Memphis Main Street Vintage Postcards and Photos


It wasn't long after the growing settlement on the bluffs above the Mississippi River was named Memphis, that Main Street began to represent its "heart and soul."  Along Main, one could find all types of shops and businesses, as well as numerous hotels, restaurants, and theatres.  It was the place to see and to be seen.  As the town grew into a major city, most Memphians thought of Main Street as the section from Court Square down to the Orpheum-Malco or Beale Street.  These 12 blocks were an easy walk.  Going downtown became a dressy occasion  and an "event".  One would generally spend the whole day - shopping, lunch, and then the theatre or a movie, and possibly, dinner.  But by the late 20th century, Main Street had fallen on hard times.


Click on small photos to enlarge them. 

1902 Main-Gayoso

1906 Looking South   

1906 Main-Union



 1907 Looking South

1907 Main-Gayoso


1909 Main-Union


Suburban flight took a major toll on downtown Memphis and most businesses began deserting Main Street.  Soon the grand shops, hotels, and theatres closed and boarded up their windows.  Even the famous Peabody Hotel closed and was sold.  Main Street became a virtual ghost town where no one wanted to be seen.  


1909 Main-Union 1912 Looking South 1921 Main-McCall

1914 Main-Madison


1915 Main-Madison

1915 Main-Gayoso


1918 Main-Madison


To lure shoppers back to the city, Main Street was converted into a pedestrian mall between Poplar Avenue and Peabody Place.  Named "Mid-America Mall", it  was inaugurated in 1976 with great fanfare by President Gerald Ford.  It was not successful.  The trolley system, a mainstay of downtown transportation, was reinstated in 1993.  The vintage trolleys were purchased mostly from Melbourne and Lisbon - two cities noted for their trolleys.  It has taken time, but Main Street is slowly beginning to become the busy street it once was.  Now, new restaurants, shops and condos have sprung up in renovated historic buildings and this is indeed revitalizing downtown.  Sadly, this Renaissance was not soon enough to save more of the classic downtown architecture.  In 1982 the Memphis Main Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


1921 Main-McCall


1920s - Looking North

1937 Warner Theatre


    Birdseye - Looking North        

Looking North

Looking North

Waldorf Cafe


Main-Gayoso-Loew's State 1951 Main-Union 1964 Cotton Carnival

Cotton Carnival






Looking South

  Looking South - Looking North

Carnival 1955    -    1910

Main - 1907


 Loew's State                 

 1910 Grand Opera House





Check the Parking Meters

1907 Cotton Bale Arch




Peabody on Main Street

Porter 1906


1906 Courthouse



1910 - Looking North



100 N Main

100 N Main





Looking North




Main and Gayoso      

<>   Main Street in Vintage Photos and Recent Photos  <>



1800's  ...The earliest photos of Memphis Main Street


1860s - Earliest Photo 



1800's - Snow

 1899 - Peabody on Main


c. 1880s

1883:  These 4 rare photos depict a parade down Main Street at Court Square. 


 c. 1893-04 312 Main 1895 Main-Gayoso 1888 1888



  1895 - Court Square

1895 Main-Madison

1889 Main-Beale

1899 - Lowenstein's


1900's  ... Photos below are posted by decades

1901 UCV Parade


 1908 - Looking North

1908 looking South

 1905 -Main - Union






1906 - looking South

c. 1900s Main-Madison 1906 Union Station 1909 UCV Reunion 1900s - Peabody 1908


1908 Main-Madison

1909 UCV Reunion

1909 UCV Reunion



1906 Main-Gayoso  

1906 Peabody




These three very rare circa 1902 photos (below) were discovered on eBay in 2013.  The buildings are at the corner of Main and St. Paul, directly across from Central Station.  A row of similar one story buildings still exists on this corner.  Riser's Grocery is listed in the 1902 Directory at 664 Main and that number is on two of the photos (By 1920 that number was changed to 570 S. Main).  Notice on one of the horse-buggies in front that they have "Express" delivery.   L. S. Cowles Drug Store is listed in the 1902 Directory at 664 Main, which places it next door.  There is a third building partially showing, which is a Saloon.  The address appears to be 662 1/2.  All three photos were taken minutes apart, for the owner of the property John and Barbara Spang, whose names are on the back of the photos.  They are also listed in the 1902 Memphis Directory.


1902 - L. S. Cowles Drug Store

1902 - Riser's Grocery Store   1902 - Riser's Grocery Store                2013 - Main-St. Paul today

    1910  Main-Gayoso

c. 1912-1914





       1910 Main-Gayoso

1910 Main-Union


1912 Main-Madison


1919 - Armistice Parade

1912 Flood


1915 Main-Beale

1912  Elks Parade


1911 - Orpheum

1910 Goldsmiths

1913 -  N. Main 1913 - N. Main

1910 -Gayoso


c.1915 - North of Court  


1911- looking North

9 S. Main - 1914


Circus Parade 1912



Goldsmiths c.1911-1916


1924 UCV Parade           

1924 UCV Parade


1920s Peabody on Main

1920 Main-Union

1921 - Orpheum           

1920 - Aerial

1920 - North of Court

1920 - Policeman




1920s Main-Jefferson   1920-Main & Court   1924 Main

1930 Night

1937 Christmas

1937 Christmas

1937 Christmas




1937 Christmas


1933 Warner's

       1933 Warner's

1937 - Gerbers




1943 Main-Calhoun

c. 1940s



1940  Easy Way Store



c.1940's  Looking South

1940 Main-Beale

1948 Bry's


1940  Read-Jefferson Hotel 1940s 1940s 1940s

1948 Ambassador Hotel


1940s - Strand

1940 - CC Parade 1940 -Parade 1947 1946 - Malco

1940 Parade - Main  

1940-Warner Theatre





1950 - Goldsmiths

1951 Main-Gayoso

c. 1950s


1951 Christmas Parade


1950s Armistice Parade

1951 - Loew's



1957 -Strand-Loew's

1959 - Malco

1957 - Princess

1956 - Elvis



            1950s   1958 1954 South Main

1956 - Princess Theatre

VINTAGE PHOTOS  Can anyone help determine the year or decade?

Year ?

Year ?

Year ? Look North

Year ? Kress

Year ?


Year ?  Old Orpheum

Year ?

Year ?  Courtsquare

Year ?  Parade

Year ?  Parade


Year ?

Year ?  Overton Hotel



Year ?






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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