By Laura Fenton
Sidewalks, buildings, street signs and railroad tracks can’t tell their story – but
Jimmy Ogle can.
During four walking tours and one lecture in September, Ogle (BS ’80) described these
and other lesser-known history of the southwest and southeast neighborhoods surrounding
the University, plus historical nuggets about the U of M campus.
“The stuff you don’t think about, like the sidewalk stamps or the fire hydrants, he
brings that to light,” said tour participant Chris Greganti. “It’s something you wouldn’t
think to learn about.”
The programs are part of the University Libraries’ “Know Your Neighborhood” event
to highlight the history of the U of M during the University’s centennial celebration.
Ogle’s enthusiasm for history is infectious. Even the history of manhole covers is
interesting when Ogle describes it. His fervor doesn’t stop when the tours end. He’s
always learning, talking to locals at neighborhood meetings and snapping pictures
of things to research.
On one of the tours, Ogle stopped traffic on Walker Avenue as he was about to take
a picture of a square manhole cover. The drivers watched with perplexed expressions,
but that didn’t stop Ogle, who is also known for his manhole-cover tours of downtown
As he continued describing Walker Avenue, he pointed to the crape myrtle trees lining
the railroad tracks, stating that 219 of those trees are along the tracks. Also, along
the southwest corner of Patterson and Walker near the tracks is where the President’s
Mansion was once located, Ogle said.
In this area behind Patterson Hall, the sidewalks have a story. Before pouring any
sidewalks for the interior of this area of campus, administrators allowed students
to walk along the grass to cut to class. Once there were worn footpaths in the grass,
the sidewalks were designed in those directions. This is why the sidewalks are not
in straight lines.
Several names of streets are also in honor of past U of M presidents, such as Mynders
Street for Seymour A. Mynders and Brister Street for John W. Brister.
Ogle leads dozens of Memphis area walking tours and lectures each year. This is the second year he has visited the U of M for neighborhood tours. He will
continue researching the history of the U of M neighborhoods because he believes the
University is an important factor for the development of the area.
“Whether it was West Tennessee State Normal College, West Tennessee State Teachers
College, Memphis State College or the University of Memphis, a lot has happened,”
Ogle said. “The city has grown up around this University.”
The Memphis city limits were not extended to the U of M until 1929, 17 years after
the school’s opening.
Ogle is also researching the history of the 12 churches around the U of M. These will
be the theme of a presentation in January.
“Boy, he sure knows a lot of stuff,” said Bob Boone, retired U of M director of financial
aid. “Jimmy’s got a pretty good handle on most everything that’s going on around here.
It fills in some gaps that have been in your mind for a long time.”
To listen to Ogle or join him on a tour, visit http://www.jimmyogle.com/main.htm for upcoming dates for walking tours and presentations. All events explore the history
of Memphis, Shelby County and the Mississippi River.