This page contains articles of those honored and West Tennessee facts. Do you have an article that you would like to contribute? Email Carol using the following form at the end of this page.


  • Robert R. Church
  • Proclamation from the Shelby County Mayor on the 198th Anniversary of Memphis
  • City of Jackson, TN honors Lane family with re-interment of slaves
  • Remembering Shelby County Historian Edward Foster Williams, III – (1934-2013)
  • Christian Brothers High School Honors Jesse Turner &  CBHS Was First School to Diversify
  • 2013 Paul R. Coppock Award Recipient – Willy Bearden
  • 2012 Marshall Wingfield Award Recipient – George Browder
  • Jonathan K.T. Smith – the giving historian
  • Harkins Archives Dedicated
  • “Ghosts” of Cowden Avenue—A Neighborhood Memoir from the 1940s and 1950s

Full articles follow:

Robert R. Church

One hundred eighty(180) years ago, on June 18th in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Robert R. Church was born to a slave girl by the name of Emmeline and Captain Charles B. Church. Captain Church owned and operated two of the most patronized  steam boats on the Mississippi River, that transported cargo and passengers between Memphis and New Orleans.
In 1851, Emmeline died and Robert Church was sent to live with his father on the Mississippi River. The owner of Emmeline had pledged to her that Robert would never be sold to another owner of slaves. Sending Robert to his father was his intended passport to the North and the best education money could buy. Captain Church bonded with his son and decided to raise him and teach him the trade of the steam boat business. The relationship was nurturing and pleasant.
 Robert served as an assistant to his father in many capacities, from errand boy to steward. The crew developed a pleasant nurturing relationship with Robert. Under the watchful eye of father, Robert learned the principles of business with a special concentration in bookkeeping. Captain Church taught Robert to read and count receipts in French. Robert was a fast learner and listen intently to his father’s instructions. “Be considerate of others but always demand respect for self”, admonished Captain Church to his son. He continued, “never allow anybody to call you a nigger.”
This hands-on education and. the eleven year apprenticeship  thoroughly prepared Robert for the tumultuous life he would face in the fast-growing river town called Memphis and the bustling street called Beale.
On June 6, 1862,the Civil War registered in Memphis in general but on the Mississippi River in particular. The Federal Fleet arrived in the Memphis Harbor with cannons blasting. Robert Church was serving as steward of the Victoria. When the Victoria was over taken by the Federal Troops, Robert was forced to make a decision, he could be captured by the federal troops, be killed or made a prisoner of war. With a splash, Robert jumped into the river and swam to the muddy banks of Memphis. The near capture by the Federal Fleet ended the career of Robert Church on the mighty Mississippi River.
Robert Church used his savings from his work on the River to enter business in Memphis. His first investments were in real estate but soon expanded to hotels, pool halls, brothels, saloons and ultimately a bank.
Soon after the Civil War ended, Memphis was consumed by the Yellow Fever Epidemic and racial tensions that lead to violence, death and destruction. The White Population, many with means to relocate, left in large numbers. Four days after the announcement that the plague was present in Memphis, twenty five thousand (25,000) fled the city. . Robert Church was able to acquire many abandoned properties further expanding on his real estate holdings. Robert Church could have left in panic but never gave leaving a thought. He contributed generously to help Memphis recover.
African Americans remained and became 70% of the Memphis population in 1878. African Americans made up the over whelming majority of the three thousands(3,000) nurses left  to take care of the stricken. The entire workforce assigned by city officials to clean up the streets, bury the dead, clean up the dumps, drain the bayous, burn contaminated rags and spread lime over the vacant lots were African Americans. These heroic efforts were performed with great risk in the true sense of altruism.
The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 tremendously eroded the tax base and city coffers. Memphis was unable to service a five million debt, adequately provide city services and pay State taxes. Memphis was stripped of the city charter and reduced to a mere taxing district in Tennessee. Memphis that was founded in 1819 with great promise and potential was no more.
The State of Tennessee appointed Dr. D. T. Porter and David Hadden to provide leadership to the “taxing district on the bluff.”     Under austere supervision and tight fiscal controls, Memphis began to rise from the ashes of devastation. Prominent citizens debated strategies to be relieved of the debt and restore Memphis to a city on the Bluff. In addition to discussions and debates, Memphis needed investors willing to take a chance on the future. The bond market was uncertain about the potential of Memphis and citizens were reluctant to take a chance on Memphis. Robert R. Church remained bullish on Memphis.
In 1885, Robert R. Church purchased the first one thousand dollar municipal bond and the dam of fear was broken. By the Summer of that year, local banks and wealthy individuals purchased more than $200,000 worth of bonds. Memphis accepted responsibility for the five million dollar debt and to continue to rid the city of unsanitary conditions.
In 1891, the Tennessee State Legislature restored the charter and designation of a city. In 1893, Memphis was given taxing authority and home rule. This accomplishment may well be attributable to Robert R. Church for his courageous act of selflessness and his commitment to Memphis. The Evening Scimitar in 1899 published an editorial of Robert R. Church “…It may be said of Robert R. Church that his word is as good as his bond. No appeal to him for the aid of charity or public enterprise for the benefit of Memphis has ever been in vain. He is for Memphis first, last and all the time…”
John Overton, Andrew Jackson and James Winchester founded Memphis in 1819. It is safe to say, in1885, Robert R. Church saved Memphis.
– Leo Gray

