“Cotton Row”, an area along Front Street in Memphis, has been regarded for a number of years as the cotton brokerage center of the Mid- South region. Cotton began to assume an important role in the Memphis economy even before the Civil War, but it was in the last two decades of the 19th century that cotton assumed major importance. At the foot of Union Avenue and its adjacent streets, the Mississippi River formed a natural landing; these streets were used to haul cotton up the bluff from the riverboats. Monroe Avenue, just north of Union, still possesses the wider that average right-of-way which allowed the mule teams to zigzag as they pulled their heavy load up the incline.
The majority of the brick buildings of Cotton Row were built between 1848 and 1928. As might be expected, the economic activity of Cotton Row generated a number of other activities in the area – hotels, wholesale grocers, dry good stores, mule trading firms, and various other support activities located in close proximity to the Cotton Row brokers. The brokers themselves, however, remained along Front Street adjacent to the riverbank landing.
Construction of the cotton warehouses incorporated some distinctive features which made them particularly suited for the buying and selling of cotton. They were constructed with masonry load bearing walls, they had dirt basements, and a number of them employed the use of cast iron columns and ornamentation. Their interiors were not elaborate; cotton broker’s offices were on the ground floor with storage and cotton classing rooms on the upper floors. The top floor of the building employed sky lights, used to catch the natural sunlight necessary to classify cotton before the days of fluorescent lighting.
The small area along Front Street represents a unique asset of the region surrounding Memphis as well as the city itself.
The neighborhood now known as Victorian Village was the first elite suburb of Memphis. During the late 19th century, some of the most successful business owners built splendid homes on Adams Avenue, Millionaire’s Row, and a number of them have survived. The churches in the neighborhood include the first African American congregation, the first Catholic Church, and the home of the Martyrs of Memphis who died nursing Yellow Fever victims in the 1870s. Victorian Village neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, Victorian Village offers some of the most popular places to dine and hear live music. Download a walking tour of these classic examples of 19th century architecture at www.originalmemphis.org.
Before 1850, the area around the South Main Street Historic District was largely a residential community known as South Memphis. That year, South Memphis was absorbed into the larger city of Memphis, helping to increase the city's population to 22,623 in 1860. In the years leading up to the turn of the century, the city of Memphis was host to a major naval battle during the Civil War and Yellow Fever epidemics that claimed 5,000 lives. In 1879, Memphis declared bankruptcy and lost its charter. However, during these same years, a railroad was completed, linking the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean, the first underground water supply was discovered and new financial and educational institutions were established by the Memphis Freedman's Bureau. The population of the city grew five-fold between 1860 and 1900. Memphis' first bridge, first skyscraper and first library were opened during this time period. Yet, the cottages and Victorian Gothic homes within the South Main area, stood almost unchanged from the "South Memphis" era. Though few traces of this residential period remain today, many people call the South Main area home.
In the early Twentieth century the railroad changed South Main dramatically. The city's first railroad facility, Union Station, was built on East Calhoun Street in 1912. Two years later, the Illinois Central Railroad built its own railroad station (Central Station) after a dispute with other railroad carriers. During this time, businesses that were built to serve railroad passengers and employees began to spring up along South Main Street. This period, sparked by the construction of Union Station (demolished in the late 1960s) and Central Station, represented the largest building boom in the area. Retail and wholesale buildings were built with stylized Chicago Commercial ornament that mixed with the Beaux Arts and Georgian Revival style details of hotels, bars and other small businesses that sprang up. Central Station saw more than 50 trains, passenger and freight, come through every day by the year 1935. As a result, the many hotels and restaurants, including the Lorraine Motel, the Ponotoc Hotel and Hotel Chisca, prospered. Warehouses for storing freight and light manufacturing were constructed. Some existing buildings, like the Arcade Restaurant, one of the city's oldest cafes, were renovated or replaced. Wood frame structures in South Memphis were replaced with brick and glass. Storefronts and hanging signs, sporting hotel names and drawing attention to businesses, lined the street. Streets and sidewalks were widened to fit the increased traffic of this commercially booming district in the 1920s.
Over the next 60 years, two major trends would coincidentally work together to help establish this area as the South Main Street Historic Preservation District in 1982. Around 1950, increased usage of automobiles and airplanes for travel and freight created an atmosphere in which the popularity of railroad use diminished. By 1970, railroad passenger service in Memphis had practically disappeared. Traffic in Central Station, after years of booming commerce, decreased from 50 trains a day to only two. Some of the surrounding businesses that were dependent on railroad commerce, especially the smaller businesses, began closing down.
The other trend, "urban renewal," left South Main Street almost untouched, although other districts, including Beale Street and the Pinch, were gravely altered. As a result, today, much of the South Main Street Historic District looks like it did in the 1920s. The eleven blocks of buildings represent a variety of turn-of-the-century architectural styles. The mixture of businesses remained the same, even in an environment of economic decline following the 1950s. In the 1980s, this mixture included six hotels, five bars, four restaurants, some small manufacturers, storage facilities, retail stores and services such as barber shops. Six houses on Mulberry Street, including a Victorian Gothic house, represent the only remaining residences within the once fashionable South Memphis residential district.
