Weighing in at roughly 32 residents, this little town — locals call it Old Memphis — has the population of a typical Starbucks during morning rush. Here you’ll find a dozen homes and no businesses per se, but like its Tennessee sister 175 miles away, it is united by the blues. Local bluesman Willie King organized the annual Freedom Creek Blues Festival in 1997. A Dutch documentary crew came to town, making a film about creative African-Americans of the Deep South. After meeting King, they decided he was the movie, so Willie King: Down in the Woods was made. In March 2009, the documentary turned into history when King died of a heart attack. The Freedom Creek Blues Festival lives on, however, thanks to friends and fellow bluesmen. Perhaps the best history written on the town is in Tenn-Tom Country, which says the town was founded for its location on the Tombigbee River. The post office was established in 1844, and by 1850, the town had nine farmers, four merchants, three clerks, two physicians, two carpenters, a blacksmith, gin maker, and wagon maker — only nine residents fewer than the population of the town today! Memphis, Florida A call to the Manatee County Public Library drew some confused responses. More than 7,000 residents live in Memphis, but the first two librarians contacted had never heard of the place. January Holmes, features reporter at the Bradenton Herald, wrote about the forgotten community that touches Palmetto. No historic markers show where, in the 1880s, 80 acres were put up for sale as “the new town of Memphis.” About 20 years later, the land was sold as an African-American community. As Palmetto encroached, the tight-knit community lost its identity. U.S. Hwy. 41 cut through the community in the 1960s, and crime and drugs dealt a blow starting in the late 1980s. The neighborhood store is gone, and the long-time juke joint closed in 1995. In 2007, the neighborhood barbershop owner died along with his shop. Memphis is now a name used by the census, but in the community, it is seen only in a street name and a cemetery. By Devin Greaney and Terre Gorham illustrations by Shannon Maltby MEMPHIS So you think you know Memphis? Have you fished at Memphis State Recreation Area and heard of the Cleggmobile? Have you visited the knobs and its wineries and wailed out at the Freedom Creek Blues Festival? And you know that Memphis can thank an Ice Age glacier for its artesian wells? And that Elvis’s last name was Lamb? For centuries, people have wondered if there are other Earths in the universe. Science — as well as a few phone calls — has answered the question, “Are there other Memphis USAs?” And yes, there are. Maybe they don’t eat as much barbecue, sport different accents, and have never heard of Prince Mongo, but there is intelligent life out there in other cities named Memphis. State Capital An Item To The Tenth Power City Memphis Legend MEMPHISDOWNTOWNER.COM Memphis, Indiana A quiet agrarian community of several hundred folks, Memphis dozes just north of Louisville off I-65. Kent Nash, life-long resident and elder at Safe Harbor Christian Church, says that at one point, there was talk of building 3,000 homes in the area. “That has tempered a bit,” he says. “There are two main businesses here, and those are truck stops at the 16-mile marker.” But both truck stops have FedEx drop boxes, a touch of commonality shared with the town’s namesake in Tennessee. “There’s not even a red light,” says Nash, “just a four-way stop. There’s a fire station, a post office, and there used to be a feed mill. You can call that our downtown.” Just outside of town are “knobs” — large hills that ring Southern Indiana, created when glaciers left the area. Parks and wineries make it a popular weekend getaway. “It’s a great town,” says Nash. “No traffic jams!” Memphis, Michigan Henry Ford made Michigan the automotive center of the U.S., but in a Memphis, MI, shop from 1884 to 1885, Thomas Clegg created a one-cylinder, steam-powered vehicle that, according to a town marker, was the first self-propelled vehicle in the state. Some called it the Cleggmobile. Who knows why, after 500 miles, Clegg sold it to a creamery? We do know why Liz Brusca gets a lot of misrouted mail. She is the city clerk and treasurer of the one-square-mile town of 1,100. “We get a lot of mail for Memphis, Tennessee — and phone calls!” she says. “During tax season, we may get four or five calls a week!” Memphis was founded in 1835 but — apparently not wanting to rush into things — wasn’t incorporated until 1953. Like its Southern sister, Memphis, MI, has artesian wells. But whereas ours in Tennessee were filled by rainfall a couple of millennia ago, Memphis, MI, can thank an Ice Age glacier for its water supply. Memphis, Mississippi Lynda Austin’s father-in-law, Hoytte Austin, was one of the founders of this rural village. “Memphis was incorporated in 1971,” she says. “It had a mayor, and they did what they had to do to keep the town alive.” Next to Memphis was the town of Walls. Though it had more people and institutions, Walls was unincorporated. When voters approved casinos in 1992, DeSoto County hit the jackpot. Memphis, however, still had only 87 residents, hardly enough to support itself. So it decided to annex the Walls community, which saw it as a win-win opportunity — if Memphis agreed to keep the name Walls. The two shook hands, and in April 2003, the governor made it official. The Village of Memphis was no more, and in its place was the Town of