Memphis and Shelby County Room

Memphis Public Library & Information Center
Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library
History/Social Sciences Department
Memphis and Shelby County Room

The Memphis and Shelby County Room is an area within the History/Social Sciences Department where researchers may view items from the library’s archival and manuscript collections. These include historical records of people and families, maps, photographs, newspaper vertical files, books, and music and video recordings. These materials document the development of the community, government, economy, culture, and heritage of Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee.

Researchers may access the Memphis and Shelby County Room during regular library hours. Librarians provide assistance in selection and retrieval of needed materials, as well as the use of microfilm readers and photocopiers. Researchers may bring scanners or digital cameras to reproduce library materials upon obtaining permission from the History/Social Sciences Department manager.

Please help keep the Memphis and Shelby County Room clean and quiet by leaving food and drinks outside and holding conversations to a minimum. Books, manuscript, and archival items should stay in the Memphis and Shelby County Room, and the arrangement of the antique furniture should remain unchanged. The Memphis and Shelby County Room is intended for individual study and research. The library provides other facilities for study groups and those conducting meetings.

The staff of the Memphis Public Library & Information Center primarily provides reference and bibliographic services to residents of Memphis and Shelby County. As a result, the library is unable to provide all the reference and bibliographic services requested by customers from outside its service area. To help those with extensive information needs, the staff of the History/Social Sciences Department maintains a list, available upon request, of non-affiliated researchers available to conduct research and document reproduction for a fee.

The History/Social Sciences Department staff welcomes donations of print materials, audio and visual recordings, and photographs related to Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee.

Please call 901-415-2742 for more information.

Special Collections Available in the Memphis and Shelby County Room

The Journal of Josiah Hinds
The Historical and Genealogical Collection
The Frank Holloman Collection
The Howard Association Collection
The Hugh Higbee Huhn Collection
The Blair T. Hunt Papers
The Office Files of Robert B. James
The Sara Beaumont Kennedy Literary Collection With Papers of Walker Kennedy
The Kennedy Book Club Collection
The George W. Lee Collection
The Jerry Lee Lewis Collection
The Selma S. Lewis Collection
The Harry H. Litty Family Collection
Papers of Henry Loeb, III
The Ruth F. Loewenberg Shelby Farms Collection
The Robert F. Looney Collection
The Mary Graham Love Papers
The John William McAfee Collection: A Career in Journalism and Photography
The Florence McIntyre Collection
Senator Kenneth Douglas McKellar: A Register of His Papers
The George Mahan, Jr. Collection
The Personal Papers of Judge Walter Malone
The John D. Martin Collection
The Thomas E. Maxson Collection, A Career in Public Engineering
The Ethel Taylor Maxwell Collection
Memphians During War
The Memphis Art Association Collection
The Memphis Belle Collection
Memphis Civic Clubs – Jackson Boulevard and Rozelle Clubs
The Memphis Crippled Children’s Hospital and School
Memphis – Enschede Ties
An Index to the Memphis Historical Society Papers
Memphis Music Miscellany
Memphis/National Funeral Home Records, 1935-1971
The Memphis Open Air Theater Collection
The Memphis Open Air Theater Programs
The Mid-South Flood Collection
Register of the Henry A. Montgomery Family
The Official Papers of Shelby County Commissioner James W. “Jimmy” Moore
The Earl Moreland Collection
J.C. Oates and Sons Funeral Home Records, 1916-1970
The Berl Olswanger Collection
The Order of the Alhambra Talavera Caravan #32
The Papers of Memphis Mayor Watkins Overton
The Page/Lenox Collection
The Reverend Charles Carroll Parsons Collection
The General Gideon J. Pillow Collection
The Price/Davis Family Papers
The Julia Raine Collection of Correspondence and Music
Papers of the Raleigh Community Council
Office Files of John “Jack” W. Ramsay
The St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Collection
The Reverend Louis Sandford Schuyler Collection
The Susanne Conlan Scruggs Collection
The Searcy Collection
The Leo M. Seligman Collection
The Reverend Eron M. Sharp Collection
The Maxine Smith NAACP Collection
The Katherine Hinds Smythe Collection
The Morris Solomon Papers
The George Sparks Little Theatre Wartime Collection
The Jerry O. Potter Sultana Collection
The Tennessee Valley Authority Collection
The Frank Tobey Papers
The Trezevant Family Papers
The Ernest B. “Tony” Vaccaro Collection
The Dr. R.Q. and Ethyl H. Venson Cotton Makers’ Jubilee Collection
The Robert L. Waller Collection
The Roane Waring Collection
The Rabbi James A. Wax Collection
The Business Papers of Samuel B. Williamson, Napoleon Hill and Noland Fontaine
The Marshall Wingfield Collection
The Yellow Fever Collection
Zion Cemetery Burial Register, 1896-1974

The Memphis and Shelby County Room features:

National Archives Documents of Interest:

Library of Congress Documents of Interest:


Memphis History and Facts

Memphis History: A Chronology

c. 1541
Indians living near present-day Shelby County encounter the Hernando De Soto expedition.

