Repeating History 

Circa-1890s Greenlaw cottages.

William and Oliver Greenlaw arrived in Memphis in the early days of the city's growth. They built open-air markets, one on Beale at Fourth, the other at the north end of town on Poplar. By 1849 they were assembling land north of the Bayou Gayoso and by 1856 had laid out a 30-block subdivision with cobbled streets, granite curbs, and sycamore trees.

The area prospered. Sawmills, brickyards, and breweries were built along the banks of the Wolf River and close to barge traffic into town. To the east, larger homes sat on prominent corner locations. Smaller duplexes filled in the blocks, and shotguns sat close together on the alleyways. The largest homes were clustered along Seventh Street, which still follows the line of an original Indian trail running north. Seventh Street (originally called High Street) had the only bridge across the bayou connecting Greenlaw to Memphis until the Front Street bridge was built in 1867.

During the Yellow Fever years Greenlaw and the more northern suburb of Chelsea considered seceding and forming their own city. In 1887 the first wells tapped into the artesian water supply below the city and made mosquito-rich cisterns unnecessary. With the advent of a modern water system, population grew. The last two decades of the 19th century were the big building years for Greenlaw.

George Love built a grand home at 619 North Seventh Street in 1888. It stands today and is now home to the city's Center for Neighborhoods. Love built and bought a lot of property in Greenlaw over the years. Four of the houses he once owned facing North Sixth Street, circa 1890, have recently been renovated by Memphis Heritage, the city's only preservation nonprofit. Two have been sold and two are still available.

Federal and city funds contributing to their renovation require that these homes go to first-time homebuyers who make less than 80 percent of the city's median income. That means a single person can make no more than $31,550, whereas a family of three can make as much as $40,550.

These homes still evoke the gracious 19th-century style of Memphis' early subdivisions. Twelve-foot ceilings and eight-foot doors with transoms above were retained. The houses were gutted, rewired, repiped, and fully insulated. Central heat and air, telephone cables, and security were installed. The grand front parlors are intact, although the original fireplaces were regretfully lost. Just restoring a mantel to its original location would add a lot to these rooms. New baths and kitchens were installed, with the kitchens open to a back gathering room for easy living. Bedrooms have generous walk-in closets.

These houses sit close together, showing how Greenlaw's density resembled that of New Orleans and resembles neotraditional plans like Harbor Town located just across the Wolf River Basin. The "Uptown" initiative will bring new homes to Greenlaw and lead to even more renovation of original buildings. As downtown fills with lofts for living and entertainment, Greenlaw seems once again poised to be the "renewed" subdivision just north of downtown.

612 and 622 North Sixth Street

1,320 square feet, 2 bedrooms, 1 bath; $55,900

Realtor: Sowell & Company, 278-4380

Agent: Steve Solomon

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