Proclamation from the Shelby County Mayor on the 198th Anniversary of Memphis

In April of this year, WTHS member Don Hassell brought to our attention the fact that there is no officially designated date to mark–much less celebrate–the founding of the City of Memphis. In his own research Don discovered that the first sale of city lots was registered on May 22, 1819, which is as good a date as any other (and better than most of the alternatives) for the founding of our world-famous city.  Due to the press of time, we (Don Hassell, Executive Director Carol Perel, and I) decided to ask the city and county authorities for a statement of official recognition, which is long overdue.

County Mayor Mark Luttrell and his staff acted quickly to devise–with our input–the Proclamation below.  While large-scale recognition and celebration are not possible this year, we have every reason to believe that in 2018 and 2019, and every year following, proper notice of this important anniversary will begin, and grow over time.

The WTHS is grateful to Don for pushing this idea, and to Mayor Luttrell for quickly recognizing the important opportunity we have to acknowledge our founding in the future.

Edwin Frank, WTHS President

Shelby County Government


By the Mayor

Whereas, high on the Fourth Chickasaw Bluff, Hernando de Soto’s expedition arrived in May of 1541 on native Chickasaw land; two hundred years later, the Spanish would found Fort San Fernando at the convergence of the Wolf River and the mighty Mississippi River; and

Whereas, the five thousand acres on the bluff were recognized as Chickasaw territory, although held by North Carolinian grant by John Rice in 1783; the land was later purchased in 1794 from Rice’s heirs by John Overton, who sold half to Andrew Jackson, who in turn sold half of his share to James Winchester; and

Whereas, in 1818 via the Treaty of Old Town, the United States purchased this land that includes Memphis today, making the three founders the legal owners; they named the new town after the once-splendid city of Memphis, the ancient Egyptian capital and the first recorded land sale was of “Lot 53” on May 22nd, 1819 sets the formal date of founding in the record books; and

Whereas, Memphis’ was not a certainty, yet within twenty years this rowdy little river town called Memphis blossomed. Despite the unpredictable social, cultural, and economic challenges it has faced, the City of Memphis has persisted for 198 years since its founding, and with a population of over 650,000 it has become an international city of acclaim for its global businesses, musical heritage, and rich culture.

Now, Therefore, I, Mark H. Luttrell, Jr., Mayor of Shelby County, Tennessee, do hereby proclaim this day of May 22nd, 2017 in honor of

City of Memphis’ 198th Anniversary

and I call upon all citizens to recognize the largest municipality of Shelby County and all of its rich history.

In witness whereof, I have 
hereunto set my hand and
   caused the seal of Shelby 
County to be affixed this
22nd day of May of 2017.
                                                               Mark H. Luttrell, Jr.


