The University District

Cultural Resources Survey of

The University District

Memphis, TN

Census Tract 73

Conducted by Memphis Heritage, Inc. for the Memphis Landmarks Commission

December 2002

Written by Susan M. Mascolino

I.                   Introduction

The University District consists of approximately 360 residential and some commercial buildings to the west of the growing University of Memphis campus.  This area is bordered by Poplar Avenue on the north, Deloach Street and Patterson Street on the east, Southern railroad tracks and Walker Avenue on the south, and South Highland Street on the west.  Within these boundaries are streets running north and south including Patterson Street from Poplar Avenue to Walker Avenue and Brister Street from Watauga Avenue to Walker Avenue.  Also running east and west are streets including Cowden Avenue from S. Highland Street to Patterson Street, Central Avenue from Highland Street to Deloach Street, and Norriswood Avenue, Watauga Avenue, Midland Avenue, and Mynders Avenue, which all run from S. Highland Street to Patterson Street.  There are also two smaller cul-de-sacs off Poplar Avenue on Ridgefield Road and off Central Avenue on Central Cove.  Homes along Central Avenue tend to be the highest examples of architecture in this area with the bulk of the residences falling into more modest examples of styles from the 1920’s to post-WWII.

The University District consists of several subdivisions.  The Donohu and Bulkley map of this section of Memphis in 1871 shows the University District area as owned by W. D. Dunn.  Both the Galloway Terrace subdivision, including the houses along Ridgefield Road, and the Patterson Terrace subdivision, including the residences along Patterson and Cowden, were platted from Pauline A. Dunn’s tracts in 1939 and 1940 respectively. The bulk of the area however came from the Normal School subdivision in July 1912 by D. P. Prescott, which was also from the original Dunn Tract.[1]   Daniel Pierce Prescott purchased this area as farmland in 1884 and produced sweet potatoes that were shipped on Southern Railroad.  Prescott also established the Prescott Baptist Church on Patterson Street in the name of his grandfather.  Prescott’s land later became a portion of the campus of the University of Memphis and part of the University District.[2]

As with the Normal Station area, the University District’s development was greatly influenced by the 1911 construction of a two-year teacher’s college, located on the outskirts of Memphis, named the West Tennessee State Normal School.  The school was dedicated in September of 1912 on an 80-acre tract of land with three buildings for the instruction of 200 students.  One of these buildings included Mynders Hall, named after the school’s first president, Seymour A. Mynders, and also the name of Mynders Avenue, located in the University District. [3]   Midland Avenue and then Young Avenue, running east and west from Highland Street to Patterson Street, were also included in this area of the Normal School subdivision on the 1912 plat map.   Brister Street, originally labeled Hunter Street on the 1912 map, was renamed for the school’s second president, J.W. Brister.  This area of the University District contains many examples of Bungalows and a few Tudor Revivals, which were popular in the 1920’s.

Students either lived on campus or commuted from the core of the city using the streetcar line that ran along Southern Avenue.  The Southern Railroad Company extended its terminus from Buntyn on the East End/Buntyn line one mile east to the new Normal School stop at the Normal Depot, which was located along Walker on the north side of the railroad tracks.  The waiting station was a hipped, tiled roof structure with a central chimney.  It was demolished in 1950 but traces of its foundation still exist along the tracks.[4]  With the influence of the extension of the streetcar line and the construction of the school, the University District experienced a steady development.  The West Tennessee Normal School, changing to a four-year degree program, became the State Teacher’s College in Memphis in 1925. Commercial areas along Highland and Walker began to develop in response to the influx of new residents.  The Prescott family included several plots that became commercial along Walker and the railroad in its 1912 subdivision of the area.  Today, this area of Walker and Highland still retains some of these 1920’s commercial buildings.  At the time, there was also commercial development at Walker and Patterson, which included a post office, the Normal Drug Company, and a barbershop, within a development called Prescott Flats.  This commercial area burned in a fire in 1925 and Normal Drug Company moved to a location at Southern and Highland in the Normal Station district.  Along Highland, there was also a hardware store, cleaners, and a service station, Stock’s Garage.[5]

