East Buntyn Historic District Neighborhood
East Buntyn is a well-defined and compact neighborhood bounded by Greer Street, Central Avenue, Highland Street, and Southern Avenue. The neighborhood is located just west of the main University of Memphis campus.
Naming the Neighborhood
The neighborhood’s name comes from Geraldus Buntyn, a North Carolina veteran of the War of 1812. Buntyn was commissioned as a naval ensign and served in the Carolinas before being honorably discharged in 1815. After the war, he received a federal land grant of 160 acres in the western Tennessee frontier outside of the newly founded city of Memphis. He acquired additional acreage and established a large corn and cotton plantation, which was worked by over 50 enslaved peoples. He was on the board of at least two schools, an incorporator of the first University of Memphis, and a founder of First Baptist Church.
Two decades later, the Memphis & La Grange Railroad, one of the first railroad companies in the city, built a six mile rail line that cut through Buntyn’s property on the way to Germantown. The first stop was located near his house. The company folded a few years later, partially due to the national economic panic of 1837. Subsequently, the Memphis & Charleston Railroad received a state charter in 1845 with the provision that they purchase the previous railroad’s property.
Buntyn died in 1865 and willed over half of his land to his children. The remaining 520 acres belonged to his wife until she passed away the following year. This land was then subdivided and ultimately developed as neighborhoods and, in 1905, the Memphis Country Club. Southern Railway (created from a merger of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad with other railroads in 1894) maintained a passenger station at the corner of Southern Avenue and Semmes Street, which they appropriately named Buntyn’s Station. A community grew up around the station. As the city expanded east, commuters used the train for quick transportation from the suburbs into downtown. The rail station closed in the 1960s.
Laying out the Neighborhood
One of the first developed portions of East Buntyn was Overland Place. In November 1912, the Brennan Real Estate Company subdivided the area into one street with 39 lots. Owner Harry Brennan was a local real estate developer known by friends as “an enthusiastic Memphian” who also developed the Red Acres subdivision to the north of East Buntyn. According to former Memphis city planner Josh Whitehead, Overland Place was one of the first privately developed streets in Memphis with a median. St. John’s Episcopal Church has developed many of the plots on the north side of Overland.
In 1914, the “Country Club Place Subdivision” featured 100-foot and 50-foot lots for purchase. Since the neighborhood was outside city limits, residents did not pay city taxes until the 1929 annexation. Most of the neighborhood’s 100-foot lots have been subdivided with new construction built next to the original homes. The lots are also deep, which allows for some “pushback” homes, which are placed toward the rear of their lots.
On a 1929 map of the city, Ellsworth Street is listed as Peachtree. According to retired Shelby County historian Jimmy Ogle, the name was changed to Ellsworth in honor of E.K. Ellsworth, a representative of the U.S. Census Bureau. In 1929, Memphis annexed property to the east of the city limits, which extended the city’s reach to Goodlett. This annexation added Buntyn and Normal Station neighborhoods to the city and made Memphis’s population climb. Ellsworth supervised the census count, and certified Memphis’s population at 253,132, which increased the city’s eligibility for federal funds. Memphians thanked Ellsworth by giving him a watch and a parade, as well as renaming Peachtree Street in his honor. The same map shows Madeline Street, where Holmes Street runs today.
Ellsworth Place, a new, 22-lot development is under construction on the north side of Ellsworth Street. It backs up to the recent Highland Row mixed-use development that fronts Highland Avenue.
National Register of Historic Places
The Boyce-Gregg House
Anchoring the corner of Central Avenue and Highland Street is a monumental Italian-Mediterranean residence. In March 1919, C.R. Boyce, a local cotton buyer, purchased six lots at the corner and hired the firm Jones and Furbringer, Architects to build a residence suitable for an affluent cotton man. Boyce had offices in Memphis, New York, Lima, Peru, and Manchester, England. While workers constructed the house, he purchased downtown’s McCall Building.
Russell C. Gregg, territory manager of Clayton, Anderson, and Company, one of the world’s largest cotton firms, purchased the house in June 1936. During his family’s residency, many prominent social events took place there. In June 1978, Clarence C. Day purchased the house and grounds to adaptively reuse as the headquarters for his company. The National Register of Historic Places listed the Boyce-Gregg House in 1979 because of its local architectural significance. In 1991, the Junior League of Memphis purchased the home and continues to use it as a headquarters and as their Community Resource Center.
The neighborhood became the East Buntyn Historic District when the National Register of Historic Places listed the neighborhood in 1995. To qualify for the register, properties and districts must be able to demonstrate a historical or architectural significance. In the case of East Buntyn, the properties within the district are “a cohesive collection of 20th century residential architecture embodying the range and diversity of housing [types] that emerged during the period between 1920 and 1945.” These housing styles include Craftsman, Bungalow, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Minimal/Traditional and Ranch. Many of the houses are airplane bungalows: two-story homes with second floors that look like the cockpit of an old airplane. Of the 683 buildings in the neighborhood at the time, 599 were identified as contributing to the unified architectural style of the neighborhood. As the application states, the neighborhood has an overall consistency of specific styles and building materials that represents suburban America prior to the end of World War II.
Caroline Mitchell Carrico is a native Memphian and, as a historian by training, she enjoys researching the city’s past and pulling it into the present. When she isn’t reading and writing, she can often be found cheering on her kids’ soccer teams.