Vincent L. Clark was award the West Tennessee Historical Society’s THE PAUL R. COPPOCK ANNUAL AWARD at this year’s Shelby County History Awards Dinner held August 2, 1017 at Davies Manor Plantation’s Hillwood Hall. This award is presented to an individual or organization for outstanding contribution to the area’s history.

Mr. Clark attended the University of Southern Mississippi where he earned a BS and later MA in History.  Vincent worked on the Mississippi Civil Rights Oral History Bibliography project in 1997 and the Adams County Courthouse Papers project in Natchez, Mississippi in 1997-1998.  He served as the Curator/Historian of the Tipton County Museum from 1998 to 2000, working specifically on Military History exhibits and oral histories with local veterans.  In 2000, he joined the Shelby County Archives staff.  He completed the Tennessee Archives Institute in 2003 provided by the Tennessee State Library and Archives.  In 2007, Vincent became the Shelby County Archivist.  He has taught U.S., Military, World, and Tennessee History part time at the University of Memphis for over 15 years, earning the History Department’s Adjunct Faculty of the year award for 2005-2006 and again in 2011-2012.  He served as the Editor for the West Tennessee Historical Society Papers from 2010 to 2016.

The members of WTHS are grateful to Mr. Clark for his continued contributions to the society and our area’s history.

City of Jackson, TN honors Lane family with re-interment of slaves

???????????????????????????????On February 25, 2014 the City of Jackson, Tennessee honored the family of Bishop Isaac Lane, founder of Lane College, as Bishop Lane’s mother, her sister and five unnamed children’s remains were re-interred beside Bishop Lane’s grave in the city’s Riverside Cemetery. Isaac Lane was born March 4, 1834, in Madison County, Tennessee. Bishop Lane was born a slave on the plantation of Cullen Lane in Madison County, and at age nineteen married Frances Ann Boyce, also a slave, but from Haywood County. In 1870 after freed slaves founded the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (CME), Lane quickly became a popular minster of the denomination, and in 1872 he was chosen as a bishop. In 1882 Lane founded a Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (CME) school in Jackson.  This school became Lane College. In 1937 Bishop Lane died at the age of 102.

Formerly, Bishop Lane’s mother, Rachel Lane and her sister, Minerva, were buried on the Cullen Lane plantation during slavery time in Madison County. Cullen Lane, the white plantation owner, is thought to be Bishop Lane’s father. When the City purchased the large plat of land to use as an industrial development area, they found out about the possibility of the slave graves being on the land. The city hired an archeological firm to search the grounds for the graves. Rachel’s grave had formerly been marked with a tombstone, but that had been broken and was scattered. The archeological firm did find the remains of Rachel, her sister, Minerva, and 5 unnamed children. After contacting the Lane descendants about the City’s proposal to remove the remains and re-inter them in the oldest city cemetery, Riverside, next to where Bishop Isaac Lane’s grave is and upon approval of the descendants, the City did re-inter the remains.

Linda_at_Lane_CeremonyMadison County Historian Linda J. Higgins, a board member of WTHS, took part in the ceremony by reading the letters from a great, great, great granddaughter, Stephanie Gartman, who was the one who started the quest for the location of Rachel’s grave, and from a fourth great niece of Cullen Lane.

It was only after Ms. Gartman contacted Higgins as the Madison county Historian to help her locate Rachel’s grave that Ms. Higgins began her search and through research of Jonathan Smith’s books and by contacting a family member of the former owner of the land, that she was able to report to Ms. Gartman and the City where the grave was located. The City took it from there, and thanks to the Mayor and the City of Jackson. – Thank you to Linda J. Higgins Madison County Historian for this information

Remembering Shelby County Historian Edward Foster Williams, III – (1934-2013)

ed wmsThe December edition of The Best Times includes an article on Ed Williams by WTHS President Dr. John E. Harkins. Dr. Harkins writes of a life time relationship with Ed and Ed’s numerous contributions to our area’s history. At the time of his death Mr. Williams was  serving as historian for Shelby County, trustee for Bolton College, trustee for Faith Christian Academy, member of Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp 215 Sons of Confederate Veterans, Tennessee Historical Society, West Tennessee Historical Society, and Davies Manor Association Board.

