Monday, August 30, 2010

Memories of "Monkey Mountain"

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 at 2:30 PM

In the July issue of Memphis magazine, I wrote about the "neighborhood of the future" that was to be constructed in the area of East Memphis bounded by Park, White Station, Estate, and Quince. Perhaps "Country Club Estates" was ahead of its time, but such a concept never left the drawing board. Developers eventually constructed Sea Isle School and lots of nice homes instead, but one large area in particular — several acres just to the northeast of the school property — was left wild and undeveloped for years.

Everyone called it "Monkey Mountain."

Today, it's a nicely manicured park with soccer fields and a walking path. But in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this area was a vast wasteland, rutted with deep ravines and vine-covered trees. Naturally, it was a magnet for any child living in the neighborhood, who could play "army" or Tarzan or anything they wanted in this jungle. Not too long ago, I made a rare public appearance before the Sea Isle Park Neighborhood Association, and my visit prompted long-ago memories of just what, exactly, Monkey Mountain actually was.

Danny Milam, whose family lived in the area in the 1950s and '60s, remembers it this way:
"I read with interest your article in the July edition, "Estate Planning." I lived in that area when I was young (on White Station Road, just north of Sea Isle Road) and never knew about the grand plans for the area. Pity it never came to fruition. It would have been cool.

"But then again, if it had, my family probably couldn't have afforded to live there.

"The undeveloped area around Sea Isle School was enormous. Even with the development of a park with a lighted baseball field, there was still a hefty tract of unimproved acreage that just sat there for years. In the area slightly northeast of where a lake was proposed was an odd land formation featuring many deep rills and ditches that couldn't be explained. If it had been on a steep hill, one could understand all the rills and crevasses, but it was flat. (This is Memphis, after all.) Now that I've read your article, I wonder if perhaps some preliminary earthwork was done and then abandoned when the grandiose plans for Country Club Estates fell through.

[It IS possible, I suppose, that this "land formation" was leftover fill from the developers scooping out the lake proposed for the area. — Vance]

"It looked like an area used for WWI-era trench warfare. In fact, that's how we used it, employing dirt clods instead of rifles to fend off the enemy combatants. Yes, the ditches were deep enough to crouch in and seek cover from an assault.

"Everyone in the neighborhood called this tract of odd topography "Monkey Mountains." No one knew how it got that name, or why, because there was certainly nothing there that brought up images of mountains. A better name would have been "Monkey Canyon." 

Another fellow from the neighborhood — perhaps a victim of Danny Milam's dirt-clod battles — was Tommy Crawford, who sent these memories along:
"I remember Monkey Mountain very well. It got its name from the monkey mountain at the zoo. It was just a high hill there at Sea Isle and Estate. Kids would flock from everywhere to play on it. This also added to the name; kids looked like a bunch of monkeys running up and down it. There were large trees with natural vine swings. With the Tarzan movies being very popular, you could hear Tarzan and Cheetah all throughout the woods.

"Also, the whole area, which is now a park, was full of huge erosion ditches 10 to 20 feet deep; we would run in those ditches forever. So the whole area was a natural playground for all of us in the neighborhood during the '50s. Then came progress, and everything was leveled and Monkey Mountain was no more. But I still remember and comment about it every once in a while to the folks that live here in the area today. God, I'm getting old now. They are very happy memories, and the dirt-clod fights got kind of rough at times, too."

Thanks for the memories and descriptions, Danny and Tommy.
Now: where are some PHOTOS of this place?

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