Memphis James' Park
    ...A popular Park of the 1800's


lthough there were several parks in early Memphis, James' Park seemed to be the park of choice for any large gathering - especially if the gathering included families.  James' Park?  Don't look for it on any map, but you will find it in the early Memphis Directories.  The park was located on the "South side of Vance, east of M & C Railroad.  Terminus Beale Street horse-car line" and it was the primary park for large organizational picnics and parties. 


Click on small photos to see larger photos

During searches through the old Memphis newspapers for the website, we frequently came across advertising for "picnics at James' Park" and articles which discussed activities at James' Park.  We couldn't find anyone who knew anything about this park.  And there's absolutely no information online nor any photos.  So we're creating a James' Park reference page for all the information we've gathered - so far.  This is definitely a page "in development".


On the map (below-right) the approximate location for James' Park has been added, and the photo below the map shows that area today.  It still somewhat resembles a park.  However it has been subdivided and is smaller that the park's 6 acres.


Map Location


Location today     

1872 Ad . Memphis Daily Appeal

1872 Article . Memphis Daily Appeal


The photos appearing  below are "typical" photos to represent the period and type of entertainment at James' Park.



Like all parks that cater to large gatherings, James' Park would have had a permanent open-air pavilion or beer hall on the premises, as well as a band stand.  If the gathering was very large,  one or more portable refreshment stalls would be added.  The park also had lights (gas and later electric) because the parties usually continued to midnight.  Several ads mention that the park is "brilliantly lighted at night" and that public transportation "will run until closing." Sometimes dancing was included.  There are newspaper articles discussing bids to determine who will lay the dance floor.

Open-air Pavilion


Typical Beer Hall Typical Beer Hall Typical Beer Hall Typical Beer Hall


So that these gatherings would be approved by the city, the sponsors invited women and children.  To get more women to participate they were often admitted FREE and children attended for half price.  Organized games were added to entertain the children.  And there were additional games of chance, sports, and a shooting gallery for the adults.  Circus Performers were often hired for entertainment.   Each organization who leased the park was responsible for their own security and promised there would be "no rowdy behavior".   Sometimes that didn't quite work out. 


        1872 Entertainment


These were not small groups - each picnic was planned for 500 to 2000 + people.  The newspaper ads all have references to    "the strictest order will be maintained."  "conducted with utmost decorum and propriety."  "no improper characters will be permitted."  "Visitors are requested to obey the Marshall's orders."  "large and respectable attendance."  We know of one "accidental death" at an 1873 picnic, when a youngster "ran in front of the rifles at the shooting gallery."


Memphis Brass Band Ladies at the picnics Families at the picnics Families at the picnics

At the start of the Picnic, the committee and the band would generally  assemble at Market Square for a brief performance.  And then the band would "March promptly at 10 AM and move up Second to Winchester Street, to Main, down Main to Vance, down Vance to James' Park" with the crowd following the band. Prof Arnold's Brass Band practically had a monopoly on providing music for James' Park activities.  The legendary conductor of this group was Herman Frank Arnold, who wrote the score for "Dixie".  >


Prof. Arnold

Arnold's Elmwood Grave



We did not know why the park was called "James' Park" until shortly before posting this page.  During a last minute check in the old Memphis newspapers, quite by accident, we came upon an article that the owner of the park was "Col. James" and later "Judge James".  In the article he had given a Confederate group free use of his park to use as a fundraiser to bring the Confederate dead back from their graves at Gettysburg.  As more info becomes available  on Col. James, it will be added to this section.

   Col. James  

James' Park continued to be the park of choice through 1880 but other parks, such as Olympic and Estival  were beginning to be leased.  In 1889 the  privately owned East End Park opened and it had many more activities to offer the public.  James' Park faded away and no one seems to remember it.


The ads and articles below are copied from the Memphis Newspapers dating 1868 to 1877.  They represent a very small fraction of the James' Park items we've come across.  There seemed to be a picnic several times a week in James' Park from April through September - all sponsored by various Church groups, Unions, Italian groups, German Mai-fest and Masonic groups, etc.  Reading these items will confirm so much about this popular park that no one's ever heard of.  We hope that eventually some photos or memorabilia will show up.


1868 1869 1870 1871 1871 1872 1872 1873


1873 1874 1874 1874 1875 1876 1876 1876

1876 1876 1877       1877-78 Memphis Directories

Estival and Olympic Parks .  These two parks were almost as popular as James' Park.  The three parks were always booked with some activity sponsored by various organizations in the city.  Practically every day, there were ads in the Memphis newspapers for "something" going on in all three parks.


Estival Park was located on the north side of Vance Street, east of the M & C Rail Road.  It had about three acres and was used for picnics and evening concerts.

Estival Park location ...  

Olympic Park, according to early Memphis Directories, was located "... on the north side of Ohio Avenue, (L&N Rail Road) between Marley, Brinkley and Spring Avenues. ... about fifteen acres and one and a half miles from Court Square ... used for picnics and Baseball games".  Finding this location was not so easy.  There is now no Ohio Avenue in Memphis and Marley has been renamed Ayres, Brinkley renamed Decatur, and Spring renamed Harrison.  Fortunately an official  Tennessee State Historical page identifies the location as North Main and W. A. Willis Avenue. 

Olympic Park location...  

Estival 1878 Estival 1880 Estival 1881 Estival 1883 Olympic 1876 Olympic 1878

Olympic 1884






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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 Commision, 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.

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