French explorers build Fort Assumption on Memphis site.

Fort San Fernando de las Barrancas built by the Spanish.

The U.S. gains control of the area; Fort Adams erected.

The Chickasaw Nation signs treaty ceding West Tennessee to the U.S.

John Overton, James Winchester, and Andrew Jackson found the city of Memphis on May 22. Shelby County formed.

Frances Wright organizes utopian community of Nashoba near present-day Germantown.

Memphis incorporated on December 19.

County seat moved from Memphis to Raleigh.

Memphis Appeal organized.

U.S. government establishes a navy yard in the city.

Memphis and South Memphis merge.

The Memphis & Charleston Railroad completed, linking the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River.

On June 6, Union fleet defeats Confederate naval forces in the Battle of Memphis. Federal troops occupy the city.

Grant names Memphis as hospital and supply base to support the attack on Vicksburg.

The Memphis Freedmen's Bureau established to provide services such as banking and education.

Memphis regains the county seat.

City's most devastating yellow fever epidemic claims 5,000 lives.

Memphis declares bankruptcy, loses its charter, and becomes a Taxing District of the state.

Artesian well water becomes available for the first time.

Great Bridge at Memphis opened. Later named Frisco Bridge.

Cossitt Library opens, the first public library in Memphis. Memphis regains its city charter. Black millionaire Robert Reed Church, Sr. buys first city bond.

The ten-story Porter Building, the city's first skyscraper, opens.

Church's Park & Auditorium, the city's first park and entertainment center for African Americans, opens.

The Overton Park Zoo opens.

W.C. Handy writes the "Memphis Blues." Memphis adopts the commission form of government.

University of Tennessee Medical School merges with the Memphis Hospital Medical College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

A major Mississippi River flood brings high water to downtown Memphis.

Clarence Saunders opens his first Piggly Wiggly store.

The Universal Life Insurance Company, one of the largest black-owned insurance companies in the nation, is founded.

The present Peabody Hotel opens to the public. Tom Lee rescues 32 people when the excursion boat M.E. Norman capsizes in the Mississippi River.

The Orpheum Theatre opens; replaced Grand Opera House.

The Mississippi River Great Flood devastates huge area; thousands of homeless brought to Memphis.

City purchases the local utility company and renames it Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division.

The Naval Air Station at Millington is built.

The Army (now Defense) Depot and the Mallory Air Force Depot built.

Construction on the Memphis Harbor project begins.

Memphis named the country's quietest, cleanest and safest city on several occasions.

Tri-State Defender, local black newspaper, begins publication.

Kemmons Wilson opens his first Holiday Inn on Summer Ave.

E.H. Crump, Memphis political leader for 45 years, dies. Elvis Presley gives his first concert in Memphis.

Stax Records, creator of the "Memphis Sound," organized.

Federal court decisions end segregation in the city's public libraries, schools, parks and recreation facilities.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated Apri1 4 at the Lorraine Motel while in Memphis to support the Sanitation Workers' strike.

Federal Express Corporation organized.

Busing begins in order to bring about full integration of schools.

Benjamin L. Hooks elected executive director of the NAACP. Victorian Village named historic district.

Elvis Presley dies at Graceland on August 16.

Mud Island Park and River Walk open.

Redeveloped Beale Street opens as a tourist attraction. Jesse H. Turner becomes first black to serve as chairman of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.

Lighting of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge features 2,000 lights in a giant M.

Ramesses the Great initiates the Wonders Series.

World War II Memphis Belle moved to Mud Island.

Dr. W.W. Herenton elected city's first black mayor. National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis Pyramid open.

Downtown trolley begins operation.
Wonders Titanic exhibit draws largest attendance in series.
AutoZone Park Redbirds Stadium opens downtown.
New Central Library opens in November at 3030 Poplar Avenue.
July 22, straight-line gale force winds cause heavy damage to the city.

