Memphis Comes to Life

                  ...Street Scenes from 1870 to 1915



From 1906 to 1910, a photographer made a series of incredible 8 x 10 glass plate photos of Memphis Street Scenes.   They contained such amazing detail that one could find many little scenes throughout the photo.  Regrettably the photographer or photographers of these photos is unknown, but almost everyone knows the photos.  We have used these photos and others as the starting point for this page - a page showing  close-up street scenes all over downtown - a different side of early Memphis.

Click on the small photo on the right and it will enlarge to the full size of 2700 x 3261 and 1.41 MB  >

Click for FULL SIZE


The amazing close-up of a horse and carriage on the right,  was "lifted" from the FULL SIZE photo above.  Many similar scenes have been found in the details of the original series of 8 x 10 glass photos and have been featured on this page.  We have also added many scenes from other vintage photos.  It's an excellent way of showing the folks of Memphis at the turn of the century. 

During this period, it was also a practice to have employees stand outside a business for a "formal portrait".  We have included a number of close-ups of these business photos.




Chick on Small Photos for an enlargement


1870  to  1899


1870 Beale Street 1870 1870 1870 1870

1880 Robt Church

C. 1886 Boehler's - W. Court

1887 Breton's Bakery-Beale

1888 Floyd's - Main


1891 Repair Main Street

1891 Repair Street

1891 S.C.Toof - 2nd St.

1895 Main - Gayoso


1895 - Taxi-Court Square

c.1899- Main-Beale

1894-99 John K. Speed - Front

1899 Schwab's on Beale


1880 - Elmwood Cemetery

1891 Peabody - Main 1895 Madison-Front 1891 - 2nd Street

1900 - 1905


1902 Riser Grocery - Main         1902 Riser Grocery - Main 1902 Cowles Drugs

1902 - Beale Jug Band


1905 carriage-Overton Park

1905 - Main 1905  - Main 1905 - Main

c. 1902 Poplar Line 1900s . Riverboat workers

1902 Main-Madison

1900 Court Square    

1906 - 1907

1906 Main St          1906 - Main St. 1906 Main St. 1906 Main St.

1906 Main St. 1906 Court and 2nd 1906 Court and 2nd 1906 Main St.

1906 Cobblestones 1906 Cobblestones 1906 Front St. 1906 Front St

1907 Main & Calhoun

1907 Main & Calhoun 1907 Main & Calhoun c.1907 -Memphis Press
1908 - 1909

1908 Main St.

1908 Watching at Wharf

1908 Tony's Saloon

1908- Gillis Bros - Beale


1908 - MHS Football Team

1909 UCV Parade

1909 - Fireworks on Bluff

1909-Pres Taft -Mayor Malone


1909 - Main and Gayoso 1909-Main and Gayoso 1909 - Court and Main

1909 - Court and Main


1909 Policeman 1909 Main and Gayoso 1909 Main and Gayoso

1909 Helpful Policeman


1909 Parade group

1909 Parade

1909 Parade

1909 Main St.




1910 Madison

1910 Main

1910 Zoo

Court Square - Squirrels


1910 Cobblestones 1910 Cobblestones 1910 Cobblestones 1910 Cobblestones

1910 Cobblestones 1910 Cobblestones 1910 Cobblestones 1910 Cobblestones

1910 Gayoso Hotel 1910 Gayoso 1910 Main 1910 Gayoso Alley

1910 Gayoso Hotel 1910 Madison Av 1910 Madison 1910 Madison

1910 Ferry to Arkansas

1910 East End Park

1910 East End Park

1910 East End Park




1910 Postal-Telegraph     

1911 - 1912

1911 Main

1911 Bower's Grocery

1912 Flood

c.1911 - Court Square


1912 Tri-State Fair 1912 Tri-State Fair 1912 Tri-State Fair 1912 Tri-State Fair

1912 Flood - Market Av      1912 Flood - Levee 1912 Flood - Levee 1912 Dixie-Land Tri-State

1912 Madison

1911 Overton Park

1912 - Main         1912 - Main
1913 - 1915

1913 Horse-carriage 1913 Shelby Co School Wagon c.1913 . Conf. Park Esplanade

1913 Flood - Poplar Av


1913 L - N Depot 1914 Central Station 1914 S. Main

1913 L-N Depot


1914 Sunset on the Levee

    1914 Taxi on Poplar Av

Nicholson Pavement ... Plus ...

It's evident in many of the close-up photos above that early Memphis was a filthy city.  And it was also a foul-smelling city.  There was no organized sanitation collection and the streets were paved with "Nicholson" - wood blocks soaked in creosote and embedded in earth and gravel.  Rain made this pavement particularly messy and dirty.  When the sun came out, it became smelly and dusty.  Add that to Memphis humidity... Wow! 


Detail showing "Nicholson"


Laying Nicholson... Laying Nicholson... Repairing Nicholson 1891 Still existing Nicholson

About 1900 Memphis began removing the Nicholson pavement and replacing it with standard bricks.  Strangely they only replaced the Nicholson on one side of the street  at a time.  It would be years before the other side was replaced.  This accounts for so many of the photos above showing the streets torn up.

...and those unsightly awnings ?

What were they thinking?  Didn't anyone take a look at the total picture?  Downtown Memphis kept the Awning Companies in business.  Every store sported an array of large, brightly colored awnings - often tattered and flapping in the breeze.  It was an aesthetics mess!  We think it was E. H. Crump who took a good look and said "Enough!" .  But we haven't been able to find any verifiable information on this.  Stores did continue to have awnings but they were coordinated and less obvious with less of a slant.  They became far less noticeable in photos after 1930.




The photos and postcards above represent only a few among the hundreds we've  come across...





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 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.

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).