Historic Memphis MUSEUMS

        ...and the "New "Museums


Memphis hasn't been particularly known for its museums.  That's understandable when you consider that for many years there were no museums of any kind in the city.  However  in 1893 there was a small corner set aside in the Cossitt Library for a display of natural history objects.  Other than that, Memphis had to wait until 1916 for it's first real museum - the Brooks Memorial Art Gallery.  Twenty Five years later in 1930, the city opened its second museum, the Memphis Museum of Natural History and Industrial Arts.  It was another 25 years before the C. H. Nash Museum at the Chucalissa Archaeological site opened - and 20 more years after that before the Dixon Gallery and Gardens opened in 1976.  You get the picture.  Memphis wasn't a museum-town.  But today the city is making up for all those lost years and has recently opened a number of first-rate museums. 

Click on small photos to see larger photos.  Please wait a couple of minutes for page to load before clicking.
 For more information about the museums:    Each Memphis museum listed below  has an excellent website*



Memphis Brooks Museum of Art  .  Overton Park . 1934 Poplar Av

Founded in 1916, this is the oldest and largest art museum in the State of Tennessee.  The original building is a U.S. National Landmark and is a beautiful Beaux-Arts building designed by James Gamble Rogers in 1913.  It was donated to the city by Bessie Vance Brooks in memory of her husband, Samuel Hamilton Brooks.  For many years the name was Brooks Memorial Art Gallery and the collection consisted of a group of English and Flemish portraiture and a few American artists.   And this was the only museum in Memphis until 1930.


Bessie Vance Brooks

Original Building Original Building 1916 Poland photo Interior - Vintage

In 1955 a new wing was added to accommodate the gift of the Samuel H. Kress Collection of Renaissance and Baroque paintings.  It was not a successful remodeling.   In 1989 the building was expanded again by Skidmore-Owings-Merrill.  This time the architects got it right by re-orienting the building and doubling the square footage.  The new design added a 3 story public entrance, where the old and new buildings meet.  

  The 1955 Wing

1989 Addition got it right


Today the museum consists of 29 galleries, art classrooms and over 9,000 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and photographs.   Included in the collection are works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Pissarro, Renoir, Cassatt, Homer, Benton, and O'Keefe.  The contemporary collection includes works by Ken Noland and Motherwell. 
The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is open Wednesday - Sunday,   Closed Monday  and Tuesday.

       Chalk Art Festival

Member's Reception




Van Dyck

Edward Bell Pissarro Benton Homer

*  Please visit the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art website:  Click Here


Memphis Museum of Science and History (MoSH)

Formerly The Pink Palace Family of Museums .  3050 Central Av

The Pink Palace Museum is the Mid-South's major science and historical museum, and features exhibits ranging from archeology to chemistry.  It's a popular museum with over 240,000 visitors each year and is part of the Pink Palace Family of Museums, a collection of historic, educational, technological attractions.  

The building was given to the city in the late 1920s by Clarence Saunders, the founder of Piggly Wiggly.   He had built the mansion as his own residence, but lost the home because of financial reversals on Wall Street.  The city turned the mansion into a much-needed museum and it officially opened in 1930 as the MEMPHIS MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY AND INDUSTRIAL ARTS.  

The original exhibits featured stuffed animals, anthropological items, and memorabilia related to Memphis' history.  These exhibits and much more are still featured at the museum.  For many years, this  museum and Brooks Art Gallery were the only Museums in the city. 


Historical Marker

Museum Wing


Vintage Exhibit

Vintage Exhibit


The Sharpe Planetarium
The Sharpe Planetarium is now home to the AutoZone Dome! AutoZone is helping the Pink Palace revolutionize the planetarium experience with Full Dome Digital technology, drawing audiences into a new level of sight, sound and comfort.  The AutoZone Dome is a phenomenal addition to the growing array of attractions to stimulate innovation and creativity among Pink Palace visitors of all ages.