© Compiled 2003 by the staff of the History Department

Memphis Facts

  • Founded: 1819
  • Incorporated: 1826
  • Altitude:
    Airport -- 331 feet above sea level
    Mississippi River -- 188 feet above sea level.
  • Area/Location:
    340 square miles as of 8/03
    35.10' North by 90.00' West at Madison and Front
  • Official City Flower: Crape Myrtle
  • Official City Tree: Dogwood
  • Government: Mayor and City Council
  • Climate:
    Temperature (Fahrenheit degrees):
    Average annual 61.9
    January average 41.2
    July average 81.2
    Record High 108 on July 13, 1980
    Record Low -13 on Dec. 24, 1963
    Average annual rainfall 48.6 inches
  • Bridges -- Dates opened:
    Frisco May 12, 1892
    Harahan July 14, 1916
    Memphis & Arkansas Dec. 17, 1949
    Hernando De Soto Aug. 2, 1973
  • Buildings - Tallest:

    100 North Main
    430 ft., 37 stories
    Commerce Square
    396 ft., 31 stories
    Sterick Building
    365 ft., 31 stories
    Clark Tower
    365 ft., 32 stories
    Morgan Keegan Tower
    341 ft., 23 stories
  • Largest Colleges & Universities:

    Christian Brothers University
    founded 1871
    LeMoyne-Owen College
    founded 1871
    University of Memphis
    founded 1912
    Rhodes College
    founded 1848
    Shelby State Community College
    founded 1972
    State Technical Institute
    founded 1968
    University of Tennessee College of Medicine
    founded 1911
  • Government:
    Mayor and Council form established in 1966.
  • Population:
    1820 364
    1830 663
    1840 1,799
    1850 8,841
    1860 22,623
    1870 40,226
    1880 33,592
    1890 64,495
    1900 102,320
    1910 131,105
    1920 162,351
    1930 253,140
    1940 292,942
    1950 396,000
    1960 497,524
    1970 623,530
    1980 646,356
    1990 610,337
    2000 650,100

© Compiled 2003 by the staff of the History Department

Shelby County

  • Established: 1819
  • Area: 755 square miles
  • Government:
    Mayor and Board of Commissioners (established in 1974)
  • Incorporated Cities:



  • Total County Population:
    1940 358,250
    1950 482,393
    1960 627,019
    1970 722,041
    1980 772,523
    1990 815,161
    2000 897,472

© Compiled 2003 by the staff of the History  Department

Memphis Shelby County Photograph Collection

The Memphis and Shelby County Photograph Collection is located in the Memphis and Shelby County Room.  The collection consists of 11,000 local and regional photographs.  These photographs are indexed in a contact print index which arranges the photographs alphabetically by topic (example:  Memphis - Streets - Main Street - 1888).

The works of two notable Memphis photographers are included in the collection.  J. C. Coovert and Clifford H. Poland captured buildings, events and scenes of everyday life in Memphis from the 1880s to the 1950s.  Major themes in the collection include bridges, buildings, the cotton and hardwood timber industries, fairs, floods, businesses, transportation, historic homes, portraits and street scenes.

The Library of Congress American Memory website has several Memphis photographs available.  Photographs of interest include Farm Security Administration photos of Beale Street, Memphis cotton classing houses and the Memphis Cotton Carnival as well as photographs of historic buildings taken by the Detroit Publishing Company and Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER). Click here to access their index.

Of particular interest are three Haines Photo Company panoramic photos of downtown Memphis and three J. C. Coovert panoramas of cotton fields. 

1910 Memphis Panoramic Photos

Visit the Library of Congress links below to view the full size panoramas.

Click to View Full Image at Library Of Congress
View full image at Library of Congress

Click to view full size at Library of Congress
View full image at Library of Congress

Click to view full size image at Library of Congress
View full image at Library of Congress

Cotton Field Panoramas 1907-1915

Visit the Library of Congress links below to view the full size panoramas.

click to view full size at Library of Congress
Click to view full image at Library of Congress

click to view full size image at the Library of Congress
Click to view full image at Library of Congress

Click to view full image at the Library of Congress
Click to view full image at Library of Congress

Researching Your Home in Shelby County

WHERE TO LOOK IN Researching Your HOUSE:

The History Department and the Memphis/Shelby County Room of the library contain a variety of materials that can be used in researching the history of your home. These sources include:

  • Maps: street and plat maps; Sanborn Fire Insurance maps
  • City Directories: 1849-1994; suburban directories 1964 to 1994
  • Memphis Room Information Files: See subject headings for real estate, historic houses, architects, and biography
  • Books: Neighborhood studies such as Cooper- Young, Annesdale-Snowden, Vollentine-Evergreen, Central Gardens and general works including Memphis: An Architectural Guide and Good Abode: 19th Century Architecture in Memphis and Shelby County
  • Manuscript Collections: Some collections such as the George Mahan (architect) Papers and the Page-Lenox Collections may be of assistance.
  • Photographs: See the contact print file for subject headings such as street names, historic houses, buildings, etc.
  • Historical Register listing for Memphis and Shelby County properties
  • Census records for Shelby County, particularly for 1900, 1910, and 1920
  • Newspapers on microfilm for photographs of new homes, new developments, real estate sales, etc. g

Other important sources which are not at the library include:

  • History of the property obtained from title companies
  • Tax records located at the Tax Assessors Office Early land deeds located at the County Register's Office