Putting neighborhoods on the National Register is an exhaustive, dedicated process. In this special series, the keeper of the Memphis Heritage Historic Properties Catalogue gives us snapshots of some wonderful but lesser-known historic neighborhoods.
St. Paul Avenue Historic District
By John Dulaney
This compact historic district lies just west of Walnut Street, midway between Vance Avenue and Crump Boulevard. From Memphis Heritage’s Historic Properties Catalogue: “St. Paul Avenue Historic District is a small group of two single-family houses and nine double-shotgun duplexes developed along [Boyd Street and] St. Paul Avenue dating between ca. 1890 and ca. 1923.
From St. Paul Avenue’s National Register Nomination:
Just before the turn of the twentieth century in Memphis, Walnut Street and East Street lay at the eastern edges of the incorporated limits of the city, and the residential areas developed near the eastern limit were some of its most fashionable at that time. When its development began after 1888, the St. Paul Historic District was located at the extreme edge of the city. By 1895, the Boyd Street portion of the district was being filled with new houses, but the block of St. Paul and Walnut was not, having been developed with only one house (Polk 1895). It appears that over the next ten years, that this “edge” area of Memphis, like others during its time, was quickly surpassed by newer, more fashionable and less expensive areas for development lying to the east of the district. The “leap- frog” effect left earlier areas still not built-out, as newer areas replaced older ones in the real estate dynamics of the times.
In general terms, the development of single and double shotgun houses as a housing type can be traced to as early as ca. 1865 in Memphis. The double-shotguns developed on St. Paul Avenue are good examples of pattern architecture, in that their general character and floor plans were constant from one pair of units to the next. However, differing treatments of roofs, window sashes, porch configurations and other elements impart variety to individual units of the assemblage. “Individualized” treatments of rental housing was not a standard practice among speculative developers. The developer’s motivation for modifying the architectural treatments from one duplex to the next is not known.
The single and double shotguns exemplify two separate waves of housing development occurring over an approximately 40-year span. The larger houses are good examples of middle-class homes from before ca. 1910. These particular shotgun homes were developed primarily for worker housing [in the early 1920s] when demand superseded single-family use, but exhibit different treatments of roofs, window sashes, porch configurations and other elements that confer unusual variety to the different buildings.
“While many thousands of shotgun houses once stood in Memphis, the municipal initiatives for “slum clearance” and urban renewal have left only a very few of these developments in place, the St. Paul district being one example…”excerpt from the 1998 National Register nomination
St. Paul Avenue Today
The district was listed on the National Register in 1998. In 2018, the City of Memphis designated St. Paul Avenue as a site on the “Memphis Heritage Trail.” (Memphis Heritage Trail) The area also features a community garden, The St. Paul Garden, on a half-acre lot across from Memphis Tilth, at the corner of St. Paul Ave and Walnut St. (St. Paul Garden)
Read more about Memphis’ National Register properties and all of Dulaney’s Districts featured throughout this issue of StoryBoard Memphis.
This article and all of Dulaney’s Districts originally appeared in print Issue X, the August 2019 Neighborhood Issue, front page and pages 12, 23-25.
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