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VOL. 121 | NO. 38 | Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Preservation Series Almost Here

Get ready to learn little-known facts about historic neighborhoods

By Andy Meek

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LIVING HISTORY: The Woodruff-Fontaine estate is one example of homes in four Memphis neighborhoods that will be featured in a Memphis Heritage educational series next month. -- Photograph Courtesy Of Memphis Heritage Inc.

Today, Memphis neighborhoods like Annesdale-Snowden, the charming, tree-lined community surrounding Lamar Avenue and Bellevue Boulevard, are symbols of another time.

In the 1850s, Dr. Samuel Mansfield built a 200-acre estate there on the outskirts of Memphis, which he later sold to a Col. Robert Brinkley. Brinkley gave the property's Italianate mansion to his daughter as a wedding present, and her son, Robert Brinkley Snowden, later built a home of his own in the area.

In 1906, the Snowden family subdivided their land around the estate to form the Annesdale-Snowden neighborhood. Famous Memphians like Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson once lived there, and it attracted other businessmen who craved the neighborhood's open-air suburban environment.

Since then, the lure of suburbs even farther east has pulled attention away from neighborhoods like Annesdale-Snowden, which officially turns 100 this year. But next month, Memphis Heritage Inc. will ensure those communities re-enter the spotlight.

Front and center

Each Monday in March, MHI's 7-year-old preservation series will host a slate of speakers to present the history, evolution, architectural styles and a few forgotten tales about some of Memphis' most distinct communities.

The four-part educational series, which costs $60 to attend, will be held at Trinity Methodist Church, 447 N. Evergreen Street in the Evergreen Historic District. And June West, executive director of MHI, said it promises to unearth some priceless treasures about urban neighborhoods that have withstood population shifts and a massive suburban building boom.

"This series is so popular we've outgrown the Junior League, in fact," she said. "That's where we used to have them. The last speaker we had in this series was Guy Weaver for 'Great Neighborhoods Under Great Neighborhoods,' where he talked about the artifacts he found when he did the digs under the Pyramid and the FedExForum."

The title of the program this year is "Great Neighborhoods 3 - All Around Town," and it will focus on four historic neighborhoods: Victorian Village, Annesdale-Snowden, Vollintine-Evergreen and the area surrounding North and East parkways.

Historic but not too old

Each neighborhood has scores of examples of its architectural significance. Many of the homes, in places like Vollintine-Evergreen, evoke an old-fashioned charm.

"It's a popular series. We usually get about 55 to 60 participants, but that's because we've had to cut it off before at that amount. The speakers do this pro bono, and it serves as a fundraiser for the group."
- June West
executive director of Memphis Heritage Inc.

"Most of the houses in the Vollintine-Evergreen neighborhood date from the late 1920s, so they are old enough to have 'character' but not so old as to require nonstop troubleshooting," said Steve Gadbois, executive director of the Vollintine-Evergreen Community Development Corp.

Architectural historian Judith Johnson, founder of Judith Johnson & Associates Historic Preservation Services, will be the keynote speaker on March 20. In her talk, "The Little Flower, The God of Abraham and the Confederate General," she'll recount the stories of three churches in the Vollintine-Evergreen area.

She'll also relate them to Memphis' irrepressible eastward expansion.

"Those churches were all instrumental in banding together to keep the neighborhood stable," said Johnson, who's also the former executive director of MHI. "VECA never had any wholesale examples of people moving out in droves, so folks have lived there for a long time. And I just thought this was an interesting take on what makes a neighborhood and what are the hallmarks of neighborhoods. Certainly, churches and other institutions like that are important components."

All four neighborhoods also have their share of refreshing symbols of the past. In Victorian Village, ornate 19th century mansions line Adams Avenue. Residents of Annesdale-Snowden present a tour of the district's homes each year that highlights a variety of development styles.

Late in his life, Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a member of a Downtown Presbyterian church that eventually moved to VECA, where a stained glass window was installed in his memory.

"It's a popular series," West said. "We usually get about 55 to 60 participants, but that's because we've had to cut it off before at that amount. The speakers do this pro bono, and it serves as a fundraiser for the group."

Study first, break ground later

Historic preservation is about more than colorful stories of old neighborhoods, as city planners can attest. Memphis and Shelby County planning officials often must study an area's historic value before undertaking new projects.

"Because we get federal money, we have a guy that looks at historic and environmental issues for all of the projects that we do in the county, outside the city limits of Memphis," said Maggie Conway, an administrator with the city-county Office of Planning and Development.

"When we're going to rehab a house or work on a home of some kind, sometimes we have to send things to the state for review, so this is something we do look at."

The format for this year's event basically will revolve around a lecture, a question-and-answer session and a few Powerpoint presentations. Part of the money that's raised will be used by Memphis Heritage in its work unearthing neighborhood histories.

"That's why we charge $60 to come - it's just Memphis Heritage, this is not underwritten by anyone," West explained.

Her group already has sent out an e-mail notification to previous attendees of the event, which usually gets many repeat customers, she said. As of last week, 10 people had already signed up.

Because Memphis has so many other neighborhoods that are rich in historic detail, West said she would like to expand the preservation series in the future. That may happen soon, if this year's installment generates the same interest in some of the city's oldest and most colorful public relics.

"We ultimately want to grow the series, and we look forward to doing this one in March and maybe having four other preservation-education events quarterly," she said. "This kind of event just isn't offered anywhere else."

To find out more about the series, visit www.memphisheritage.org.

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