German immigrant establishes Bartlett family legacy

The Avery George Warner Home, 1901.
This 1901 image of the Avery George Warner Home shows Warner’s daughter, Annie Warner Tress, and granddaughter, Mary Tress. (Click photo to enlarge.)

Editor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history in honor of its 150th anniversary this year.

Bartlett-Sesq-logo-SMALL-WEFrederick (Fred) Ludwig Warner was born Feb. 14, 1835, in Stuttgart, Germany, and as a young man he immigrated to the U.S. and made his way to Memphis. He worked as a merchant and on April 7, 1859, married Matilda Young, who was of German descent and was born on July 1, 1843, in Johnstown, Penn. At the outset of the Civil War he enlisted in the Confederate Army, but he left the service, taking allegiance to the United States. He came back to Memphis and was appointed tax collector of Memphis in July 1864, a position he held for several years. Having established his reputation in the city, he was instrumental in establishing the German Savings Bank, where he was head bookkeeper. During this time his four children were born: Annie Caroline, Jan. 9, 1860; Fred John, Aug. 7, 1862; Emma Withelmina, Oct. 17, 1864; and Ludwig Joseph, Oct. 27, 1867.

In 1867 Fred moved his family to a 152-acre farm at Cedar Grove. In an arrangement with his brother, Ferdinand Louis Warner, the farm was conveyed to Matilda Warner in trust to her and her children in February 1873, assuring that the farm would not be take away from them for any future indebtedness the head of the family might incur, a practice of the time. On this land a large two-story home was built, and shortly afterward two more children were born: Lillie Mary on March 4, 1871, and Avery Joseph George on Jan. 31, 1874.

On Feb. 21, 1875, Fred died in his sleep. His obituary read: “He was employed as bookkeeper for Hadden & Avery and attended to duties of his position up to the morning before his unexpected death. … Few men possessed in the same degree, all qualities of heart and head which characterized Mr. Warner, making him a correct business man, a warm genial companion and true friend. His circle of acquaintances, both business and social, was large and his death will be deeply felt in the community. Mr. Warner was 39 years of age and leaves a wife and five children.” His funeral was held at the home of his brother, F. Louis Warner, 32 Second Street, with burial in Elmwood Cemetery.

Matilda Warner continued to raise their five children on the farm, and she sold real estate in Bartlett. On Nov. 27, 1889, she married James Monroe Shelby, a traveling salesman. She moved with him and her children to Memphis but kept the farm for her children. She ran a boarding house on Third Street for many years and later on East Court Street, where she died on Jan. 20, 1911. The oldest child, Annie Caroline (1860-1938), was nicknamed Mamie, and she married Felix Truss and raised her family in Memphis. Fred John Warner (1862-1935) established a hardware business in Bartlett in 1883, which he moved to Memphis in 1898. He continued in the hardware business for many years.

Avery George Warner, the youngest child of Fred and Matilda Warner, acquired the farm at Cedar Grove, where he lived until his death. He married and had children but specific information is not available on them, except from his obituary. His wife, Jennie Williams Warner, died in 1952. He had two sons, A.G. Warner Jr. of Bartlett and Lynn Warner of Bolivar, and two daughters, Mrs. H.L. Perry and Mrs. Clyde Wade, both of Bartlett. Avery Warner worked for the railroads, beginning in 1895 as a fireman for three years and becoming an engineer in 1898. He served until his retirement in 1944. During his career he worked for the Newport News & Mississippi Valley Railroad, the Gulf & Ship Island Railroad, the Cincinnati Railroad, the New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railroad, the ‘Frisco Railroad and the Federal Barge Lines. In 1953 he received his gold button from the Grand Lodge Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and was a member of the NARCE and NARVE, retired Railroad men’s groups. In 1963 he received his 60-year pin from the Brotherhood.

His nickname was “Rabbit,” and many people thought it was because he loved to hunt rabbits, but it came about when he was on a run from Paducah: They were running late and he had to get the train from Millington to Woodstock in a hurry. The conductor told the dispatcher that Mr. Warner “ran that train like a rabbit,” and from then on he was known as Rabbit.

Warner’s claim to fame was that he was the engineer who brought the famed Illinois Central Cannonball Express 382 from Cairo, Ill., to the Poplar Street State and turned the throttle over to John Luther (Casey) Jones. That was April 29, 1900, and Casey was killed that same night when the locomotive crashed into a freight at Vaughan, Miss. — his death and story composed in a song that made him a legend.

Active in retirement, Avery George Warner enjoyed hunting, mostly rabbits and birds on his farm almost every day of the season, and was also known locally as an industrious man. He and his family attended St. Ann Catholic Church in Bartlett. He died on April 22, 1967, at the age of 93. He lived with his daughter, Mrs. H.L. Perry, and family in the old family home at Cedar Grove (5411 Raleigh-LaGrange Road) and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

The Warner home on Raleigh-LaGrange Road was about six-tenths of a mile west of the intersection of this road with Sycamore View Road. It was sold and demolished in 1969, and Gloria Dei Lutheran Church now occupies the site.

His son, Avery G. Warner Jr. (1905-1976), lived in Bartlett and was most likely born in the family home on Raleigh-LaGrange Road. He was the superintendent of the water department in Bartlett for many years and served an alderman for several terms. The water treatment plant was named for him in 1973.

A picture of Matilda Young Warner Shelby hangs in the parlor of the at the Bartlett Museum/Gotten House (2969 Court Street).

Written by Suzanne Griffith Coleman of the Bartlett Historical Society, special to the Express.