  The AutoZone Dome

CTI 3-D Giant Theater
The Pink Palace Museum has converted its giant screen theatre to 3D digital, provided by D3D. The system features state-of-the-art Barco 4K single projector solution featuring RealD’s XLW 3D system and a premium QSC multichannel audio system, providing an unparalleled viewer experience along with substantially-increased functionality.

CTI 3D Giant Theater


...and The Pink Palace Family of Museums

Lichterman Nature Center
5992 Quince Rd

Magevney House
198 Adams Av

Coon Creek Science Center
2985 Hardin Graveyard Rd

    Mallory-Neely House
     652 Adams AV

*  Please visit the Pink Palace Family of Museums website:  Click Here

Chucalissa Archaeological Site - C. H. Nash Museum . 1987 Indian Village Dr

Chucalissa was founded in 1956 after Indian mounds were rediscovered at the site of T.O. Fuller State Park.  They had originally been discovered in the 1930s when workers were preparing this area to become "Shelby County Negro Park" as per Jim Crow laws, in effect at this time.  After the re-discovery, the site of the mounds was developed into a laboratory for training archaeologists and as a place to educate the general public. Today, the museum houses artifacts found at the site and a replica of a Native American village. In addition, Chucalissa also hosts the annual Choctaw Indian Heritage Festival each August, as well as other events throughout the year.  Before Europeans set foot upon the Mississippi Valley, American Indians had developed a vibrant and sophisticated culture in this area.  The C. H. Nash Museum, which opened in 1956, allows visitors to explore the life and ways of these people.  The museum is operated by the University of Memphis.

Mounds C. H. Nash Museum

Hut Exhibit in Hut Museum Exhibits

Chucalissa Lab        

Vintage Field Trip photo

Vintage Postcard

Basket Exhibit

1950s Postcard

*  Please visit the Chucalissa Archeological website:  Click Here




Dixon Gallery and Gardens 4339 Park Avenue

The Dixon Gallery and Gardens was founded in 1976 by Hugo and Margaret Dixon.  The Fine Art Museum and the Public Gardens are distinguished by their diverse and innovative programs in the arts and horticulture.  The art collection consists of over 2000 objects, including French and American Impressionist paintings, as well as German and English porcelain.  The Dixon's 17 acres are highly regarded public gardens with formal spaces, woodland tracts, and cutting gardens.   The museum receives no city, state or federal funding.  It is totally funded by the Hugo Dixon Foundation.


Dixon Home - Museum

Cezanne Degas Forain Morisot Lichtenstein

Monet Toulouse-Lautrec Sisley Chagall Porcelains

Gardens Gardens Gardens Gardens Gardens

Gardens Gardens Gardens Gardens Gardens

*  Please visit the Dixon Gallery and Gardens website:  Click Here

Memphis Botanic Garden  .  750 Cherry Road


The Memphis Botanic Garden is a 96 acre botanical garden open to the public, where guests can take a stroll through the many gardens on the grounds.   The gardens were originally established in Audubon Park in 1953 and continued to expand into an arboretum in 1957, a magnolia garden in 1958, and the rose garden in 1958.  The Goldsmith Civic Garden Center, which houses the administrative office, an auditorium and the Water Garden Room were dedicated in 1964.  The gardens were formally named the Memphis Botanic Garden in 1966.   Memphis Botanic Garden hosts many events each year, such as the Daffodil Dash Race, The Family Egg Hunt, and Mother's Day Jazz Brunch.  In addition it offers a range of educational programs for youth and adults and holds several plant sales to benefit the various programs.

      Old Entrance Sign


1957 1st Holly planting

Early Iris Volunteers ...

Visitor's Center       

Spring Bulbs

Japanese Bridge

Goldsmith Room

*  Please visit the Memphis Botanic Gardens website:  Click Here



... the "New" Museums... alphabetically



If your favorite museum isn't covered with a group of 4 to 8 photos and a link to their website, it's because they didn't respond to our written requests for photos.  If anyone sends photos, they will be added along with photographer's credit.



Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art  .  119 S. Main

This museum, founded in 1998 was formerly known as Peabody Place Museum.  Its holdings, including one of the largest jade collections in the country, were collected by Jack Belz and his wife Marilyn.  Included are Chinese art from the Qing Dynasty and contemporary Judaica art.  Currently there are over 1400 objects in 5 permanent exhibition galleries.  Special exhibits are brought in semi-annually.    The Dynasty Room is located adjacent to the Belz Museum and is a "special events" venue,  decorated with Chinese antique furnishings, well suited for receptions, parties, or small groups.  Hours at the museum:  Tue-Fri 10 - 5:30, Sat-Sun 12 - 5.



Mr. and Mrs. Belz

Dynasty Room

*  Please visit the Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art website:  Click Here

Blues Hall of Fame   .  421 S. Main

Opened in 2015 this museum is a gem for serious blues fans.  There are exhibits in 10 individualized galleries, which exposes, educates, and entertains visitors to all that is blues.  Highlighted are the over 400 inductees.   There are interactive touch screen displays along with three master databases where one can hear the music, watch videos, and read stories of each of the inductees.  The museum's mission is to preserve blues heritage, celebrate blues recording and performance, expand worldwide awareness of the blues, and ensure the future of the uniquely American art form.  The museum is open Monday-Saturday 10 - 5, Sunday 1 -5.


Entrance at Night




Gallery 3

Gallery 7

Gallery 8

James Cotton

Sign and Logo

 Photos by Mariah Selitach .  used with permission of the Museum

*  Please visit the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame website:  Click Here

Center for Southern Folklore  .  119 S. Main

Founded in 1972, The Center is a non-profit cultural organization whose mission is to preserve, defend, protect and promote the music, culture, arts, and rhythms of the South.  They produce documentary films and maintain a large archive of video and audio recordings of music and narratives, historical photographs, film and slides, and selected artifacts and art.  They also have a gallery that shows and sells regional folk art and photographs as well as a cafe featuring live performances by local blues, folk, Latin, and jazz musicians.  The center sponsors the annual Memphis Music and Heritage Festival.

Children's Museum of Memphis 2525 Central Avenue

This Children's Museum is located in the former National Guard Armory Building, which dates from 1941-42.  Harriet McFadden happened to read an article about the Children's Museum of Boston and was so taken with it that she began pursuing a similar museum for Memphis.    Mars Widdicombe also had a dream of starting a similar museum in Memphis.  They got together in 1985 to talk about their dream.  In 1988 they found a friend  in Mayor Dick Hackett who helped them find the old Armory Building location.  They signed a 25 year lease, renting the building for $1 a year and found financing from the Trammell Crow Company and the Plough Foundation.  From that moment their goal changed to having the the best children's museum in the country.  There are a lot of parents and children who will tell you that they have succeeded.   The museum is open 7 days a week, 9 - 5

   The Old Armory


Color and Light.  Ah!



Fire!  Police!


Yes I can...

Nice Dinosaur...



The Children's Museum is the new home of the beloved GRAND CAROUSEL.  The carousel  has been through a two year, $1,000,000 restoration with a scheduled opening date at the Children's Museum in December of 2017.   Please visit the museum's website and make a donation to help with the renovation costs of this Memphis Landmark.


After the opening, this website has planned a major new page on the complete history of the Grand Carousel.  We had hoped to feature individual portraits of each horse along with major details around the carousel.  Two Memphis contacts "faithfully promised" on 3 occasions to take the photos for us.  As of October 2018, neither of them has taken the photos.   Perhaps some kind soul in Memphis will take those necessary photos for this planned page?

*  Please visit the Children's Museum of Memphis website:  Click Here



National Civil Rights Museum .  450 Mulberry Street


The National Civil Rights Museum is located at the Lorraine Motel, the assassination site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  It chronicles key episodes of the American Civil Rights Movement from 1619 to the present and the legacy of this Movement to inspire participation in civil and human rights efforts globally.  This museum is a privately owned complex of museums and historic buildings.  In addition to the Lorraine Motel, they include the building at 422 Main Street which was the site where James Earl Ray initially confessed to shooting King. 
The Museum is open Wednesday - Monday 9-5.  Closed Tuesday.

