1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Memphis (Tennessee)

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16878271911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18 — Memphis (Tennessee)

MEMPHIS, a port of entry and the largest city of Tennessee, U.S.A., and the county-seat of Shelby county, on the Mississippi river, in the S.W. corner of the state. Pop. (1860), 22,623; (1870), 40,226; (1880), 33,592; (1890), 64,495; (1900), 102,320, of whom 5110 were foreign-born and 49,910 were negroes; (1910 census) 131,105. It is served by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, the St Louis & San Francisco, the Illinois Central, the Southern, the Louisville & Nashville, the Nashville, Chattanooga & St Louis, the St Louis South-Western, the St Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern and the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley railways, and by steamboats on the Mississippi. The river is spanned here by a cantilever railway bridge 1895 ft. long, completed in 1892. The city is finely situated on the fourth Chickasaw Bluffs, more than 40 ft. above high water; the streets are broad, well paved and pleasantly shaded; and a broad levee overlooks the river. In Court Square, in the heart of the city, are many fine old trees and a bust of President Andrew Jackson. In 1909 the city had about 1000 acres of parks and 111/2 m. of parkways, besides two race-courses. Overton Park has beautiful playgrounds and a good zoological collection. Five miles from Memphis is a National Cemetery. Among the prominent buildings are the United States Government building, the county Court house, Cotton Exchange, Business Men’s Club, Goodwyn Institute, containing an auditorium and the public library, the Cossett Free Library, Grand Opera House, Lyceum Theatre, Auditorium, Gayoso Hotel, Memphis Evening Scimitar building, the Union and Planters’ Bank and Trust Company building, Equitable building, Memphis Trust building, Tennessee Trust building, the Bank of Commerce, Woman’s building (containing offices for business women), Masonic Temple, Odd Fellows building and the Commercial Appeal building. Among educational institutions are the College of Christian Brothers (Roman Catholic, opened in 1871), Memphis Hospital Medical College, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Hannibal Medical College for negroes and Le Moyne Normal Institute, also for negroes. Memphis is the see of a Protestant Episcopal bishopric. The city is supplied with water from more than eighty artesian wells, having an average depth of about 400 ft.

Owing to its situation at the head of deep water navigation on the Mississippi, Memphis has become a leading commercial city of the southern states; its trade in cotton, lumber, groceries, mules and horses is especially large. The city also manufactures large quantities of cotton-seed oil and cake, lumber, flour and grist-mill products, foundry and machine-shop products, confectionery, carriages and wagons, paints, furniture, bricks, cigars, &c. The Illinois Central and the St Louis & San Francisco railways have workshops here. The total value of the city’s manufactures increased from $13,244,538 in 1890 to $17,923,059 ($14,233,483 being factory product) in 1900, and to $21,346,817 (factory product) in 1905, an increase of 50% over the value of the factory product in 1900.

Chickasaw Bluffs were named from the Chickasaw Indians, who were in possession when white men first came to the vicinity. Late in the 17th century the French built a fort on the site of Memphis, and during most of the 18th century this site was held either by the French or the Spanish. In 1797 it passed into the possession of the United States. By a treaty of the 19th of October 1818, negotiated by General Andrew Jackson and General Isaac Shelby, the Chickasaws ceded all their claims east of the Mississippi, and early in 1819 Memphis was laid out in accordance with an agreement entered into by John Overton (1766–1833), Andrew Jackson and James Winchester (1752–1826), the proprietors of the land. Its name was suggested from the similarity of its situation on the Mississippi to that of the Egyptian city on the Nile. Memphis was incorporated as a town in 1827, and in 1849 was chartered as a city. Near Memphis, on the 6th of June 1862, a Union fleet of 9 vessels and 68 guns, under Commander Charles Henry Davis (1807–77), defeated a Confederate fleet of 8 vessels and 28 guns under Commander J. E. Montgomery after a contest of little more than one hour, three of the Confederate vessels being destroyed and four of them captured, and from this victory until the close of the war the city was in possession of the Union forces. In August 1864, however, a Confederate force under General N. B. Forrest raided it and captured several hundred prisoners. The decrease of population between 1870 and 1880 was due to the ravages of yellow fever in 1873, 1878 and 1879. The epidemic of 1873 resulted in over two thousand deaths, and that of 1878 in a total of 5150, of whom 4250 were whites and 900 negroes. At the return of the fever in 1879 better care and strict quarantine arrangements prevailed, but there were 497 deaths. During the epidemics of 1878 and 1879 fully two-thirds of the population fled from the city, many of whom died of the fever at other places, and a still larger number did not return. For three months during each year business was suspended, and all ingress or egress except for the most necessary purposes was forbidden. The city was left almost bankrupt, and as a means of relief the legislature of the state in January 1879 repealed the city’s charter, and, assuming exclusive control of its taxation and finances, constituted it simply a “taxing district,” placing its government in the hands of a “legislative council.” This anomalous proceeding was declared constitutional by the supreme court of Tennessee. Subsequently the streets were cleansed and repaved, an improved sewer system was put in operation, and the water supply was obtained from artesian wells. In 1891 a new city charter was obtained, and in 1907 the “Houston plan” (see Houston, Texas), was adopted for Memphis by the state legislature. The act, however, was declared unconstitutional by the state supreme court, on the ground that it would force elected officers out of office before the expiration of their constitutional terms; and in 1909 a new charter on the Houston plan was adopted by the legislature, to become effective on the 1st of January 1910, providing for a government by five commissioners, each having charge of a separate department.

See J. M. Keating, History of the City of Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee (Syracuse, 1888); James Phelan, History of Tennessee (Boston, 1889).