Memphis Street History: McLean Boulevard

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Stretching seven miles, from James Road at its north end to Lamar Avenue at its south end, McLean Boulevard runs through the heart of Midtown. Its centrality alone makes it a good subject for Memphis Street History, but as it turns out, the McLean family has had a notable impact on Memphis’s past and even its present!

McLean Boulevard was named for Colonel Charles D. McLean, who fought in the War of 1812 alongside Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett, and James K. Polk. Col. McLean moved to Jackson, Tennessee, from his native Virginia around 1823, and established the first newspaper in West Tennessee, the Jackson Gazette.

When the newspaper shut down in 1833, he moved to Memphis, settling on a large plantation near what is now McLean Boulevard in the Idlewild historic district. Central Gardens historian May Keyes notes that “in those days, [McLean Boulevard] was nameless and was just known as a ‘pig track.’ It started at Madison and ended at Peabody.” As more and more people moved into the area, the Colonel “began to subdivide his plantation, selling lots from five to ten acres.”

McLean Boulevard in its dirt-road days, courtesy Memphis Public Library & Information Center
Source: May Keyes, Belevedere and Other Places, published 1992

One of Charles’ sons was William Love McLean, a Confederate captain who was taken prisoner in 1863 and held at Johnson Island in Ohio for two years.* When the Civil War ended, he walked back to Memphis (a hard journey of several months) and settled at his home near Poplar and McLean, which he called Belleair Woods. The neighborhood of the same name grew around the home in the 1930s (the development was spearheaded by the Belz family).

Bessie Byrd McLean, courtesy Memphis Public Library & Information Center

Bessie Byrd McLean was the only child of prominent businessman Robert Moore McLean, president of the William R. Moore Dry Goods Company. In 1902, Bessie married Edward Hull Crump, a bookkeeper who had recently come to Memphis from Holly Springs. Her parents “advanced him $50,000 to gain control of the firm where he worked.”** This financial boost put Crump on the fast track to wealth and political power, and by 1909, he had become Mayor “Boss” Crump, a significant and polarizing figure in Memphis history who later served two terms as a U.S. Congressman.

E.H. and Bessie Byrd McLean Crump, courtesy Memphis Public Library & Information Center

In the present day, Don McLean (not the “American Pie” singer) is probably the best-known member of this McLean lineage. Don founded and co-owned Lulu Grille, a popular local restaurant that was open from 1991 to 2007, and currently co-manages Huey’s.

On the subject of buzzy Memphis restaurateurs, Belly Acres co-owner Ben McLean (formerly of Soul Fish and Alchemy) is not among Colonel Charles McLean’s descendants. “Dueling family split back in Scotland,” he reports. Still, he’s part of a new generation of McLeans making more Memphis history.

* For much more about William Love McLean and his war experiences, check out Lachlan and Sarah McLean: Their Descendants’ History, a blog by Robert Emmett McLean.

** Memphis: In the Great Depression, Roger Biles, The University of Tennessee Press, 1986

Brenda Wilkerson
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By Brenda Wilkerson

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

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