Room 306 Chains Black Power ... Montgomery Bus Boycott

Speak Out... Memphis Sanitation Strike I Am A Man ... Slavery ...

*  Please visit the National Civil Rights Museum website:  Click Here

Memphis Cotton Museum .  65 Union Avenue at Front Street

As the largest spot-cotton market in the world it's appropriate that Memphis should develop a first rate Cotton Museum.  It opened in 2006 on the lower floors of the Memphis Cotton Exchange Building.  and in this short period it has established itself as the most important national museum devoted to cotton.  Highlights at the museum include video footage, oral histories, artifacts and exhibits which tell the story of cotton and its impact on the Memphis area and the world, as well as a self-guided audio tour of the nearby Cotton Row.  The museum has now expanded to include more interactive exhibits and a permanent classroom.  The Museum is open Monday-Saturday 10 - 5, Sunday 12-5.

Museum Sign Exhibition Hall Exhibition Hall Exhibit


Venue Rental Exhibit

*  Please visit the Memphis Cotton Museum website:  Click Here



Memphis Fire Museum 118 Adams 

This museum is located in the legendary Fire Engine House No. 1 in downtown Memphis.  It's like taking a step back in time to a turn-of-the-century firehouse.  The family-friendly  museum combines history along with many interactive and educational exhibits which seek to educate visitors in the history of fire fighting in Memphis, fire prevention, and fire safety.

Gibson Guitar Factory - Tour145 Lt. George W. Lee Av

Gibson's Memphis guitar factory offers tours which consist of up close viewing of the facility were skilled craftsmen produce some of the finest guitars in the world.   One can see the process of binding, neck-fitting, painting, buffing and tuning of these incredible instruments.   Gibson guitars have helped shape the world of music for over 100 years.

W. C. Handy Home and Museum  .  352 Beale Street

This "shotgun shack"  is the Memphis home of blues composer W. C. Handy, who lived here with his wife and 5 children.  It has been recently restored, moved to this location.  and now houses a small Handy Museum.  The front room is decorated with period pieces.  The back room shows many photos and memorabilia from Handy's life

Handy Home-Museum    W. C. Handy Brochure W. C. Handy Living Room Postcard

*  Please visit the W. C. Handy Home-Museum website:  Click Here


Music Hall of Fame  . 126 Beale Street

What began as a tribute to Memphis' legendary musicians has now opened an official museum.  In the exhibits you'll meet some of the greatest musicians of all time - those who shaped modern music and changed the world forever.  The exhibits include never-before-seen memorabilia, rare video performances, interviews, interactive exhibits, and more.  The famous inductees include Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Rufus Thomas, and others.  The museum is open daily from 10 - 7

National Ornamental Metal Museum  .  374 Metal Museum Dr

With 3.2 acres of land, rotating exhibitions,  permanent collection, sculpture gardens and a smithy and foundry, the Metal Museum is one of the most unique things to do in Memphis.  This museum is the only institution in the United States devoted exclusively to the art and craft of fine metalwork.  See works of art, see artists work, and learn the craft and craft the art - all on the Bluffs of the Mississippi River.

Memphis Railroad and Trolley Museum . 545 S. Main - Ground Floor of Central Station

This new museum opened April 2012 on the ground floor of the old Central Station.  It's dedicated to document the local history of railroad and the Memphis Trolleys and is staffed mostly by volunteers of the local model railroad community.  Eventually these railroad enthusiasts will complete a model railroad layout which captures the entire history of Memphis.  For the main museum, they are still looking for railroad artifacts and documents to display.   Watch this museum grow and change!  Expect to see new exhibits every time you visit.  There's a trolley stop right at the entrance.

Mississippi River Museum .  125 N. Front St.

This museum is part of the Mud Island River Park.  You can walk to Mud Island or take the Monorail and then take the Mississippi River Walk, a scale model of the lower Mississippi River, to the museum.  The River Museum is composed of 18 galleries and thoroughly covers the Riverboat era via artifacts and models, including two full size boat replicas which you can board and explore.  Other exhibits show different aspects of the river and its history including the Civil War, river disasters, and river music.  This is an outstanding museum.

