Rural Heritage Trust














From the pages of Collierville by Main Street Collierville
Images Of America Series, 2006


    With its Downtown a jewel of Victorian-era homes and old churches surrounding a historical town square, Collierville, Tennessee, retains a small-town charm that keeps longtime residents rooted and draws increasing numbers of new citizens yearly. Mild soil and its location between the Wolf River to the north and the Nonconnah Creek to the south helped establish the town as an agricultural trade center for cotton and, later, the dairy industry. Once a stagecoach rest stop and later a railroad stop on the Memphis and Charleston line, the town anchors the southeast corner of Shelby County, lying about 30 miles east of Memphis and the Mississippi River. The Union army recognized the importance of the town’s location during the Civil War. Battles to take the town were waged on both sides, and in one battle, Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman escaped capture at Collierville Depot.


   The name and even Collierville’s home state were in question at various times throughout the 19th century. Jesse R. Collier, a local real estate entrepreneur, advertised lots for sale in the Memphis Enquirer as “The Town of Collier” in 1836. Even after its first formal incorporation in 1850, the town was also known as Oak Grove and mistakenly referred to as “Colliersville”. Lands that lay south of the Stateline Road (Poplar Avenue) remained in Mississippi until 1838. In 1858, the population was recorded around 250. There were common schools, funded by local property taxes, and two private high schools, one for boys and one for girls. A coeducational school was available for younger children, and settlers had the choice of four churches to attend: Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and “Campsettlers” (Christian). By 1860, the population had doubled. There were three general stores, three grocery stores, one flouring mill, one hotel, and other professions.

   Much of the town was destroyed during the Civil War, but the town sprung back in 1866 around a park that was designated as a “public square.” For a time, the park served as an erstwhile zoo with a deer and peacocks contained within a white picket fence. In 1876, a two-story bandstand brought music fans to the town’s heart, just as a bandstand does today for spring and summer concerts and several festivals and celebrations. More than 42,000 people now call Collierville home. The town covers 18,500 acres, with another 13,700 acres in reserve for future use. A thriving business community includes antique and specialty shops and unique restaurants in addition to larger retail venues and nationally known restaurants. As urban expansion approaches from metropolitan Memphis, the community leaders and citizens strive to maintain and protect the town’s unique history, its values, and personality.

“If a community preserves the integrity of its heritage,
that heritage will in turn preserve the integrity of the community.”

From Parade magazine, in 2014 . . .
America's Best Main Street: And the Winner Is.... COLLIERVILLE !!

   After Parade readers nominated more than 2,000 Main Streets, editors selected 16 based on the criteria for a successful downtown, according to our research. Then in June, readers voted for their favorites in a bracket on parade.com.
Congratulations To Our Winner: COLLIERVILLE, TENNESSEE!

   Start your day by the old train depot in this town (pop. 47,333) outside Memphis and you’ll likely meet Joseph Johnson, who peddles produce from the back of his van. ★ “This has always been a nice town, with nice people,” he will tell you, and he’d know: The lifelong resident has a front-row seat on the Collierville square, a picturesque park at the heart of the community. In the summer, neighbors gather here around a gazebo for free concerts. ★ Local pride springs from the town’s rich history (as a trade center for cotton, and later, a cheese-making capital) but also its promising future: Since the 1990s, the population has tripled as corporations like FedEx have moved into town; and the ¬local economy is thriving. A law office operates near a yoga studio and a brick-walled service station. At Dixie Pickers, you can shop for seersucker, bow ties, and fishing apparel. And over at the Silver Caboose Restaurant, diners catch up with the owner over pimento cheese sandwiches. ★ But the success of downtown is no accident. Laura Todd, executive director of a local civic group, credits a roster of programs that promote smart development. “We have great character and characters here,” she says. “Collierville makes you feel at home. It really does.”


From the Morton Museum . . .


   A few years prior to 1929, Collierville’s “king cotton” image began to change when the boll weevil (a beetle that feeds on cotton buds and flowers) visited the area. Before that time, there were only a handful of dairies in operation. By 1929, however, the number had dramatically increased to several hundred, both large and small. One can see the importance of the emerging dairy industry in the newspaper in the numerous articles, advertisements, and stories in the local society section.

   Collierville was just one of many towns in the area where dairying was booming. There were hundreds of dairies providing milk to Memphis. In 1922, the Guernsey Breeders’ Journal reported, Collierville resident Jack Clayton (below) “probably has the largest herd of Guernsey in Tennessee.” In January 1922, Clayton was elected vice president of the Tri-State Guernsey Cattle Club.


   Before a farmer was permitted to sell or distribute milk to a pasteurization plant, they had to receive a permit from the Shelby County Department of Health and submit to a rigorous inspection process. Farmers were required to test all dairy cows for tuberculosis and dairy stables, equipment, the people engaged in milking were subject to detailed rules to ensure safe and high quality milk.


   Citizens, businesses, and civic organizations came together to celebrate the emerging, and soon thriving, dairy industry in Collierville in the 1930s. The local Rotary Club, organized in 1935, actively sought to bring dairy cow livestock shows to Collierville and promoted the Cheese Carnival to support the area’s dairy industry.

   The Cheese Carnival held on Town Square lasted several days, complete with a queen and her court, band concerts, dances, parades, and a carnival atmosphere throughout the Town. The first Cheese Carnival in 1934 drew 12,000 to 18,000 people, “the largest number ever to visit Collierville in a single period.”


   Swift and Company, a food processing company incorporated in Chicago in 1875, specialized in meatpacking and sold dairy and grocery items across the country. In 1934, they opened a cheese plant located just off Main Street in Collierville.
Upon opening, a resident and dairy farmer commented on what it meant for the plant to be in Collierville, stating, “Our town is forgetting the Depression and swinging into the new deal with hearts set on a glorious and prosperous future.”

   Swift and Co. closed its doors in 1943 due to World War II, electricity costs, and internal company problems. In October 1944, local businessmen reopened the Collierville Dairy Products Company to “begin our own little post-war employment plan right here in Collierville.” The plant moved to Olive Branch, Mississippi, in 1952.
Newspaper articles show us that the Cheese Plant went through many ups and downs during its existence. Local headlines follow the Cheese Plant’s highs and lows.


From the early 1920s to the 1980s, dairy remained an important feature of many Collierville families. Today, there are about 51,000 dairy farms in the United States and almost all of them are family owned and operated




                                                 What’s a Wonder Horse?

 The World Famous Wonder Horse was made in the Wonder Products factory of Collierville from 1950 to 1983. First built of wood, and then cast more realistically in plastic, these were child-size horses, mounted on a wooden or metal frame, and suspended by springs that gave them their rocking motion. In the 1950s and 1960s, it seems every kid in America had — or wanted — one.
These popular toys were manufactured in a cluster of factory buildings just a block south of Collierville’s Historic Town Square. The firm closed in 1982.



For current information about Collierville, please visit the official website: https://collierville.com

Or, at Main Street Collierville:

Or, at the Morton Museum:

and /or on Facebook:

Collierville by Main Street Collierville, Images Of America Series




©Copyright 2020-2022 Rural Heritage Trust.com

View Our Stats