Rural Heritage Trust














From the pages of Millington by Rita Hiltenbrand Hall
Images Of America Series, 2012


  The City of Millington was incorporated in 1903, but like every other town, it has a history much older than its charter would seem to indicate. The first settlers of this portion of north Shelby County arrived within the first two decades of the 19th century. Col. Clement McDaniel has a well-established homestead and an active trade going with the local Native Americans when surveyor John Ralston, quite to his surprise, stumbled upon the McDaniels while plotting land claims for North Carolina’s Revolutionary War veterans sometime before 1820. In 1822, John Ralston married the colonel’s daughter Lucy and settled near the McDaniel homestead. It is rumored that the community names Lucy is named for this young bride and the Ralstons came to be great landholders in the area.

  Nearby, a string-type settlement called Big Creek was forming along the banks of the tributary of the Loosahatchie River for which it was named. Other area communities were named for their prominent citizens, such as Kerrville, named for Rev. Andrew Kerr, and Jeter, named for a pioneer family. Later, communities were given names whose origins, despite their often romantic intrigue, are now forgotten or obscured, such as Glencoe, Millwood, Roaring Falls, Woodstock, Shakerag, Cuba, Locke, West union, and Independence. Over time, each of these, for whatever reason, was overshadowed by the growing Millington community.

  Many of the earliest settlers of this region were wealthy planners who took advantage of the rich soil to grow cotton, the South’s staple crop, and to make fortunes in the hardwood industry. Clearing trees to create more arable land resulted in widespread erosion and unpredictable, but frequent, flooding as Big Creek climbed out of its bed to ruin crops and destroy homes. Over time, small villages such as Glencoe and Millwood were established at seemingly safe distances from the flooding. By the 1870s, however, it was clear that even these villages were not out of danger. When the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) sought to lay track from Memphis northward, George Millington and his wife, the former Mrs. Wade Bolton, subdivided a portion of their extensive landholdings on high ground for the construction of a depot and town. The depot was named Millington, and when the villagers grew tired of fighting rising waters and moved closer to the new train station, the town of Millington was born.

  The ability to transport lumber by train rather than over the waterways made Millington businessmen wealthy even faster. Once lands were cleared, cotton became the crop of choice and the cotton industry employed untold numbers from the antebellum era through the 20th century. The railroad also brought new people to the town, and new businesses arose to accommodate their needs. By 1910, seven years after incorporation, Millington boasted a hotel, bank, sawmill, restaurant, livery stable, light plant, telegraph office, real estate agency, and newspaper. The town had nine dry goods and general merchandise stores, drugstore, a jeweler, an electrician, three blacksmiths, six physicians, two undertakers (one female), four grocers (including two African Americans), and three barbers, one of whom was African American. In addition, Eugene Woods was a lumber manufacturer who employed dozens of men and created work for the town’s three loggers and nine carpenters. Other residents found work with the railroad, in the slaughterhouse, as bookkeepers, as domestic or farm laborers, or in local schools. Entrepreneurial souls struck out on their own; Millington salesmen included peddlers of clothing, sewing machines, and harnesses.

  In less than a decade, though, hostilities in Europe garnered much attention in the United States. To the east of Millington, one of West Tennessee’s first pilot training facilities, complete with hospital, was developed at Park Field for the U.S. Army Air Forces. Several landowners extended five-year leases to the government providing the land for Park Field, after which time the government purchased the land to make the airfield a permanent installation. One benefit of Park Field was that it placed Millington, and nearby Memphis as well, on the aerial mail route for the first time. Once the war ended, however, Park Field fell fallow until after the Depression, when it was temporarily revitalized as a transient camp for unemployed men under Roosevelt’s Resettlement Administration. It was slated to be subdivided among small farmers who lost their properties during the Depression when Word War II erupted, signaling major changes for Millington’s future.

  The military presence around Millington grew as the E.I. Dupont de Nemours Company was commissioned to build a munitions factory west o Millington, near the community of Cuba, to manufacture TNT and smokeless gunpowder to support Allied efforts during World War II. More than 5,000 acres were purchased by the government for this purpose, forever changing the physical landscape. The “powder plant,” as it became known, altered the economic landscape as well. More than 14,000 men and women worked in the plant during World War II, forcing Shelby County to make drastic changes to the infrastructure. Roads were laid or improved to accommodate the region. Trailer parks sprung up in and around Millington to combat population explosion s worker migrated from hundreds of miles around in search of employment. Cotton lay unpicked in the fields below huge billboards for Memphis businesses, such Bry’s Department Store and Pantaze Drug Store, which boasted that they would cash powder plant paychecks for free. After the war, the powder plant was almost immediately closed an disassembled, leaving a scar on the landscape that remains unhealed.

