Portrait of General James Winchester by Ralph E.W. Earl

Memphis Street History: Winchester Road

In South Memphis by Brenda Wilkerson6 Comments

Winchester

 

While driving around Memphis, have you ever wondered how our major streets got their names? As it turns out, the best place to start is in south Memphis. Winchester Road, which stretches across the south end of town from Third Street downtown to Byhalia Road in Collierville, is probably best known for the section that cuts under a runway at Memphis International Airport. Read on to learn about the real Winchesters who played interesting roles in Memphis history. (PS, the family is distantly related to the rifle Winchesters… but no relation to Sam and Dean.)

General James Winchester, a Middle Tennessean, sent his son to scope out the land that would eventually become Memphis in 1818. After deeming it a good investment, Winchester, Andrew Jackson, and John Overton bought the land from the Chickasaw tribe. They also gave Memphis its name.

Portrait of General James Winchester by Ralph E.W. Earl

Marcus Winchester, the General’s aforementioned son, was Memphis’ first shopkeeper, postmaster, and mayor. He drew up many of the original city plans and named Winchester Road for himself. However, after he married a woman of mixed race (which was illegal in Tennessee at the time), he was largely shunned and his businesses failed.

Marcus also established the Winchester Cemetery at Poplar and Third. After the yellow fever epidemic, most of the bodies buried there were moved to Elmwood Cemetery, but Marcus remained interred there. According to multiple sources, his grave now lies somewhere under the parking lot on the west side of the intersection, across from 201 Poplar. Pretty harsh fate for the founder of our city.

Winchester Park at St Jude Place and Lane Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. The Park was established on the grounds of former Winchester Cemetery established in 1828 as the first cemetery for Memphis. Except for a historical marker, no remnants of the cemetery are present in 2010. Image by Thomas R Machnitzki

Winchester Park at St Jude Place and Lane Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. The Park was established on the grounds of former Winchester Cemetery established in 1828 as the first cemetery for Memphis. Except for a historical marker, no remnants of the cemetery are present in 2010. Image and caption by Thomas R Machnitzki

George Winchester, Marcus’s cousin, helped found the DeSoto Insurance Company, which became Union Planters Bank in 1869. (Union Planters remained one of Memphis’ most popular banks until it was purchased by Regions in 2004.)

– History is quiet on the subject of the Winchester family for the next century or so, during which time some moved away from the area. Jesse Winchester returned to Memphis with his family during the 1960s, when he was twelve years old. Witnessing the glory days of Memphis sound inspired Jesse to become a musician. In addition to releasing sixteen albums of his own, he wrote songs for many popular folk, blues, and country artists. He was also known for his opposition to the Vietnam War and lived in Canada for a decade after dodging the draft. Jesse died in 2014 and was honored during the In Memoriam portion of the Grammy Awards last weekend.

Jesse Winchester at the 2011 Blue Highways festival in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Image and caption by Erik Joling

Jesse Winchester at the 2011 Blue Highways festival in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Image and caption by Erik Joling

Stay tuned for more about how Memphis’ neighborhoods and well-traveled roads were named. You’ll never look at street signs the same way again!

Brenda Wilkerson

Brenda Wilkerson

Midtowner. Reader. Writer. Christian. True blue Tiger fan. Lover of shoes, the ocean, adventure, and McAlister's sweet tea.
Brenda Wilkerson

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Comments

  1. WTF?! They paved over the mans grave? I’ve parked on top of his bones.

  2. I would disagree that the Winchesters were quiet until Jesse became famous. Think Winchester Building and the Winchester Law Firm. Fighting in both World Wars. Instrumental in the Crump machine, the Midsouth Fair, & Libertyland. The Winchesters are still in Memphis and are still working hard to advance the city and support the community.

    1. Thanks, Lee! Sometimes it can be tough to follow the trail of history all the way through, especially when genealogy is involved. We always so appreciate any clues people can provide πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by and sharing your knowledge to add to this post!

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