Rock and Soul Museum .  191 Beale Street

The Rock and Soul Museum opened in 2000 and tells the story of the musical pioneers who overcame racial and economic obstacles to create the music that changed the world.  Included are comprehensive Memphis music experiences beginning with the music of field workers and sharecroppers in the 30s, the influences of Beale Street in the 40s, radio and Sun Records in the 50s, to Stax and soul music in the 60s and 70s.  This museum began as a research project of the Smithsonian Institution to celebrate it's 150th anniversary.  It's their first permanent exhibition outside Washington and New York.  The museum moved to the FedEX Forum in 2004.

Sidewalk Stories  .  Self-Guided Walking Tours of Downtown

Another "open-air museum", created around 2002.  This is a series of bronze plaques embedded in sidewalks to provide passersby with bits of information about certain sites around town.  Memphis Heritage assisted in this project by coming up with interesting stories that might not be in the history books, and might have a little more local flavor.  Each plaque is numbered (currently #1 - #67) and corresponds to a number on a self-guided map available from the city.  The main areas on this walking tour are Court Square, Monroe, and Madison.

#21 Wm Len ? #22 Greek Influence #23 Hole in Wall #42 D. T. Porter #43 John Gaston #44 Court Square


Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum  .  826 N. Second

This small house opened as a museum in 1997.   It was constructed in 1849 by a German immigrant named Jacob Burkle.  The home is decorated with 19th century furnishing and artifacts and documents the history of the Underground Railroad and the possible role of this house in that secret escape network.   Many believe the home was the last stop in a series of Memphis homes connected by underground tunnels.  It does include an interesting small cellar which could have been used to hide escaping slaves, who would have been able to get on boats from here to take them upriver.   This is debated by local historians.





Historical Marker

*  Please visit the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum website:  Click Here=


Stax Museum of American Soul Music  . 9266 McLemore 

When the modest Capitol Movie Theater in Memphis was transformed into Stax Records in 1959, it launched the careers of Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, the Bar-Kays, Booker T. & the MGs,  as well as recording such legends as Bill Cosby, Moms Mabley and Richard Pryor.  What had begun as a small record store grew to become one of the most important recording studios in the world.  Today, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is located at the original site of Stax Records in a recreation of the original building.  It pays tribute to all the artists who recorded there with over 2,000 interactive exhibits, films, artifacts and memorabilia.  The Stax Museum is open Monday-Saturday , 10 -5.  Sunday 1 - 5.

Stax Church Room Control Room Dance Floor

Founders Exhibit

Studio Listening Stations Marker

*  Please visit the Stax Museum website:  Click Here



Sun Studio 706 Union Av 

This famous recording studio was opened by rock pioneer Sam Phillips in 1950.  It was originally called Memphis Recording Service.  Reputedly the first rock-and-roll single, Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats' "Rockett 88" was recorded here in 1951 with composer Ike Turner on keyboards.  This has led to the studio's claim as the "birthplace of rock & roll.  In addition major Blues artists recorded here in the early 1950s as well as Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich and Jerry Lee Lewis throughout the 1950s.    In 1969 Sam Phillips sold the label to Shelby Singleton, and there was no recording activity in this building until 1985.  In 1987, this building was reopened by Gary Hardy as "Sun Studio" and it's become a major tourist attraction in the city.

    Sun Studios

Interior Exhibit

Historical Marker


*  Please visit the Sun Studios website:  Click Here

Art Museum of University Memphis  .  3750 Norriswood

When AMUM opened in 1981, it went by the name University Gallery.  Its purpose was to host temporary exhibitions. Over the years AMUM acquired the permanent collections it houses today - Egyptian antiquities, archaeological artifacts, and tradition-based African art and contemporary prints and drawings.


