With a name that bounces around your mouth as you say it, Barboro Alley will immediately charm you with its old-fashioned stone walkway nestled between façades of peeling paint. Just stepping into the alley takes you back to another century. Except that in past centuries, you might not have taken such a pleasant stroll between the restaurants and bars you might stop into on South Main and Front Street. That’s right, the original name of Barboro Alley was Deadman’s Alley.
In the 1800s, this alleyway of Memphis ran between the city morgues. Undertakers J. Hinton and Sons and T.J. Collins were located on each side of Deadman’s Alley. Bodies were transported in horse-drawn carriages over these cobblestone streets. Rumor has it that bodies were kept in the alley during the yellow fever epidemic of 1878.
By the late 19th century, the passage became known as Barboro Alley, named after Anthony Sebastian Barboro, a well-known Italian immigrant and produce wholesaler. His shop was located at 345 South Main. Barboro got yellow fever himself in 1873. Five years afterward, he converted the Barboro Building at 95 South Main into a clinic, with cots lining the floors from the basement to the second story.
In 1901, the building now known as the Lofts at Union Alley was built. In 1994, the Blue Light Studio moved into this building from its original location on Beale Street. This studio once photographed Elvis and figures prominently in many folks’ memories of Downtown Memphis a few decades ago. Oh hey, check out the Memphis Type History book for a bit more about such memories!
Today, and only today, the RedBall Project is suspended in Barboro Alley between Farmhouse Marketing and a vacant building. Rumor has it this building was once an ice house and the cork insulation and refrigeration system can still be found inside.