Visit The Best Times website at On stands at many locations across Memphis in December, pick up your copy and enjoy this article.

The WTHS thanks Perre and Percy Magness for their generous donation to the WTHS in memory of Ed Williams

Christian Brothers High School Honors Jesse Turner

jesse turnerChristian Brothers High School was the first high school in Shelby County to integrate with the enrollment of Jesse Turner Jr. as the first African American student on August 26, 1963. The school commemorated this event with a special all-school assembly honoring Mr. Turner and Brother Terence McLaughlin, F.S.C. on Monday, August 26, 2013, 50 years to the day.

View this event by Clicking Here

CBHS Was First School to Diversify

CBHS_purple_crestChristian Brothers High School became the first high school in Memphis to racially integrate its student body. Although this transition took place nearly a decade after the Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., Supreme Court decision and although what then was called Christian Brothers College was a “private school,” this dramatic, precedent-setting transition was not an easy one. Brother Terence McLaughlin has recently written and published a detailed account of this milestone, entitled “Silent Acceptance.” Brother Terence was president of the Christian Brothers’ Community here when the integration transition took place. His rendering of the relevant events, in proper context and perspective, is a story of the triumph of Christian fairness and perseverance over the Mid-South’s longstanding tradition of racial segregation. The family involved was that of Jesse H. Turner and his wife Allegra Will Turner. Allegra Turner had attended a Mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church during the summer of 1962. While there, she picked up leaflets and an application card for what was then the high school department of Christian Brothers’ College. Coincidental to this, some years earlier, Jesse, Jr. had noticed the CBC campus and buildings at the corner of Central and East Parkway South. Finding out that it was a boys’ school and affiliated with his mother’s church, young Jesse announced that he wanted to go there. Although Jesse and Allegra Turner had suffered numerous indignities because of their race, they were determined to secure better life-circumstances for their children. On Aug. 20, 1962, Allegra mailed in Jesse Jr.’s application; it was processed and the Turners were notified of Jesse’s acceptance. All seemed well until the following May, when Tennessee’s Bishop Adrian announced his schedule for the racial integration of Catholic schools in West Tennessee. Under the bishop’s policy of gradual change, the high schools would not be integrated until the fall of 1966. Allegra Turner contacted CBC to find out if the new rules would affect her son’s registration. When Brother Terence wrote a letter to the bishop to inform him that CBC had already accepted a black student, the Brother was surprised and distressed to learn that the bishop and his superintendent of schools for Memphis both disapproved of his action. However, neither of them embraced responsibility for reversing CBC’s decision. A majority of the city’s Catholic clergy may also have opposed accepting blacks at that time. Irrespective, it seemed that CBC was to have little, if any, say in the matter. Brother Terence visited the Turner home and told Allegra frankly where the situation seemed to stand. Subsequently, Jesse and Allegra and her sister met with Msgr. Elliott to discuss the issue further. They seemed to be making no headway until Jesse Turner related that he considered the letter of acceptance to be a contract and, if necessary, he would sue the school for breaching that contract. On July 15, Allegra Turner penned a letter of appeal to the bishop. She summarized their views of the issue and reiterated that, if necessary, her non-Catholic husband (also then president of the Memphis Branch of the NAACP) intended to sue. She asked to receive positive and speedy word that Jesse Jr. would be accepted for the fall term of 1963. And, she got it! Within about 10 days, a letter from the dioceses’ superintendent of education advised CBHS to accept Jesse Jr. as had been initially indicated. Young Jesse embarked on his high school studies at the Parkway campus on Aug. 26, 1963. He became the first African-American student to enter a traditionally segregated Memphis high school, public or private. Jesse Jr. had a stellar academic experience at CBHS, graduating co-salutatorian of his class. His subsequent academic and business careers and his involvements in community service earned him induction into the CBHS Hall of Fame in 1995. CBHS will celebrate its initial racial integration on its 50th anniversary. Today, all 26 schools in the Catholic Diocese of Memphis permit no discrimination. And, ironically, the area’s bishop for the last 20 years has been African American J. Terry Steib. – John Harkins

John Harkins is archivist at Memphis University School and president of the West Tennessee Historical Society.