By 1941, the State Teacher’s College had an enrollment of 1100 students and consisted of 11 buildings.  In this year, the Tennessee Legislature authorized the name of the school to be changed to Memphis State College.[6]  The University District was growing as well with several more subdivisions occurring around 1940.  The first was Clark and Fay’s Galloway Terrace subdivision in January of 1939. This subdivision included plots running along Ridgefield Road from Poplar Avenue to a cul-de-sac.  The Patterson Terrace subdivision was platted in February 1940 with Patterson running from Poplar to a cul-de-sac.  This was revised in June of 1940 with the addition of Cowden Avenue, running east and west, and Patterson’s continuation to Central.  Also in November 1940, Aetna K. Chandler subdivided the Central Cove development.  Aetna Chandler was the matriarch of the Chandler family, who played an important role in the development of Memphis.  Chandler and Chandler was founded in 1906 by William C. Chandler, who is credited with bringing the bungalow to Memphis.  Their son, Charles Chandler, brought many other subdivisions to post-WWII, east Memphis including High Point Terrace.  Less is known about the role that Aetna Chandler played in the real estate company, however she is listed as the developer in at least one other neighborhood, Green Meadows.[7]

The renewed burst of development in the University District in the 1940’s reflects the greater trend of the automobile suburb and post-WWII development in the United States.  Development along streetcar lines dominated the 1920’s.  However, as shown by the 1950 demolition of Normal Station, people began to rely more on their automobiles than streetcars, and subdivisions moved further from public transportation lines.  This is reflected in the construction dates of the homes built north of Central along Patterson, Deloach, and Cowden from the early 1940’s.  The building boom after WWII reflected the availability of FHA and VA loans for home buying and the baby boom as soldiers returned home. Memphis had a surge in population from 292,942 residents in 1940 to 396,000 in 1950.[8]  Developers brought many new subdivisions to Memphis in order to take advantage of this demand.  As shown by the new subdivisions of land within the University District in the 1940’s, this area also reflected these trends. Among the residential development along Patterson Street, Cowden Avenue, Deloach Street, Ridgefield Road and Central Cove, one finds examples of Minimal Traditional and Ranch, which are architectural styles that came into popularity during the late 1930’s through the early 1950’s.

The residents of the University District historically reflected a middle to upper-middle class.  The 1925 City Directory lists residents having the occupations of salesmen, carpenters and builders, and managers and directors.[9]  More detailed census information is available in 1940 looking at census tract 73, which is bordered by Poplar, Highland, the Southern Railroad tracks, and Goodlett, which is slightly farther east than the University District boundaries discussed here that exclude the University of Memphis campus.  The population of this census tract in 1940 consisted of 1194 people of which 96% were white.  Of the male residents, 76% had completed 12 years or more of schooling.  Of the female residents, 78% had completed 12 years or more of schooling.  Also, 85% of the men were employed, most of which fell into the professional, manager, and clerical/sales categories.  In 1950, the University District had grown to 2854 people, reflecting the intense growth of Memphis in the post-WWII years.  The population grew even more homogeneous with 99% reporting to be white.  Of the total residents, 81% had completed 12 years or more of schooling.  Of 739 employed people within the neighborhood, 87% were in the professional, managerial, clerical or sales positions.[10]

The impact of the University of Memphis has also had a negative side in this developmental history.  As the school has continued to grow over the years it has spread from its initial 80-acres to consume many of the neighborhood streets that immediately surround it.  The University District has lost many of its residential structures to the school’s need for more parking and campus buildings.  In 1958, the school announced long range plans of buying all residences north of campus from Norriswood to Central and from Patterson to Normal, which included over 31 acres and 86 parcels.  These plans included building a new parking garage, administrative building, and junior high school.[11]  In 1985, residents along Norriswood and Watauga fought changes in zoning for apartments, which allowed a 10-story building along Highland planned to be used as a dormitory for the school.  The residents urged the school to prepare a long-range plan and publicize those plans in advance of changes.  At that time the president of MSU, Dr. C.C. Humphreys, stated the school’s only plan remained to buy all property it did not own between Patterson and Normal, from Central to Southern.  However, he believed it was too difficult to predict the school’s need in ten years to give any other long-range plans other than to state that they estimate enrollment to reach 25,000 students.[12]  In 1998, the University purchased three houses along Norriswood at Patterson and demolished them for a 149-car parking lot.[13]  Just in 2001, the houses lining Conlee Street, east of Deloach, were demolished to make way for more student parking.  The Regents of the University of Memphis own many of the houses lining Deloach, Central, and other streets in this area, where they house professors.  While maintenance of these houses may not be in question, the future demolition of these structures is as growth pressures continue.

II.                   Methodology

The University District was chosen for study by the Memphis Landmarks Commission as a potential Landmarks and National Register District.  Boundaries for the area follow Poplar, Deloach and Patterson, Walker, and Highland, excluding the University of Memphis campus and two apartment complexes at the northwest corner of Poplar and Highland.  Surveyors did not include structures obviously built after 1953.  Excluded structures were noted on maps as non-contributing structures but were not comprehensively surveyed.  Black and white prints, color slides, and digital photos were taken of each surveyed house.

