Colton Greene

... the Mardi Gras, the Water Works, and the Library


Colton Greene's early life is a mystery and that's the way he wanted it.  Almost nothing is known of his background other than he was born in South Carolina in 1833.  From that point fast-forward to several years before the Civil War:  Greene has moved west to St. Louis and has become one of the leading grocery merchants of the city and is quite wealthy.  When the war began, he enlisted in the Confederate Army and served as a Commander  who led cavalry units and took part in many battles.  After the war, he returned to St. Louis to find that his business and property have been seized by his business partner.  Now completely impoverished, Colton Greene relocated to Memphis to begin again.

Golton Greene  

Although "General" Colton Greene took over commands for several Generals during Civil War battles, he was never officially a general until the end of the war.  It was plainly a title he relished and felt he deserved because  almost everything written about him since that time refers to him with the "General" title.

1860 Promotion

 Click on small photos to enlarge them. 



It was obvious that the handsome Colton Greene was well educated and well traveled.  He was now called "General Greene" and everyone liked him.   But the charming and popular "mystery man" was unmarried and never discussed his past with anyone.  Gossips had a field day and eventually settled on the legend that he had killed a man in a feud in South Carolina and moved west. 

In Memphis he was immediately employed by the Memphis branch of the Knickerbocker Life Insurance Company of New York.  And by 1871 he had established his own business - Greene & Lucas, an insurance firm.   Shortly afterwards he founded the State Savings Bank of Memphis and was soon very prosperous again. 



Colton Greene

Main Street 1895 Main St.1870 Knickerbocker Ins.

Madison 1875

Main St. 1888

Greene & Lucas Insurance was located at 18 Madison Avenue and for the next 29 years Colton Greene's businesses will remain at this same address.  His home address is a rooming house 1/2 block away at 35 Madison, where he also remains for the next 29 years.  They both  show in the photo on the left.  The business is on the left (2nd building) and the rooming house is on the right (pink building).  The  other photos (above and below) show Memphis as it was during Greene's years.

Madison  Av. 1895  

1891 1899 1883 Union 1895 1883



Colton Greene's 1876 passport on the left has a description.  Height - 5' 7 1/2", Forehead - High, Eyes - Gray-blue, Nose - Prominent, Mouth - Large, Chin - Strong, Hair - Black, Complexion - Dark, Face - Oblong.  Other sources state that Greene was known as the "elegant General Colton Greene, a gallant and conspicuous figure, who because of his his extensive travel and command of languages has become the social arbiter of Memphis".  The handsome general continued to prosper as he expanded his insurance business.  And since he seemed to be involved in "everything Memphis", he became known as "a man who likes to make things happen".   The clippings below show Greene's development in his insurance business.

1876 Passport


1874 1876 1876 1887 J.D. Montedonico 1887


Colton Greene and the Ball for the Grand Duke Alexis...

In 1872 the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia made a goodwill trip to the United States, and it included a stop in Memphis.  The ever so popular Colton Greene was the social arbiter of Memphis and he was part of the committee chosen to honor the visitor with a grand dinner and ball held at the Overton Hotel.  It was the social event of the year and the newspapers had a field day.

  Grand Duke Alexis

Overton Hotel C.1870


Newspaper articles about the big event



Colton Greene and the Memphis Mardi Gras ...

But Colton Green's most famous claim to fame came about in 1872.  Like most of the South after the War, Memphis was suffering from the Reconstruction.  City leaders thought the city needed a show of civic pride that might bring the residents together.  When the Memphis Appeal solicited ideas to attract business to the city, former interim mayor David P. Hadden suggested a Mardi Gras.  And then Greene came forward and proposed that the city make it a huge celebration by establishing the secret society of 'Mystic Memphi"  to organize and sponsor all the activities.  It was a popular idea which caught on immediately and Greene was chosen to organize it.


Mardi Gras

The first Mardi Gras was held in 1872.  Greene carefully selected a core group of Memphis business men to plan the first major event - Joseph Specht, a candy and ice cream manufacturer, Matthew Galloway, editor of the Appeal, and Lou Leubrie, owner of the New Memphis Theatre.

David Hadden

Joseph Specht Mathew Galloway 1874 1874 1880 1881

The lavish Mardi Gras balls were generally held at the huge new Industrial Exhibition Hall on Jefferson and the SW corner of 4th.  The city had built the great building in less than 6 months in 1872.  Although the expositions at the hall lasted only one month, the hall was planned for use year 'round.  After an exposition closed, the hall was used for the huge Masked Balls during Carnival, Christmas, and special occasions.  It was also used as a skating rink and for conventions.

