The East Memphis neighborhood known as Normal Station is bordered by Southern Avenue, Park Avenue, Highland, and Goodlett. It’s one of Memphis’s most historically aware communities, so proud of its heritage that it even has its own wiki! For the non-residents, here’s a little background about the origins of The University of Memphis’s backyard.
Beginning in the late 1800s, teachers’ colleges that established teaching standards were referred to as “normal schools.” In 1911, construction began on the West Tennessee Normal School, which eventually became The University of Memphis. The increased traffic to the area prompted the Southern Railroad to build a train and streetcar stop. Students and teachers could commute from as far as downtown on the streetcar, and train traffic was heavy, just as it is today. Most trains were local to West Tennessee, but two dailies were bound for Washington and New York. (Can you imagine getting out of your afternoon class at U of M and hopping right on a train to New York?)
By the 1920s, all the cool kids in Memphis had moved to the Normal Station area. New homes and businesses continued to pop up even during World War II. However, soon after the war, the increased popularity of cars and buses bankrupted the streetcar line, and the streetcar tracks were removed. While the train tracks obviously remain, Southern Railroad tore down Normal Station in 1950.
Next time you’re sitting at that four-way stop on Southern or Walker waiting on a slow train, you can entertain yourself by imagining the former glory and excitement of your surroundings! Plus, now you know the name “Normal” has nothing to do with not being weird.
If you’re interested in learning more read more about this topic, pick up a copy of Memphis Type History: Signs & Stories from Just Around the Corner!
Memphis Heritage Survey of Normal Station (very comprehensive)
Normal Station Neighborhood Plan, created by the Memphis/Shelby County Office of Planning and Development with cooperation from the Normal Station Neighborhood Association, October 2002.
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