Original plat maps for the subdivisions were obtained from the Shelby County Register’s Office. Tax maps were obtained through the Shelby County Assessor of Property and used as survey maps. Census briefs and City Directories were used to research the population of the area.  Newspaper accounts stored at the Memphis and Shelby County Public Library and the University of Memphis Special Collections aided in historical research.

Dates of construction for houses in the University District were obtained from the Shelby County Assessor of Property.  Though this is generally the most complete and reliable source available, it should be noted that the construction dates listed for a small number of houses occasionally conflicts with primary historical records.  In such cases, the construction date provided should serve as a close approximation.

For a property to be considered as a contributing structure in a potential district, the survey team used their knowledge of historic architecture to determine how closely each house resembled its original form.  Rear additions were usually permissible, but major front alterations were not.

III.                Patterns made evident by the survey

The University District is a residential neighborhood that began as a streetcar suburb and was influenced by the establishment of the University of Memphis, then named the West Tennessee State Normal School.  Today, the neighborhood is mainly residential, both single and multiple-family housing, with the exception of commercial structures along Highland and Walker and several churches found on Highland and Patterson.  Lot sizes are usually small, averaging around one-third of an acre.  Street frontage tends to be around 50 feet on the lots south of Central while slightly larger in the lots north of Central, averaging around 60 feet.  Homes are set closely to the tree-lined streets, and sidewalks line all the streets with the exception of Brister Street and Ridgefield Road.

Certain architectural patterns follow the developmental periods of the University District.  The oldest houses can be found in the blocks just north of the railroad tracks at what used to be the streetcar line.  This area falls into the developmental pattern of a streetcar suburb and has architecture that is typical of a middle-class subdivision of the 1920’s.  There are many examples of Bungalows with a few more examples of Tudor Revival.  The area north of Central developed more in the late 1930’s and 1940’s with a concentration on emergence of the automobile.  Many examples of Minimal Traditional fill these streets of the northern half of the University District.  The neighborhood finally filled in during the mid to late 1940’s and contains examples of later Minimal Traditional and Ranch houses.

The neighborhood’s close connection to the University of Memphis has been both a positive and negative aspect of its development.  The spur for the subdivision of this area was the establishment of the teacher’s school and the subsequent location of the Normal streetcar stop.  Later in its development, this neighborhood continued to grow as an automobile suburb and finally completely fill-in with the boom of post-WWII housing.  This middle-class area has been known for its diversity of residents with professors living next to young couples and retirees, producing a strong neighborhood feeling.[14]   In 1995, a neighborhood coalition formed to address crime and general improvement issues in the University District.  This group, named the University Neighborhood Coalition, encompasses a slightly greater area than surveyed, including Highland to Goodlett from Poplar to Southern.[15]

Another pattern evident in the condition of some of the houses near the University is that of neglect.  Many of the houses to the west of the school have been made into duplexes and rental housing for students and suffer from subsequent deterioration due to lack of maintenance.  While some houses have been demolished to make way for apartment buildings, others have been made into fraternity houses, which generally have abusive alterations and a negative affect on the surrounding residential area.  This is particularly evident on streets such as Watauga, Midland, Mynders, and Brister.  Owners of houses in this area may also not feel the need to maintain these structures as the threat of purchase and demolition by the University looms over the neighborhood.  This uncertainty may be having a detrimental affect on the surrounding neighborhood, which added protection from listing as a historic district could address.

IV.             Recommendations

Although some areas of the neighborhood suffer from neglect and the encroachment of the University of Memphis, Memphis Heritage does recommend that the University District be added to the National Register of Historic Places and explore any interest in local designation.  Of 367 structures within the University District boundaries described above, 60 were considered non-contributing.  There are 21 vacant lots that were not included in this count.  Therefore, this neighborhood does meet the guidelines for acceptance in the National Register with over 83% of its structures falling into the contributing category, which is above the 80% minimum for consideration.

The following is a list of addresses noted as ‘contributing structures’ by the survey team:

Brister Street 482/484

Cowden Avenue 3580

Highland Street 262

527/525

3581

420

Central Cove 327

3586

426

328

3592

432

336

3597

438

342

3601

444

343

3604

460

347

3607

498

348

3615

Midland Avenue 3522

Central Avenue 3535

3616

3528

3550

3621

3532

3551

3624

3538

3564

3627

3542

3571

3628

3547

3580

3633

3548

3590

3634

3550/3552

3600

3638/3640

3551

3616

3639

3555

3622

3641

3558

3630

Deloach Street 205

3561

3636

211

3562

Central 3642/Patterson 301

219

3568

Central 3658/Patterson 302

222/224

3572

Central 3664

227

3604

Cowden Avenue 3532

230

3614

3535/3537

235

Mynders Avenue 3523

3538

236

3525

3541

241

3537

3544

247

3567/3569

3548

250

3571/3573

3552

253

3590

3557

261

Norriswood Avenue 3548

3558

267

3560

3562

275

3570

3563

281

3595/3597

3567/3569

287

3605

3568

295

3611

3574

301

3615

3577

Patterson Street 201/205

Patterson Street 215

Ridgefield Road 267

Watauga Avenue 3619

216

271

3620

221

273

3625

222

276

3626

227

279

3631/3629

228

282

232

287

235

288

Total:  215 Contributing

238

291

241

Walker Avenue 3519

244

3523

247

3525

250

3533/3539

254

3604/3606

260

3618

264

Watauga Avenue 3521

272

3527

276

3533

280

3539

290/292

3543

449

3545

499

3553

Poplar Avenue 3581

3557/3559

Poplar 3591/Ridgefield 187

3563

Poplar 3605/Ridgefield 190

3566

Poplar 3613/3615

3567

3623

3571

3635

3572

3645/3647

3576

3653

3579/3581

3671

3580

3679

3583/3585

Poplar 3711/Deloach 268

3586

Poplar 3725

3589

Ridgefield Road 202

3590

205

3595

211

3596

214

3599

217

3602

225

3605

235

3606

239

3609

245

3610

253

3613

259

3616

Bibliography

Callahan, Jody.  “Coalition forms in U of M vicinity.”  The Commercial Appeal, 12/24/98.

Callahan, Jody. “Parking ban may make Patterson, Zack Curlin safer.”  The Commercial Appeal, 9/2/99.

Cole’s City Directory, Memphis, 1925.

Dickie, Kay.  “MSU turns 75 today—quietly.”  The Commercial Appeal, 9/10/87.

Justice, Candy.  “Area is distinctive in its diversity.”  Memphis Press-Scimitar, 8/31/78.

“Long-range MSU planning urged.”  Memphis Press-Scimitar, 5/28/85.

Magness, Perre.  Elmwood 2002. Elmwood Cemetary: Memphis, TN, 2001.

“’Memphis State’ still to be teacher’s college.”  Memphis Press-Scimitar, 2/14/41.

Plat Maps, pgs. 6-124, 10-01, 10-11, 10-19 and 10-23, Shelby County Register’s Office.

Rea, John.  “The Normal Depot of the Southern Railway.”  Papers of the West Tennessee Historical Society, 1984.

Royer, David.  “Green Meadows/Poplar Glen Coverform.”  Memphis Heritage, Inc., 2001.

Spence, John.  “Long range building plans revealed for MSU.”  Memphis Press-Scimitar, 11/24/58.

United States Census Bureau.  Census tract statistics, Memphis, Tennessee, 1940.

United States Census Bureau.  Census tract statistics, Memphis, Tennessee, 1950.

Wallace, Dr. James A. “I Remember Normal.”  Papers of the West Tennessee Historical Society, 1984.


[1] Plat maps, Shelby County Register’s Office.

[2] Magness, Perre.  Elmwood 2002. (Elmwood Cemetary: Memphis, TN, 2001), p. 302.

[3] Dickie, Kay.  “MSU turns 75 today—quietly.”  The Commercial Appeal, 9/10/87.

[4] Rea, John. “The Normal Depot of the Southern Railway.”  Papers of the West Tennessee Historical Society, 1984.

[5] Wallace, Dr. James A.  “I Remember Normal.”  Papers of the West Tennessee Historical Society, 1976.

[6] “’Memphis State’ still to be teacher’s college.”  Memphis Press-Scimitar, 2/14/41.

[7] Royer, David.  “Green Meadows/Poplar Glen.”  Memphis Heritage, Inc., August 2001.

[8] United States Census Bureau. Census tract statistics, Memphis, Tennessee–1940, 1950.

[9] Cole’s City Directory, Memphis, 1925.

[10] United States Census Bureau. Census tract statistics, Memphis, Tennessee–1940, 1950.

[11] Spence, John. “Long range building plans revealed for MSU.”  Memphis Press-Scimitar, 11/24/58.

[12] “Long-range MSU planning urged.”  Memphis Press-Scimitar, 5/28/85.

[13] Callahan, Judy.  “Parking ban may make Patterson, Zack Curlin safer.”  The Commercial Appeal, 9/2/99.

[14] Justice, Candy. “Area is distinctive in its diversity.”  Memphis Press-Scimitar, 8/31/78.

[15] Callahan, Jody.  “Coalition forms in U of M vicinity.”  The Commercial Appeal, 12/24/98.

DON NEWMAN