2013 Paul R. Coppock Award Recipient – Willy Bearden

willy-beardenThe Paul R. Coppock Award is presented by The West Tennessee Historical Society to an individual or organization for outstanding contribution to the area’s history. The award is chosen by the WTHS Board.The award is named for Paul R. Coppock, journalist-historian, who brilliantly chronicled our area’s past and contributed broadly to other spheres of civic betterment. Mr. Coppock’s career spanned 54 years at The Commercial Appeal, 1927-81. As night editor from 1946-67 he wrote the highly regarded column, “The Night Desk”. In that setting, The CA’s editors attempted to answer any question their readers might ask, building Paul’s encyclopedic store of local lore. Prior to his 1972 “retirement,” he began writing his longer and meatier weekly column, “Mid-South Memoirs.” During that time, he compiled dozens of his strongest articles into two, hardback anthologies, Memphis Sketches and Memphis Memoirs.  After his death in 1983, his wife Helen had the rest of his historical newspaper writings published as the four-volume series, Paul R. Coppock’s Mid South. Paul’s six books contain hundreds of vignettes, and are considered the broadest and best source of popular Mid-South history.

Our 2013 recipient of the Paul R. Coppock Award is Willy Bearden who is a masterful and spellbinding storyteller. He uses state-of-the art techniques to interpret and popularize our area’s history. His stories resonate with his audiences and they inspire us to learn and to enjoy our local history beyond any other resource currently available. Mr. Bearden’s mission is to educate. He does much of his educational work gratis and inspires others to do likewise. His works include historical documentaries, education, business and training productions, as well as the production of meetings, conventions and live events.

The Willy Bearden Company has produced shows from San Diego, CA, to Amsterdam, Netherlands, including, since 1998, The Blues Music Awards – Blues Foundation show, The Blues Hall of Fame in Washington D.C., and The Blues Lifetime Achievement awards at the House of Blues in Los Angeles.

The company has been contracted to “tell the story” for many of the South’s museums and interpretive centers. The Biloxi Lighthouse, The Tunica River Park, The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange, The Elvis Presley Birthplace Museum in Tupelo, and the Pleasant Reed House in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Mr. Bearden has authored three books on Memphis history: Overton Park, Cotton: From Southern Fields to the Memphis Market, and “Memphis Blues: Birthplace of a Music Tradition.”

He has also worked to elevate the industry in the Memphis area by serving on the Governor’s Advisory Council for the Tennessee Film, Music and Entertainment Commission, the Board of Governors of National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the Board of Directors for Park Friends, Inc., founding member of The Delta Symposium, and as the past President of the Tennessee Organization of Producer Services.

In 2010 Willy’s feature film “One Came Home”, which he wrote, produced and directed, was filmed at the Davies Manor Plantation. Set in 1946, where a New Yorker with a secret has come to visit a family of women — mother, sister, widow — still mourning the dead soldier who, according to the “Yankee,” was a friend and brother on the battlefield.

Bearden’s Memphis Legacy Project is devoted to recording today by video and photos for future generations. This project has increased the digital archives collection at the Memphis Public Library with thousands of images.

These are just a few examples of Mr. Bearden’s work and I am sure that there are many more in the making.  The WTHS is proud to acknowledge this outstanding individual, Willy Bearden for his accomplishments.

2012 Marshall Wingfield Award Recipient – George Browder

The 2012 recipient is George C. Browder for his article “Robert V. Richardson and the First Tennessee Regiment of Partisan Rangers.” Since 1973, The Marshall Wingfield Award is presented by The West Tennessee Historical Society to the contributor of the article chosen by the Executive Committee as being the best of those printed in each number of The West Tennessee Historical Society Papers.

