Idlewild Neighborhood Association

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Idlewild Neighborhood Association

Historic Overview of Our Idlewild Neighborhood

Idlewild was developed as a streetcar community between the 1890's and the 1940's. Streetcar suburbs had a strong pedestrian orientation. Most people walked to their homes from the streetcar stop. The automobile did not have a major influence on Memphis until the 1920's, so there are few driveways or garages in the neighborhood. Residents depended on the streetcars for transportation and used the neighborhood sidewalks to reach the streetcar lines.

In September of 1895 the town of Idlewild was incorporated. Larger than the current Idlewild, it was a desirable residential area that grew rapidly attracting a cross section of mostly working class families. Because of health worries following the Yellow Fever outbreaks, and in order to take advantage of Memphis‘ superior sewer system, the town allowed itself to be annexed into the larger city as part of the “Greater Memphis Movement“ in 1899.

Like other “edge“ development at the turn of the twentieth century in Memphis, residential house types developed in the district included the shotgun, the double-shotgun, the modified shotgun, the cubical cottage, the L-plan cottage, the composite cottage and variations of these forms. Architectural styles applied to these structures includes the Italianate and the Queen Anne. Following the turn of the century, many of the same house types continued but adding to the diversity was the bungalow, the four-square, the Cape, the English cottage, the double-pile cottage and variations of these forms. Architectural styles applied to these structures included the Queen Anne, the Colonial Revival, the Craftsman, the Tudor Revival and the Minimal Traditional styles. There are reflections of commercial types and styles appropriate to the times reflected in the commercial buildings of the district constructed during the same period.

The Idlewild Historic District is composed of eighteen city blocks in an area bounded by Rembert Street on the west, Central Avenue on the South, South Cooper Street on the east and Linden Avenue on the north. The pattern of individual lots within Idlewild varies widely, in part due to the irregular street pattern and in part due to factors of natural topography.

The topography of the district is gently rolling. The topographic character of Idlewild was shaped, in part, by the swale of Lick Creek, located generally along the Rembert Street. The creek was channeled into a culvert and covered ca. 1905-10 to permit additional residential development in the district.

Subdivision development overlaid on the topography required many streets to be cut into the slopes of the area. As a result, many of the blocks in Idlewild have low terraces for the setting of residences. Some of these terraces are retained by low masonry walls while others slope gently to the street.

The commercial district along South Cooper Street still retains a strong sense of identity and pride of place as part of its immediate community. The revitalization activity of the neighborhood beginning in the 1970’s was in part due to the convenience and quality of the small, neighborhood businesses which remain on South Cooper.

The Idlewild Neighborhood, like the historic district, is an unique area in the City of Memphis. It is a place, which can historically and physically demonstrate the experience of a formerly independent town that grew within the expanding suburban development of Memphis at the turn of the twentieth century. The neighborhood retains its sense of identity today, a sense bolstered in part by the quality of its architectural character.

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