Walls. Gene Alday, mayor of Walls and former police chief of Memphis, MS, takes a break from today’s mayoral duty — grass cutting. He’s happy with the annexation and name change. “We did not want to be associated with Memphis, Tennessee,” he says. “We don’t have crime here!” Memphis, Missouri Memphis, MO, is to Iowa what Memphis, MS, is to Tennessee — just a few miles south of the border. Last year, this predominately agricultural town of 2,000-plus saw its first murder in — well, no one can remember precisely when. Many of the small shops on the city square and around town are originals, and hunting is the big tourist attraction, doubling the town’s size in mid November for deer season. One day in 2008, Chris Feeney, editor of the Memphis Democrat, received a phone call asking where the Memphis Democrat office was located. “I told him that we’re on the west side of the city square,” says Feeney. “He asked if that was across from the giant fountain. Well, we have no fountain on our square, so I asked what he was delivering. He said he had a busload of folks he was supposed to deliver to the Memphis Democrat headquarters so they could register to vote for Obama!” Memphis, Nebraska If you want to visit Memphis, NE — population 100-ish — it’s easy to fly from Memphis International to their airport. Sort of. With Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, folks can fly in and out of Luetkenhaus Airport, a mile and a half outside of town. Owner Lorus Luetkenhaus was surprised his airport made the cut. “I opened the airport in 1965,” he says. “I used to fly in and out, but insurance regulations prohibit it now because of the runway length. I last flew out about 25 years ago. A neighbor flew in about 15 years ago. That’s been about it.” At its peak in 1920, the town topped 186 people. “We moved here in ’63, and there wasn’t much going on then,” says Luetkenhaus, “and it hasn’t changed much. But we do have the Strategic Air & Space Museum.” Ginger Neuhart works part time handling water and sewer billing. “There’s Memphis State Recreation Area,” she says of the popular campgrounds in nearby Lincoln. “But there’s not really a lot 14 MEMPHIS DOWNTOWNER MARCH 2010 MEMPHISDOWNTOWNER.COM MARCH 2010 MEMPHIS DOWNTOWNER 15 going on here. The only business is Don’s Bar, and we have a lot of motorcycle riders come through. As for our downtown — there is no downtown!” Memphis, New York The concept was simple: Build a canal to connect Lake Erie in the west with the Hudson River in the east. This “interstate highway” of 1825 brought about many towns along its path. Memphis was one of them. “There used to be a hotel, post office, blacksmith — the whole nine yards,” says Dave Evans, chief of the volunteer fire department. “Memphis used to be a stop along the Erie Canal, but the railroads made the canal obsolete, and now the CSX railroad and I-90 run through the town. We have 60 to 70 houses here surrounded by farmland and, knock on wood, no really big fires since I’ve been chief.” And speaking of knocking on wood, one of Memphis’s industries — like its big sister to the south — is hardwood. Memphis Hardwood Lumber operates from a complex of buildings that were originally steam-powered, dating back to the mid 1800s. Memphis, Texas Way back when, according to legend, an Austin, TX, resident mailed a letter to Memphis, TN. But the letter sender accidentally wrote Memphis, Texas, on the envelope, so the letter was returned, stamped “no such town in Texas.” Rev. J. W. Brice came across the letter and decided it would make a good name for a new town. In 1890, the Memphis, TX, post office was established. Known as the Cotton Capital of the Panhandle, this town in the heart of Tornado Alley is located in the only Texas county not to have a productive oil well. Visitors will notice the red brick streets, but the town square is decidedly emptier than in its earlier heyday. “And we did have Elvis living here,” says Sarah Cook, former editor of the Hall County Herald. “Elvis Lamb was a boot and leather goods maker.” Considering the origin of the community’s name, Elvis Presley’s song “Return to Sender” might make a good anthem for the town. Memphis, Egypt Although the village of Mit Rahina teems with life nearby, no one lives in the granddaddy of all things Memphis, and Cairo is encroaching to the point that it almost touches the ancient site. Dr. Lorelei Corcoran, director of the Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology at the University of Memphis, has visited the older Memphis a few times under the auspices of the Egypt Exploration Society, excavating what remains of the ancient site. “You really have to use your imagination to picture what it looked like in its heyday,” she says. “Some chapels and a major temple are half buried in the swampy mud, and there was a major palace that would have been spectacular.” In ancient Egyptian, “Memphis” means “established and beautiful is the funerary complex of King Pepi,” and like its sister city in Tennessee, Egypt’s Memphis also touches a delta-shaped floodplain that once grew cotton. In the 1980s, a shattered, swamp-submerged statue of Ramses the Great — known as “The Colossus of Memphis” — was excavated and restored, financed by Memphis, TN. Today, a Ramses replica — the only copy outside of Egypt authorized by the Egyptian government — makes its Memphis home in Tennessee, adorning the front of the extinct Pyramid arena.
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