George C. Browder, Professor of History Emeritus at State University of New York at Fredonia, received a B.S. from Memphis State University; and M.A. and Ph.D. from University of Wisconsin, Madison.  His specialties were modern European history with publications on police and security agencies, specifically those of Weimar and Nazi Germany.  Research was supported by the Ford Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, New York State Research Foundation and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  He also did field work in former Soviet archives for collections of the archive of the Holocaust Museum.  He retired in 2000, settling in Germantown.  After serving a while on the Germantown Historical Commission, he accepted a challenge to do the research necessary to document Civil War historic markers for the city.  The result has been a shift of research and writing into local history.

The West Tennessee Historical Society is grateful to Mr. Browder for his submission and congratulates him on his outstanding contribution.

Click Publications and Papers at the top of the page to view past winners and their contributions.

Jonathan Smith Recognized by the West Tennessee Historical Society

The West Tennessee Historical Society is proud to recognize Jonathan K. T. Smith for his longstanding and outstanding contributions to our area’s history. Mr. Smith’s unending devotion to history is only overshadowed by his generosity of donating his works to individuals and repositories he feels would benefit from them. The following is a testament to and description of some of his achievements. Thank you Mr. Smith.

Jonathan K.T. Smith – the giving historian

By Linda J. Higgins, Editor, Madison County Historian, Assisted by Jack Wood, Tennessee Room Librarian

In the Tennessee County History Series volume, Benton County by Jonathan K. T. Smith, Esq. (Memphis, TN: Memphis State University Press, 1979) the following is printed about the author:

Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith was born May 8, 1939, in a suburb of Camden, Tennessee, a son of Herschel Kennon Smith and his wife Dorothy McGrady-Smith, and only living grandson of Cassie Hardin and James Patrick McGrady.  He is descended from some of the earliest Benton County families. He took his B.S. from George Peabody College for teachers in August of 1960. He earned his M.A. from Memphis State University in August of 1962. Jonathan K.  T. Smith has been a successful elementary teacher for many years in the public schools of Shelby County, Tennessee. On February 14, 1978, he was awarded an honorary life membership by the Tennessee Congress of Parents and Teachers through the Bartlett, Tennessee, school where he had taught for a decade. This award was in recognition of his “devoted and distinguished services to children and youth.” He has participated in numerous professional activities as an educator, genealogist, and historian. A genealogist since 1952, Smith completed the genealogical institute of the National Archives and American University in 1957. He was the protégé of Mary B.B. Crouch, who sponsored his early genealogical studies. In 1968, a collection of his local history and genealogical papers was established in the manuscript collection of Duke University Library in Durham, North Carolina. Jonathan K. T. Smith is the author of several monographic studies on Benton County, Tennessee. He has been Benton County Historian since November 19, 1973, as recognized by the County Board of Commissioners. On November 8, 1965, Letters-Patent were issued to Jonathan Smith, an Anglo-American, through the Lyon Court of Scotland, ennobling him. A Unitarian, he has been interested in philosophy in addition to his concern for history and genealogy. Benton County is home for Jonathan Smith although he has resided since 1960 in Memphis, Tennessee, where he has pursued his professional career.

Jack Wood, Tennessee Room Librarian at the Jackson/Madison County Library, said “Research has been Jonathan’s life.”  He has researched many historical topics and transcribed enumerable records from several counties in West Tennessee and has done extensive work in Madison County.  Mr. Smith has been very active as a researcher in Jackson since the late 1980s and started producing Madison County books in 1992, including the following three titles: Historical Configurations of the Magisterial Districts of Madison County, Tennessee; Adam Rankin Alexander, A Life Sketch; and My Riverside Cemetery Tombstone Inscriptions Scrapbook. 

In the front of Historical Configurations he acknowledged all the people and institutions that had helped him. This paragraph exhibits his graciousness and his lack of self-centered attention. He never claims to be the originator of anything. All of his books are self-published, and, as Mr. Wood stated, “he has never asked for any money for any of his books and research.”  He donated copies to individuals and repositories he felt would benefit most from them.