Ind. Expo Bldg 1883  

Location today... Interior 1872 Mardi Gras Vintage Parade


Memphis artist Carl Gutherz was commissioned by Colton Greene (some say that David Hadden made the contact) to design the invitations for the new Mardi Gras.  The association  between Gutherz and Mardi Gras was a wise choice.

To create interest in the carnival, the Mardi Gras invitations were sent out weeks in advance and they became the envy of the city.  Each year's invitation was different.  The 1873 invitation on the right will unfold from the top, bottom and sides to reveal wondrous designs.  Everyone wanted one of Gutherz' designs.  They were and still are, true collector's items.  But in addition to the invitations, Gutherz also designed the floats, the costumes and the magazine illustrations.  He was the complete package.

Carl Gutherz


1873 Invitation

* Carl Gutherz has his own comprehensive coverage on another page of this website >  Click here

This is a complete and very rare 1876 Mardi Gras program of the carnival activities.  It tells the story behind each tableau on the parade floats.  The program was in the papers that Colton Greene bequeathed to the Memphis Library.



Page 1 Pages 2 - 3 Pages 4 - 5 Pages 6 -7

Pages 8 - 9 Pages 10 - 11 Pages 12 - 13 Pages 14



Colton Greene and the Tennessee Club ...

Colton Greene became the founder and originator of the first "gentleman's club" in Memphis.  The aim of the club was to restore social graces to the city after years of Union Occupation.  It became known as "The Tennessee Club" and it was housed in one of the most distinctive buildings in Memphis.  The property was designed by Edward Terrell in a combination of Victorian-Romanesque-Moorish styles.  The club originally included a library, art gallery, dining room, and fostered civic and scientific debates.  Many social events were held in the 4th floor ballroom.  Colton Greene served as the first President.

  Tennessee Club 1906

Postcard Club Interior Club Dinning Club Invitation Cornerstone

Six names, including Colton Greene, appear on the building's cornerstone.  The photo on the left, undated and without names, shows 5 of them.  We think that Colton Greene might be in the back row, on the left.




Colton Greene and the Memphis Water Works ...

Before he organized the first Mardi Gras, Colton Greene became deeply dedicated and involved with Memphis sanitation.  He visited and studied the sewage systems of all the important cities in the country.  Because of his interest and total involvement, he deserves credit for organizing the present Memphis system of water and sanitation and seeing that all work was done properly.   The newspapers had daily articles about Greene and his campaign for Memphis Water Works.  Below are just a few of the MANY articles.


Water - 1879  







After the 1879 Yellow Fever epidemic, Memphis leaders got serious and embarked on an ambitious sanitation reform.  Strict sanitation laws were finally passed outlawing open privies.  Regular trash collection was instituted, in addition to clearing away all the garbage that had accumulated since the previous epidemic of 1878.  Plus, the decaying wooden paving blocks that caused the bad smell downtown, were torn up and gravel mixed with limestone roads, were laid.

Wooden Paving fragments


The centerpiece of these sanitary reforms was a revolutionary sewer system designed by George Waring of New York.  He used an unprecedented design which separated the sanitary sewer system from the storm sewers.  With this new system of pipes came the need for more water to keep them flushed.   But Memphis water was unsatisfactory -  muddy, unfiltered, and often polluted.  


George Waring

Memphis appointed a committee of ten to investigate all the various water sources in the vicinity.   The committee was led by Colton Greene, and included Elias Lowenstein and John Overton, Jr.  The committee decided on three sources of water supply:  Mississippi River, Horn Lake, and Wolf River.  Unfortunately all would still have to be filtered but they recommended Wolf River as the proper source of water.  Greene had led a successful movement to construct a municipal waterworks and with inspired leadership, he edited and published the "Report on a Public Water Supply for the City of Memphis ."   The committee also advised the adoption of the "water works" plan described by Colton Greene.  It was passed.


Colton Greene


Report on a Public Water Supply for the City of Memphis






Colton Greene and the Memphis Library ...

Colton Green was a well educated man and was an avid collector  of books.  Upon his death he bequeathed to the Memphis Cossitt Library 942 volumes and 423 pamphlets, along with all his personal memorabilia pertaining to the Memphis Mardi Gras.  His book collection was especially strong in science and history , with a large selection of the classics.  All these were a huge benefit to the Cossitt Library, which had been struggling trying to build a decent collection.  Colton Greene died September 23, 1900 and is is buried at Elmwood Cemetery.

Cossitt Library 1900



1900 Obit   Elmwood Grave


MEMPHIS DIRECTORIES ... Colton Greene listings


1868-69 1870 1872 1874 1878 1876 1884 1890 1901 1902



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