  By 1942, the federal government elected to expand Park Field for use as a Naval Reserve Air Base commissioned to train aviation cadets. Within a few short months, the reserve base was renamed the naval air station. Just east of Millington city limits stood the world’s largest inland Navy base, and for more than half a century, sailors and marines took instruction within its gates. The constant influx of sojourners was a great boom to the Millington economy, which, like the rest of the country, continued to recover from depression and war. While the base provided housing and recreation to enlisted men and officers alike, troops, no doubt eager for a few moments that felt like normal life, spent their paychecks at Millington’s businesses and participated in Millington’s community events. For many, the stay in Millington was brief – only a few weeks or months. Others stayed up to three years. With the added population of the Navy base, Millington’s census numbers tripled by 1963, but more than half of those enumerated had no roots, historical knowledge, or significant attachment to the town they so briefly called home. In 1994, the first phase of the Navy Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Committee study resulted in a drastic change of assignment for the Millington base. After more than half a century, the naval air training facility became the Bureau of Personnel (BUPERS), causing a drastic decline in Millington’s total population even as the area per capita income increased with the influx of officers and reduction in enlisted personnel.

  New Deal legislation and programs in the 1930s contributed to the development of the Shelby County Forest Recreational Demonstration Area, west of where the powder plant would be built. Participants in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) programs and local civic groups collaborated to carve out roads and woodland trails, plant 2.5 million trees, and build cabins and communal buildings in the new park. Three hundred WPA workers lived at Park Field while assigned to the Shelby Forest project. Residents of Millington and its outlying communities were proud to have this beautiful park close to home and have enjoyed countless hours of hiking, swimming, fishing, camping, Frisbee golf, horseback riding, canoeing, and other activities there. Control of Shelby Forest, as it is locally known, was given to the State of Tennessee in 1944. It was renamed Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park in 1967 in honor of journalist and conservationist Edward J. Meeman.

  Over the course of the 20th century, Millington welcomed progress. B.L. Howard purchased the fledging Millington Telephone Company in 1928, and his grandchildren recently inherited control over this utility as well as the Millington Cable Company and the Old Timers Restaurant from their father, W.S. “Babe” Howard. The Strand Theatre, opened in 1939, offered second-run movies in its life and now, in its second incarnation, welcomes crowds for live gospel and country music shows. By 1950, the Millington Post Office began door-to-door delivery of the daily mail. During the 1960s and 1970s, favorite pastimes included sipping fountain drinks at the Rexall or watching movies at the Twin Drive-In. The 1980s ushered in the era of Olympic baseball training in Millington at USA Stadium where, since 1990, another favorite event has been the International Goat Days Festival. Annual events such as the Flag City Freedom Celebration, the Mid-South Air Show featuring the Navy’s Blue Angels, the American Legion Fair draw large crowds. Although the closure of Memphis Motorsports Park in 2008 took NASCAR out of the Millington area, the 2011 opening of the Memphis International Raceway in its place offers enthusiasts the thrills of drag racing.

  Today, Millington continues to thrive and prosper. The Millington, Sigler, Jones, Sneed, Armour, Howard, and the other early families continue to branch out of the town’s deep roots. Former military personnel have returned and raised families in Millington. Many have grown up in and around Millington have gone on to fame and fortune and given back graciously to their hometown community. Pop star and actor Justin Timberlake grew up near Shelby Forest, where he recently opened the world-class Mirimichi Golf Course. Singer-songwriters Bobby Whitlock, Myla Smith, and members of the band Kings of Leon grew up in and around Millington. The Reverend Al Green, a gospel singer and pastor at Memphis’ Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, also calls Millington home. Football players Tyrone Calico (Tennessee Titans), Greg Hardy (Carolina Panthers), Ahmaad Galloway (Denver Broncos) and Marlon Barnes (Colorado Buffalos) started their careers at Millington High School Trojans, and the former University of Memphis Tigers defensive back Chris Michaels has returned to his alma mater as head coach of the Millington Trojans. During USA Stadium’s heyday, over 200 major league baseball players trained for Olympic competition over the course of a decade. Millington, as its founding families knew more than a century ago, their descendants continue to appreciate, and newcomers are beginning to realize, is a great place to raise a family. These photographs reflect the way Millington once was and how it has evolved into a fine place, as welcome signs at the city limits invite, to “Come Home” to.

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Millington by Rita Hiltenbrand Hall Images Of America Series



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