Memphis Court Square

Court Square provides the perfect place to sit in peace amid the hustle of Downtown Memphis.  The quiet oasis is surrounded by office buildings and busy streets and offers a shady area with fountains, statues, and a gazebo, and places to relax and enjoy the restored antique trolleys going by on Main Street.  The square is located between Main and Second Streets at Court Avenue.  Of all the 4 original municipal parks laid out by the city planners in 1819, Court Square is the only one left in its original form.  Ironically the land was set aside to build a court house, but no courthouse was ever built on Court Square.  It was however, the site of Memphis' first schoolhouse.  The land for Court Square was donated by John McLemore, one of the founders of Memphis


Click on small photos to enlarge them. 


       Gazebo - 1912






In 1876 the Hebe Fountain, donated to the City by some prominent city leaders, was erected in the center of the park.  In Greek mythology Hebe was the Cupbearer to the Gods.  Memphians have enjoyed the fountain, practically non-stop since it was dedicated.  The light display at night is especially beautiful.  Hard to image but there's one drowning associated with the fountain. 

Originally the basin of the fountain was 6 1/2 feet deep, stocked with cat fish and turtles, and no fence.  In 1884, 10 year old Claude Pugh, sitting on the edge, leaned too far and tumbled in.  The sloped edges were slippery from algae and he couldn't regain his footing.  Incredibly, the park was filled with visitors and no one made an effort to save him.  After struggling for several minutes, he slipped beneath the surface.  The Memphis Daily Appeal reported "Stalwart men stood silently by with staring eyes and gaping mouths.  Their hearts must have been made of stone, and the milk of human kindness in their beasts sour whey.  More consideration would have been given a dumb beast"  

The fountain is made of cast iron and is 20 feet high, with a diameter of 35 feet and weighs 7000 pounds.  It is a copy after the great Italian sculptor Antonio Canova.   In 1932 a movement was started to remove the fountain from Court Square (Hebe is nude from the waist up), but their efforts didn't succeed.  In 1942, the statue was toppled in a wind storm and in 1949 re-erected after restoration.  In 1957, the fish were changed back from goldfish to catfish but so many were stolen that the fish were taken out altogether.  In 1980, the fountain was completely renovated.




Artist:  L. Ragsdale


  Fountain at Night

2011 Renovation




Court Square appeared in the movie "The Firm" as the backdrop for a meeting between Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman.   Santa Claus used to make annual appearances in the Gazebo during the Christmas season.  A temporary, prototype fallout shelter was erected in 1960 to show Memphians the type of shelter they can build at home to provide protection from a nuclear blast.  Today, Court Square remains one of the symbols of Memphis, and is still surrounded by an intact grouping of architecturally significant buildings.  In 1982 Court Square was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.






Marker  1                       

Marker 2


Main-Court Square 2011


<> Court Square in Vintage Postcards over the years <>
















c. 1950s


Feeding Pigeons 1917      

   1940s                             1904




1909... Canon          

1909 ... Canon




1905 "Squirrel Pasture"           

1907 "Squirrel Pasture"




c.  1909                    








1910 - Pavilion


Fountain                      1913 1908 1910

Vintage ... From 2nd St     


 1942 ..Opposite Gerbers



Court Sq Skyscrapers 1908    





<>  Court Square Vintage Photos  and Memorabilia  <>

Thanks  to the Memphis Public Library and the University of Memphis Library for many of the  photos on this page


Don't feed the squirrels 1918-20

Wm McKinley-1901


Dish-Ashtray - 1930s

 Photo 1900


Silver Spoon - 1900-20

Winter - 1950s


 Photo 1900


    Santa's House 1940

Santa's House - Rain - Moon

Santa and Regina


Early 1900s





Confederate Parade 1901     

Confederate Reunion 1924


Souvenir Spoons      


Jeff Davis House





Spoon 1910


Malone Monument 


Court Square - Winter




1887 Drawing


1891 Benjamin Harrison

Drawing 1862




1909 UCV Reunion

1909 UCV Reunion

Record Snow     




Vintage 1900s




<>"I lived in the downtown area when I was in high school, and I remember Court Square very well. My mother worked at Gerber's for several years. and many times I would meet her there when her work-day was done. We would walk through Court Square, over to the Sterick Building, and a block or two to our apartment on Madison. I have spent many hours in that park, admiring the fountain, feeding the pigeons and watching people". - Bob Mann

<>"...lots of Memories".  - Rex King
<>"...sure brings back some good memories.  The pictures are great".  - Ruth Hage St. Peter
<>"It's a unique place.  I don't get downtown very often now, but it is always a pleasure to walk through Court Square when I do.  Great photos".  - Glenn Raby
<>"Many memories there. I worked within 50 yards of it for several years. I had a few sack lunches there as well".  - Ed Bell.

<>"Court Square was a place where all the kids would gather in long lines, waiting for their chance to talk to Santa Claus. Court Square was turned into the North Pole with Santa's house in the middle. People were so happy at that time of year, and Elvis gave money to a organization called The Goodfellows. They had kids come there every year at Christmas time and we saw Santa, and got a toy or two, along with some memories". - Vernon Cullum


<>"When I was a child there was only one Santa Claus and he was always in his little house in Court Square during the Christmas season". - Regina Lee Page


<>"I also remember feeding the pigeons and squirrels in the summer. You could buy peanuts and popcorn at the little concession stand there".  -Joe Gordon

<>"These photos really brought back memories.  I especially perked up at the one that showed Gerber's Department Store across the street from the park.  That was my favorite store.  My sister Aileen, worked in their photography department as a colorist before colored film.  I put an outfit on lay-a-way there one year and paid it off a couple of dollars a week!  They were very nice there.  Deep in my heart, Memphis will always be "home". - Joan Smith Ludwig


CREDITS: The "Historic-Memphis" Team would like to acknowledge and thank the following organizations for their contributions which helped make this page possible:  Memphis Public Library, University of Memphis Libraries, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Greater Memphis Chamber, Memphis Flyer, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Memphis Heritage, Tom Leatherwood Shelby County Register, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, Joe Spake,  and many other individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on individual photos.


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