The University District was birthed a little over a century ago, but in the short time since, it has grown and flourished to be a unique and defining part for the city. When visiting the Highland Strip or University of Memphis campus, it's important to realize that the amount of culture and progress is able to be defined.
Enter historian Jimmy Ogle.
The native Memphian and historian of the Bluff City recently gave a walking tour of the University District. He began his tour on the Normal Station Depot plot, walked to Highland Street, walked up the commercial street, then traced Midland Avenue back to the campus where he ended the tour at the Administration Building.
For those who were not able to attend his walking tour, here's a list of the 10 fun facts about the area as gathered from Jimmy Ogle's tour.
In 1909, Memphis won a bid between a neighboring cities to host the West Tennessee State Normal School—a small teacher's college that would eventually bud into the University of Memphis. The railroad that runs parallel to the land the school was built on was integral to Memphis securing the bid, ensuring a history of influence in the area.
One of the few places that U of M students of the 20th century could rely on for late night activity that didn't center around drinking or partying was the late YMCA center on Walker Avenue. For the a majority of the latter half of the 1900s, it stood as a healthy beacon of campus life. But in recent years it has grown less popular, leading to its eventual closing in 2013. Though it's unfortunate, health nuts should not fear as The Peddler Bike Shop will take its place, still promoting fitness in the memorable spot.
3.) Garibaldi's Pizza
Garibaldi's Pizza has been a notable eatery for the neighborhood for more than 30 years. The Italian food of Garibaldi's includes pizzas, pastas and sandwiches at a reasonable price. To this day, it remains a great place to relax after taking a big exam.
4.) Highland Strip
Though it started with humble beginnings as a place outside of Memphis city limits where one could shop for goods in the late 1800s, the Highland Strip has become a cultural epicenter for the University District. From drug busts in the 1960s to it's current list of bars and restaurants, it has a rich history of Memphis business and culture.
The corner of Highland and Midland housed one of the Memphis city libraries for many years. In addition to the YMCA, this was another spot that students could spend time that did not focus on eating or drinking. Sadly, the library closed in 2013 due to inactivity. Not to disrespect the historical building, the University of Memphis has announced plans to utilize the building in the coming years.
6.) University Area
The neighborhood residing in between the U of M campus and the Highland Strip is in slow decay. Since U of M has announced plans to eventually use the land for campus space, landowners have become negligent in home care to wait for sale offers from the University. The school has been actively been buying the land over the past few years and slowly continues to do so. Though it may look decrepit now, the area will be revamped in the coming years once the school has purchased all of it.
7.) Traffic on campus
For the majority of the school's history, students were able to drive through the campus streets to get closer to buildings they would otherwise have to walk to. This changed in the 1970s when the campus became a pedestrian campus and restricted parking to lots along the outside perimiter of the campus. Though some cried out about inconvenience, the school has benefitted from the change with increased safety and become more pedestrian-friendly promoting a healthier campus all around.
8.) Sign Markers
Around the U of M campus are several sign markers that describe the dense history involved. Included are markers for the Normal Depot, the school itself, and the story of the Memphis State 8—a group of eight African-American students who first integrated into the school in 1959. These markers are important for their historic value and honor to those involved. When walking on campus, it's a great idea to keep your eye out to hear about the past.
The tour ended at the Administration Building on campus. It was one of the very first buildings on campus and is still standing and in use some 102 years later. The architecture is grand with gigantic columns and lots of use of marble. It stands as a dedication to the ambition of school-past, present, and future.
Jimmy Ogle concluded his tour around campus by talking about the school in reference to Memphis. He closed by saying, "Memphis is a city that was actively involved in the Civil War, a big part of river trade, and hugely important in civil rights. Its the birthplace of a truly American style of music and a lot of unique culture. There are many cities that illustrate our nations history, but none of them paint quite the picture as Memphis does."