Most everyone remembers him for the work he’s done as a very skilled cemetery researcher. A series of books that he published about Riverside Cemetery in Jackson is very well known and used by many people. The first book titled My Riverside Cemetery Tombstone Inscriptions Scrapbook (1992) was followed by six more volumes. The final Volume VII was published in 1995. In 1998 he published a cumulative summary titled, Tombstone Inscriptions in Historic Riverside Cemetery in Jackson, Tennessee.

He has published inscriptions for the Black Cemeteries in Madison, Crockett, Haywood, Henderson, Gibson, Chester, Carroll and Benton counties, as well as some antebellum tombstones in Carroll Co.  Mr. Wood estimates that Mr. Smith has done about 50-60 volumes on Madison County alone. These include abstracts of 19th and early 20th century county records, such as wills, deeds and court minutes.  One volume abstracts all of the death notices appearing in extant 19th century Jackson, Tennessee newspapers.  There are seven volumes abstracting Henderson County records, which are very helpful because of that county’s loss of records.  Mr. Smith has written extensively about his home county of Benton as well as Shelby County.  In addition he has published about 35-40 books that are abstracts from Tennessee newspapers including the Nashville Christian Advocate.

Mr. Smith is known throughout the country by family researchers, archivists, librarians and other historians.   Jonathan K.T. Smith is truly an unselfish and giving historian who wants everybody to have access to the historical records that he has seen, transcribed, and abstracted.

Harkins Archives Dedicated

Long standing member and current president of the WTHS, Dr. John E. Harkins is honored for his dedicated work of the Memphis University School Archives.

The Memphis University School archives are now the Harkins Archives, named in honor of school Archivist and Historian Dr. John E. Harkins. At a dedication ceremony in the Joseph R. Hyde, Jr. Library Learning Center May 7, family and friends gathered to celebrate Harkins’ contributions during 30 years at MUS, including his role as a history instructor, chairman of the History Department, Ross M. Lynn Chair of History, and author of the MUS Century Book.

During the dedication Harkins expressed his appreciation for the honor and for the school’s “truly marvelous institutional archives. … I had the privilege of going through everything in the archives when I was working on the Century Book,” he said. “I am really appreciative of what a splendid job this school has done in holding on to its documentary past.”  MUS is a college preparatory school for boys founded in the fall of 1893.

“The very same characteristics that made John an excellent teacher and faculty member – his intellectual honesty, his insatiable desire to learn, his willingness to put the school above his personal interests, his great knowledge of history, and his collegiality – make him an excellent archivist, as well,” Headmaster Ellis Haguewood said.

johnPictured L to R: Dr. John E. Harkins, Mrs. Georgia Harkins and Jim Russell

A generous donation by David O. Sacks, MUS class of 1990, former COO of Paypal and CEO of Yammer, made this dedication a reality. Mr. Sacks sent a letter expressing his sentiments, which Haguewood read to the gathering:“Dr. Harkins once told me that MUS, history, and his devoted wife, Georgia, are the three great passions of his life, and so the Harkins Archives represents two of those. I expect Georgia is present today to make it a hat trick.I was very fortunate during my time at MUS to have Dr. Harkins as a teacher and adviser. We got to know each other well during my senior year when I was editor of the yearbook and he was the faculty adviser. … His unwavering support, encouragement, and guidance helped give me the confidence to lead not just that endeavor but large creative plaque harkinsenterprises in the future. Looking back, these experiences were remarkably similar. I guess there’s a reason they call it a “preparatory school” – it actually prepares you for life, often in ways that are not apparent at the time. That’s why teachers like Dr. Harkins are so important. Whether through his diligent pursuit of Memphis history or his long hours spent in the archives organizing MUS history, Dr. Harkins has always gone above and beyond. I can count on one hand the number of people who have made as significant a contribution to my own life as he has. I want to thank Dr. Harkins for all that he has done for me, and I’m grateful to MUS for providing this opportunity to honor him today.”

We of the West Tennessee Historical Society are proud to count Dr. Harkins as a true and valued member and offer our sincere congratulations.

