text by Nicole Huguley
Need some relief from the hustle and bustle of downtown city life? Look no further than the historic city of Germantown, located just 20 miles away from the heart of Memphis.
A short drive eastward will lead you to a city rife with character and charm that offers visitors a wide array of special events and activities that appeal to all ages. More than that, though, Germantown could be the perfect place to retire or raise a family. In the words of Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy, the city offers “residential character not only in its neighborhoods, but also in the design and streetscape of its business districts and public spaces.” She sees Germantown as far more than a “bedroom” community, as it provides a full range of municipal services and a strong local governance. Its location on the east edge of Memphis gives residents of both cities a convenient way to enjoy each other’s amenities, employment opportunities, shopping and dining.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Germantown’s long history involves a woman named Miss Francis Wright, who established a commune named Nashoba Plantation in 1825 on the present-day site of the city. Nashoba was a utopian experiment that served as a home for free slaves in the vicinity of the current Riverdale Road. Eventually, the commune encountered increasing financial difficulty and was shut down in 1828. Soon after it was resettled and converted into a tiny town that eventually became the city of Germantown, named after the surveyor N.T. German. During World War I, Army troop trains passing through the city treated it with contempt due to strong anti-German sentiment, thus the name was briefly changed to Neshoba (an Indian word meaning wolf) in 1917.
Landmarks of this long history may be found throughout the city, and many historic buildings remain open for public use. Germantown Presbyterian Church’s original building, built in 1851, is the oldest public structure in the city, having avoided the wrath of the Union occupation during the Civil War. The old Baptist church, built in 1870 as replacement for one burned during the war, is currently slated for restoration. In 1873, Germantown opened its first railway station; it serviced the Metropolitan Branch of the B&O Railroad. The station building that remains open today, a replacement for the original which burned, dates to the 1940s. McVay Cemetery contains the graves of residents from the 1800s. Fort Germantown, a Civil War earthworks defense along the rail line, is a city park. Visitors could spend an entire day touring these sites and learning about the history of Germantown.
Dynamic growth in the 1970s and 1980s pushed Germantown from its state as a small hamlet to a city, 20 square miles in size, replete with its own performing arts center, athletic center, a highly-ranked library, and 700 acres of parks, playing fields and greenways. “Nevertheless,” explains Goldsworthy, “the city has retained a sense of community, relying on numerous events such as the Family Fourth of July, Germantown Festival, holiday parade and tree lighting and more. Germantown brings friends, neighbors and visitors together.”
In addition to all of these impressive developments, in time the city has become a significant center for medical care in Shelby County, home to Methodist LeBonheur Hospital Germantown, Baptist Rehabilitation Center, Campbell Clinic Orthopaedics, numerous other large clinics, and hundreds of physicians’ offices. A 46-bed Baptist Rehabilitation Hospital is under construction in the Wolf River Boulevard corridor.
Itching to blow off some steam with a shopping day? Hundreds of ambitious, innovative business owners have found optimal locations for their stores within the picturesque shopping centers of Germantown. Owners and renovators are expanding the business streetscape with several new retail outlets as they work to redevelop preexisting ones, opening a plethora of shopping opportunities. Germantown has slated Saddle Creek South, a highly popular outlet mall, for partial reconstruction, alignment and connection with its neighbor, Saddle Creek West. Whole Foods Market is placing a new store on Poplar Avenue near Exeter Road. Memphis’ well-loved burger joint, Huey’s, is opening a new location at Germantown Plaza. Kroger is expected to announce plans soon for reconstruction of its Germantown store. Soon, Lettuce Eat, a fast casual restaurant that specializes in salads and wraps, is coming to Carrefour Shopping Center on Poplar. You won’t want to miss out on these fabulous new opportunities!
Who doesn’t love spending time outside in the warm weather with friends and family? Pull out those spring dresses and floppy sun hats because Germantown’s annual Charity Horse Show kicks off in early June this year. The event has roots in the Oak Grove Hunt and Civic Clubs, who organized a show for their own participation and enjoyment in 1948. Its initial success and growth led to the creation and development of the Germantown Charity Horse Show arena and grounds on Poplar Pike. According to the mayor, it is “one of the larger all-breed, all-class events on the equestrian competitive circuit, attracting between 700 and 800 entries and exhibitors each year.” The five-day show is a fantastic event for horse lovers and community members alike, as it showcases fine mounts and extraordinary riders in a relaxed social setting. The GCHS Association oversees promotion and production and many volunteers offer support. A queen and court of princesses are presented each March at a Royal Ball. During the show, they assist with presentations and other duties. This organized gathering of residents, friends and horse lovers helps to strengthen community bonds through a group effort to raise money for the featured Charity of the Year.
Another huge fundraiser sponsored by the city of Germantown hits the streets on Sunday, March 16. The 16th annual Germantown Half Marathon and the 29th annual Mayor’s Cup 5K kick off at the same time, bright and early at 7:30 a.m. Both race courses take participants through the lovely rolling hills and scenic areas of Germantown. Those who haven’t spent months trainingare welcome to participate as walkers in either race. Register online at www.germantownhalfmarathon.com. On Saturday March 15, race officials and organizers will host the Sports & Fitness Expo for registration and packet pickup at Germantown Athletic Club. Running and fitness vendors will be on hand with nutrition, apparel and other active lifestyle products. The races are presented by Campbell Clinic Orthopedics and supported by Germantown Parks and Recreation, and proceeds benefit the Special Olympics Organization.
With its long history, continued growth and development, and proactive dedication to charity, it’s no wonder that Germantown was recently named one of “America’s Best Suburbs” by Movoto Real Estate. The criteria for this award included very high ratings for education, good opportunities for employment, and a low crime rate (Germantown’s crime rate is 59 percent lower than the national average).
The ratings bring positive attention to the city. Goldsworthy views the award as a confirmation of what she already knew about the exquisite city, but adds that the citizens’ viewpoints matter most. “In the end,” she says, “the opinion that counts is the one held by the people who live, work, play and visit Germantown.”
So when the moment arises, take the opportunity to visit Germantown and engage in the charismatic community that holds the city together. As a place that is constantly in flux, you’re bound to discover something new upon every return.