Glenview was settled in phases as several independent subdivisions were created in this area along South Parkway East. Development began in the central section of the district near Glenview Park, roughly between Rayner and Oaklawn Streets. This area contains a concentration of bungalows, particularly on Rayner Street. The first subdivision filed for the Glenview area was in 1908, when E.O. Bailey established a thirty-six-lot subdivision in his name on the west side of Glenview Park. Two years later the McLaughlin Land Company re-subdivided this area as the Magnolia Grove Subdivision; therefore the first houses were completed circa 1910. Throughout the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s, the Glenview neighborhood was home to eleven separate subdivisions that established the character of the area as it is seen today.
Businesses developed in the east end of the Glenview neighborhood. The first commercial structure was Mr. Bower's Store, built circa 1920. By 1930 the commercial structures in Glenview included Clarence Saunder's Store (a forebearer of Piggly Wiggly stores and the modem day grocery store) , Howard Cleaners, Glenview Pharmacy and Wright's Pharmacy.
The Gayoso-Peabody District is characterized by architectural diversity and eclecticism. In fact, the evolution of commercial architecture in the Mid South region (1880-1927) can be traced within the area. Architectural styles represented by one or more buildings or variously combined in one structure include Victorian Italianate, Cast iron, Richardsonian Romanesque, Queen Anne, Commercial, Sullivanesque, Italian Renaissance Revival, and Art Deco- Modernistic. Cast iron and terra-cotta are used extensively throughout the area – cast iron for entire facades, first and second floor columns, window moldings, attic vents grilles, fire escapes and ornamental relief on upper level spandrels; terra-cotta for window moldings and upper level spandrel decoration. The extensive use of cast iron and terra-cotta materials throughout the five block area unifies this otherwise architecturally diverse district.
The original use and character of the Gayoso Peabody District was determined by Cotton Row, the cotton brokerage center of the Mid-South Region. The two hotels, for which the district is named, the Hotel Gayoso (1842) and the Hotel Peabody (1869), were acknowledged as the finest not only in Memphis, but the entire Mid-South. The older and more established Hotel Gayoso was the center of the city and regional social like until the Hotel Peabody was rebuilt on it s present site in 1924. The Hotel Peabody was known to generations of travelers and the local residents as “the South’s Finest – One of America’s Best”.
Main and Second Street between Monroe and Union were recognized as the Mid-South’s wholesale-retain center in the 1880’s – 1890’s. The area became more retail oriented by 1910, although Second Street retained its original function and character. In 1927, the rooming houses and brothels could still be found on Gayoso Street and along the district’s southern fringe, and the livery stables on the northeastern periphery. The District was adversely affected by the Great Depression of 1929, and the area was never again to regain its pre-depression status. The three decades following WWII saw the slow but steady decline of the downtown. In 1976, Main Street was closed to auto traffic and converted to a pedestrian mall with trolley use. As for the brothels, rooming houses and livery stables - they are no longer to be found although some of their buildings remain.
The origins of the neighborhood can be traced by to 1850. Dr Samuel Mansfield built as Italianate mansion on the outskirts of Memphis on a knoll above the stage route to Mississippi. In 1869, Colonel Robert C. Brinkley bought the home as a wedding gift to his daughter, Annie Overton Brinkley and her new husband, Colonel Robert Bogardus Snowden. The two hundred acre estate was named Annesdale in her honor.
Their sons, John and Robert, along with their father, built in 1903 what is recognized as “the first subdivision in the South,” Annesdale Park. After this successful venture, the Snowden brothers developed the Snowden Homestead Subdivision in 1910. These exclusive lots were sold for top prices and featured all modern conveniences of the era. The streets were named after their children. This area was an exclusive area for prominent Memphians.
The architecture of Annesdale Snowden is a record of the building styles popular between 1906 and 1929. In a reaction to the ornateness of Victorian building styles which preceded 1900, houses built in this period exhibit restraint and simplicity. The turn-of-the-century cottage, a one-or one-and one- half story house with a veranda, the bungalow and Foursquares are the styles that dominant the district. They became popular for their flexibility of plan. Annesdale Snowden is notable mainly as a visual record of the various ways in which Memphians adapted these building forms to suit their practical needs and aesthetic tastes. Many of the houses in the district are decorated with bracketed cornices, bay windows, transoms and sidelights, leaded and stained glass, Porte cochere and timbering.
In 1900 Memphis’ rapid industrial growth was creating a class of new-rich. To accommodate this class, two prominent Memphis realtors, Brinkley Snowden and T.O. Vinton, developed Annesdale Park in 1903. Because Annesdale was the “first subdivision of real estate in the south planned upon metropolitan lines,” it was officially know as “The First Subdivision of the South,” a designation that still appears on today’s deeds. Of the 161 lots in Annesdale Park, 40 lots were sold on opening day. The majority of the homes in the subdivision were built between 1904 and 1910. Annesdale Park’s architecture represents the evolution from late Victorian to Bungalow which occurred durning the first years of the twentieth century. Many of its older homes have building details from earlier style periods in the from of window treatment shingling and interior details. Stained and leaded glass windows and transoms, oak woodwork, and bay and oriel windows are found in many houses. Several good examples of the Bungalow style , as well as early twentieth century apartment buildings are also found in the district.
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