shelby County Courthouse
Adams Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets
James Gamble Rogers, who would later become renowned for introducing the Collegiate Gothic style to elite Eastern campuses, designed this block-filling Neoclassical courthouse, by far the largest in Tennessee, in 1909. Rogers gave the building, constructed of blue Bedford limestone, a parade of Ioniccolumns and flooring inside comprised of seven varieties of marble. Surrounding the courthouse are six seated figures carved from single blocks of Tennessee marble, representing Wisdom, Justice, Liberty, Authority, Peace, and Prosperity. Near the top of the north facade are six standing figures: Prudence, Courage, Integrity, Learning, Mercy, and Temperance.
St. Peter’s Catholic Church
190 Adams Avenue at northeast corner of 3rd Street
St. Peter’s was founded in 1840, the first Roman Catholic parish in West Tennessee and given to the Dominican Order in 1846. The present church is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Memphis, achieved with a bit of construction razzle dazzle in 1855. It raised around an earlier structure from 1842 and once built, parts of the original church were dismantled and carried out the doors, piece by piece. The Gothic landmark, much expanded through the years, boasts vaulted ceilings and upward thrusting arches.
TURN RIGHT ON 3RD STREET. TURN RIGHT ON JEFFERSON AVENUE AND CONTINUE TO MAIN STREET.
79 Jefferson Avenue at Main Street
The future of American retailing changed forever here on September 6, 1916 when Clarence Saunders opened the first Piggly Wiggly food store. Until that time, customers presented their lists at a front counter and clerks went to collect the goods and weigh out ground coffee scooped from large wooden barrels. At Piggly Wiggly, shoppers wandered the aisles and filled their own carts with items they plucked from the shelves. Within five years Saunders had franchised self-service groceries in 40 states, ushering in the age of the supermarket. Today that original Piggly Wiggly is a parking lot.
TURN LEFT ON MAIN STREET.
The first trolleys rolled down Main Street in 1865, pulled by mules. The original streetcar network was dismantled in the 1940s but were reintroduced in 1993 with rehabilitated, vintage streetcars. The fleet is today comprised from cars from Australia, Europe and South America; most were restored in Memphis shops.
B. Lowentstein & Bros.
southeast corner of Adams Avenue and Main Street
Elias Lowenstein sailed from Germany to join his brothers in Memphis in 1854, He was 19 years old. The next year B.Lowenstein & Bros., “wholesale dealers in and importers of dry goods, white goods, notions, hosiery, gloves and gent’s furnishing goods,” opened. In 1886 the emporium moved into this ornate cast-iron facade building and stayed until 1979. The building was left vacant after 1980 and dodged demolition before being restored to its former glory in 2009. Look up to see terra cotta angels in the pillars.
Lincoln American Tower
60 North Main Street
In 1910 Frank W. Woolworth built the world’s tallest building on Broadway in New York City, paying the entire cost for the 792-foot tower in cash - nickels and dimes from his chain of stores. In 1924 Lloyd Binford, president of the Memphis branch of the Columbia Mutual Insurance Company, commissioned the construction of a gleaming white replica of the famous Gothic landmark, at one-third scale. From his offices on the top floor Binford ran not only his insurance business but the Memphis Censor Board from 1928 until 1955. In that role Binford wielded sole power over what movies could be shown in town and his morality, which could be generously described as quirky, attracted derisive attention from across the country. As a young mail clerk working on a train he had been robbed so no Westerns showing train robberies could be shown in Memphis. Any Hollywood scandal would get a star’s films banned from town. Not so funny was Binford’s cutting of any scenes in a movie that depicted blacks and whites as equals. For more than a quarter-century Memphis movie-goers often saw disjointed, shorter cuts of Hollywood films than the rest of America without ever knowing it.
9 North Main Street
Samuel Henry Kress began his working life as a Pennsylvania schoolteacher before opening a notions and stationery shop in 1887 when he 24 years old. By the time of his death at the age of 92 his chain would grow to hundreds of stores in 29 states. Kress sought out smaller cities for his stores and as an avid art collector took great pride in creating beautiful buildings that were often the curbside jewels of their retail district. Kress amassed one of the most significant collections of Italian Renaissance and European artwork assembled in the 20th century and the buildings created by his in-house architects often reflected the Italian influence. This Kress store from 1927, the fourth erected in Memphis, is one such example. Although the street level has been somewhat compromised you can look up to see the intricate colored terra cotta that includes the familiar “Kress” badge. The Kress chain closed in 1981 and its buildings have become prime candidates for re-use across the country; this one operates as a hotel.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT COURT SQUARE.