Status: Renovation is planned.
Address: 492 Vance Avenue, Memphis
Architectural Style: Two-story rectangular Italianate
Original Function/Purpose: Residence
History: This home was built in 1858 by attorney Joseph Minter Gregory, and he and his wife lived here until their deaths more than 50 years later. The Vance-Pontotoc area was an affluent neighborhood during the late 1800s but grew less so as the city expanded, whites moved eastward, and African American families moved into the vacancies. In 1949 the house was purchased by Reverend S.A. Owens and C.J. Gaston as the campus for the five-year-old Griggs Business and Practical Arts College. Founded by Emma Griggs in 1944, the Griggs Business and Practical Arts College was initially one of only three Black owned colleges in the community. Born Emma Williams in late 19th century Virginia, Emma enjoyed a life-long pursuit of education. She attended Norfolk Mission College and Hartshorn Memorial College in Richmond where she met and married Reverend Sutton E. Griggs, a minister, author, and civil rights activist. Years later Emma and her husband moved to Memphis to take over the leadership of Tabernacle Baptist Church. By 1916, Sutton started construction of a new church which was intended to serve the religious, educational, and social needs of people within the congregation as well as in the wider community. Concurrently, Emma opened a “practical arts school” out of their home which offered courses on basic skills such as cooking, sewing, and domestic activities. Shortly afterwards, the couple moved to Houston where Sutton took the position of a pastor but died soon after. Upon his death, Emma moved back to Memphis and started the Griggs school which assumed several locations before officially settling at 492 Vance Avenue. However, before the school moved to that specific location in the early 1950s, Emma passed away. The Griggs Business and Practical Arts College nevertheless continued to flourish there under her Board of Directors for another two decades until it lost its accreditation in 1971, and its campus in 1974 when the building was sold. Over the years, more than 1,000 people received education from the college which offered courses in accounting, business administration, radio and TV, and secretarial studies—just to name a few. Today the Griggs Business and Practical Arts College stands in a bit of disrepair, but the impressive structure and original sign continue to remind us of the property’s notable history. It is hoped that after restoration, the building can be “activated for mixed-use, a combination of housing and community space.”
City Council District: 6
Super District: 8
County Commission District: 8