The Tennessee Genealogical Society went on a field trip to the Court House in Memphis, Tennessee. We had a professional tour guide, Jimmy Ogle, give us a private tour. It amazed me how much information he knew about Memphis and the surrounding areas. One of the reasons his historical information fascinated me was that most of my husband’s ancestors lived in the area where the court house is built. He explained to use that Court House was built on a high point, so although it is not that far from the Mississippi River, it would never flood. Of course, he pointed out that Memphis and the Court House areas are at risk for earthquakes!
The architecture of the building amazed me. Even as old as the building is, the beauty still stands out. It has an old elevator that use to be in use, but now is closed. When it was in service, it had an elevator guide take you up and down. There was a water fountain that is still used that had two spouts with two hooks. Jimmy explained that in the early years of the Court House, the whites drank out of one side and the African Americans the other side of the water fountain. . I am glad that now me and my friend who is African American, can now go drink from the fountain and it does not matter which side either of us drink from.
There were display cases showing the early blueprints of the Court House. One displayed housed a copy of Elvis Presley’s will; we were told for under twenty dollars we could go and order a copy of Elvis’ will for ourselves. As we walked past the Probate Records and other offices, it was hard to walk by and not try to do some research. We were taken to the Law Library at the Court House; I was amazed at their collection. I was even more amazed to learn that anyone can come to the library and use it. It also houses the City Directories for time periods started in 1859-1923. While some of these databases are online, there is nothing like holding a book in your hand and accessing the information. Also, you never know if a name was misspelled by the transcriber when the records were digitized.
There were statues and pictures of early Shelby County politicians. These were the men who made and enforced the laws early Shelby County, Tennesseans had to live by. There was a street across from the Court House that was mentioned, the Maggie H. Isabel Alley, named for a civic leader and seamstress shop owner. When they were considering names for this street, the lawyers that worked in this area wanted to name the street after Maggie. She was the one they took their sewing needs to and they wanted to pay tribute to her.
In the entry of the Court House, there was placed a plaque presented by the Watauga Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It listed nineteen American Revolutionary soldiers interred in Shelby County, TN and was organized on April 19, 1894. Another wall was contributed by The Chickasaw Guards of Memphis; it listed six of their comrades who died on the field of battle in World War I.
The biggest thrill actually came as I walked to my car. We passed the Christopher Columbus Park. Jimmy Ogle explained that while he did not think Christopher made it to Memphis, it was a small park that the Italians in the Memphis area dedicated to him. There was a statue of Christopher Columbus, but what caught my eye was the Memorial plaque that had the Italians listed that contributed to the building of the park. My husband paternal line is Italian and several of those named were related to him. I was very proud to see their name on the plaque.
As we walked downstairs, we were allowed to peek through the crackled glass and see the court rooms. We then walked upstairs and were shown a court room set up as it had been in the early years of court. While basically it looked the same, there were changes in how the furniture lookd and in the amount of chairs set up for the jury.
I have listed just a small portion of what we learned during this Court House tour. It gave me insight to our legal system now, but also for our ancestors as well. Our field trip was very educational in the areas of history, politics, early architect, law libraries and the people who work there. I would love to go back to the Court House and learn more about the records that are created there.
Here are the Pictures I took while on the tour.