Victorian Village Historical District  .  Adams Av historic area

The Victorian Village Historic District, located in the eastern part of downtown, was the first elite suburb of Memphis.  During the late 19th century, some of the most successful business owners built splendid, Victorian-style homes on Adams Avenue, "Millionaire's Row" and a number of these homes have survived.  The homes date from 1846 into the 1890s and range in style from Neo-classical through Late Gothic Revival.  The Massey House dates from 1846, the Woodruff-Fontaine House in1870-71,  the Mallory-Neely House in 1852, the Harsson-Goyer-Lee House in 1871, the Pillow-McIntyre House in 1852, the Snowden home in 1870,  

Walk of Fame . Beale Street   . Walk of Stars .  203 S. Main

The Walk of Fame is modeled after the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is considered an open-air museum.  Since 1986 over 80 brass notes honoring musicians, DJs, and songwriters, have been embedded in the sidewalks along Beale Street.  They are honored as "...a tangible embodiment of the many talented people who put Memphis music and Beale Street on the world map". Among those who have been honored: Alberta Hunter, Elvis Presley, Ma Rainey, B. B. King, Justin Timberlake, Ruby Wilson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie, and of course W. C. Handy. 

A second "Walk of Stars" is located on the sidewalks around the Orpheum Theatre at Main and Beale.  This one is dedicated to major stars who have appeared at the theatre during the last 80 years,  It's more closely modeled after the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California.

Withers Collection Museum-Gallery  . 333 Beale Street

This museum opened in 2011 and houses one of the most important photography collections in Memphis.  Ernest C. Withers was a Memphis photo journalist, who was, perhaps the first to cover the civil rights movement.  He took photos of all the key events, plus African-American sports figures and musicians.  The museum contains one of the largest family-owned photographic collections, and it's located in the same building and rooms that housed the last studio of Ernest Withers.  After visiting the collection, you can order copies of the photos, or visit the restaurant and lounge area.

...plus two other "Private" attractions

Graceland .  3717 Elvis Presley Blvd

This is, of course, the home of Elvis Presley.  It is privately owned and operated and offers self-guided audio tours of the Presley mansion, museum, and grounds.  Graceland is the second most visited home in the U.S. , right behind the White House.

Davies Plantation .  3570 Davieshire Drive

This is a restored plantation home in nearby Bartlett, which dates from 1831.  It also, is privately owned and operated.  Tours are available and depict the way life was on an early southern plantation.  "Hillwood" on the property,  can be rented for banquets and other events.



The Historic-Memphis website does not intentionally post copyrighted photos and material without permission or credit.  On occasion a "non-credited" photo might possibly be posted because we were unable to find a name to give credit.  Because of the nature of our non-commercial, non-profit, educational website, we strongly believe that these photos would be considered "Fair Use.  We have certainly made no monetary gain, although those using this website for historic or Genealogy research have certainly profited.  If by chance, we have posted your copyrighted photo, please contact us, and we'll remove it immediately, or we'll add your credit if that's your choice.  In the past, we have found that many photographers volunteer to have their works included on these pages and we'll  also do that if you contact us with a photo that fits a particular page. 


The "Historic-Memphis" website would like to acknowledge and thank the following for their contributions which helped make this website possible:  Memphis Public Library, Memphis University Library, Memphis Law Library, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Shelby County Register of Deeds, Memphis City Schools, Memphis Business Men's Club, Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Memphis City Park Commission, Memphis Film Commission, Carnival Memphis, Memphis Historical Railroad Page, Memphis Heritage Inc, Beale Street Historic District, Cobblestone Historic District, Memphis Historic Districts, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Tennessee State Archives, Library of Congress, Kemmons Wilson Family, Richard S. Brashier, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, Woody Savage and many individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on the pages of their contributions.  Special thanks to Memphis Realtor, Joe Spake, for giving us carte blanche access to his outstanding collection of contemporary Memphis photos.

We do not have high definition  copies of the photos on these pages.  If anyone wishes to secure high definition photos,  you'll have to contact the photographer  or the collector.  (To avoid any possibility of contributing to SPAM, we do not maintain a file of email addresses for anyone who contacts us).


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