“Ghosts” of Cowden Avenue—A Neighborhood Memoir from the 1940s and 1950s

john protraitBy John Harkins

            In the decade following World War II, Cowden Ave., east of Highland St. seemed an almost magical place. According to a local newspaper article in the early 1950s, it had more children than any other single-block street in Memphis. Still considered “way out east” in 1944, residents rode two buses to get downtown. Its relative remoteness, plus a dearth of home construction during the Depression and the war, seems to have added to the neighborhood’s cohesiveness.

Following my father’s death in 1943, my mother sold our two-story clapboard Victorian family home in south Memphis and purchased a newer, three-bedroom brick bungalow at 3528 Cowden. My four brothers and I grew up there, under the generally benevolent rule of three strong minded women: our mother, Helen Fay Harkins; our father’s mother, Margaret Lillis Harkins; and a live-in African American adjunct family member named Sally Murray Wadley.

The impact of familiar places on our memories, collective or individual, is axiomatic. Consequently, I can rarely drive on Poplar or Central near the University of Memphis without detouring along Cowden Avenue between Highland and Patterson streets. Nearly every lot or structure resurrects recollections, sometimes vague, more often quite vivid.

Perhaps the defining aspect of our neighborhood was the number of wooded vacant lots that comprised our significant play areas. The lots south and east of the current Lutheran Tower facing onto Highland were both open fields, with the remnants of apple, peach, and perhaps plum orchards where they came together. The area had plenty of birds, squirrels, and field rabbits as targets for kids homemade or Wham-o sling shots. Of course, the area’s boys also chopped down trees, constructed forts, dug foxholes, and played war games like “Bonzai” in the aftermath of WW II.  There were many acres of open land at the Poplar and Highland intersection into the late 1940s.

Near the eastern end of Cowden, on the south side of the street, was a large open area owned by the Goldschmid Family, whose home faced onto Central Ave. The two Goldschmid boys, Jack and Jimmy, were very much involved in scouting and other youth activities. They even had a wallboard for practicing climbing skills and a caged area of exotic birds like pheasant. The Goldsmiths made all of us neighborhood urchins welcome to play in their unofficial private park. Numerous games of pick up football and baseball were played there, until eventually infill construction forced us across Central Avenue to a large lot behind Dr. Walker’s home (about where Richardson Tower stands now). By then, however, the neighborhood’s kids were maturing and with older ones moving on to college, military service, and careers. In 1956, I finished high school, joined the Navy, and saw some of the world. However, over nearly six decades since then, my conviction that there was something special about our Cowden environment and its denizens has only grown.

About a year ago, childhood neighbor Jimmy Crosthwait and I met for lunch at the Elegant Farmer, on the corner of Cowden and Highland. Then we strolled along the street, reliving memories of whom had lived where and done what. There had been 50-odd kids on that one block, with boys outnumbering girls.  We had Jim and Ann Smith, 5 Harkins boys, 3 Harrisons, 2 Goodman sons, Gene Stout, TJ Oden, 4 Foster children, 3 Allen kids, Elizabeth Lemmon, 3 or 4 Spences, 4 Wades, Donna Tally, Bobby Fisher, Marilyn Means, June and Bud Shiro, 3 Hutters, Eddie and Jimmy Crosthwait, 2 Thomas girls, Jimmy Weir, Elliot Anderson, 2 Tutwiler girls, 3 Hudson  girls, the 3 Gaither boys, Carter Sanford, Joe and Maxine Baum, Dana and James Curtis, Bill Hart and the 3 Willys. The Willys’ house actually faced Highland, but Cowden was also a magnet for kids from nearby Highland, Central, Central Cove, Windover Road, Ridgefield Road, Patterson, and Deloach. Moreover, we all lived in easy walking or biking distance to the Pink Palace Museum, the small lakes in Chickasaw Gardens, Galloway Golf Course, the Plaza, Normal, and Park picture shows, and the absolutely terrific sledding at the MLG&W water pumping station on the east side of the Memphis State Campus.

Who says “you can’t go home again?’