Raleigh’s cool, clear water drew visitors

Editor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history in honor of its 150th anniversary this year. This is the second section of a two-part article looking at the roots of Raleigh, Tenn.; see the first section of the two-part article here.

Bartlett-Sesq-logo-SMALL-WEOne of the major reasons the first settlers decided to make their homes in Raleigh was the supply of water. It bubbled out of the dry ground, fresh and uncontaminated, and it seemed a miracle. They built their homes around spring houses, which provided water for the family and livestock.

According to a popular legend, a family was traveling by wagon train from Virginia to Texas, camped for the night bedside one of the springs. They waited quietly for the death of their baby, who was so ill that they could not travel further. To their surprise the baby recovered after drinking water from the spring.

When the family left, they carried a bottle of water with them and joyfully reported it as having a miraculous healing quality. The spring became known as “Baby Spring,” and water from it was bottled and sold in Memphis as late as 1905 for the treatment of colitis.

Baby Springs was only one of four springs in a single ravine and there were many others, even larger, in other spring hollows. The Laughlin and Goodwin Springs were notable, and father west was the famous Duffy Spring.

The first of the springs to actually be promoted was the one in Tapp’s Hole. Unlike the others hidden away in shady hollows, this one was highly visible, running through the gravel erosion of the ravine directly into Wolf River.

In 1842 David Coleman developed a spa with the construction of several hotels “to accommodate guests, who came heeding the advice of physicians in the day when it was fashionable to regain one’s health at watering places.”

The spring fell out of favor for a while after it was discovered that it was more convenient to buy mineral prescriptions at a local drugstore.

Transportation and growth

The Memphis and Raleigh Railroad offered passenger service in the 1870s. One round trip ticket to Memphis was 80 cents and service was scheduled three times a day, but as the years went by there was nothing better to take its place. Raleigh’s surrounding hills didn’t deter river traffic, but they proved to be a big hurdle to railway engineers. The developing railroads shied away, one to the north and three to the south.

The early 1890s brought prosperity to Raleigh once more. “The Tobacco King” W. Duke of Durham, N.C., built the Raleigh Inn, a handsome resort hotel near the springs, along with an electric car line from Memphis to the inn. The Inn was on what is now James Road. It was three stories high with turrets, balconies and long verandas for strolling visitor.

Walks led down steps to the springs, which were enhanced with gazebos, each having different décor. Orchestras played on weekends, dancers flocked to the grand ballroom and the Raleigh Inn became the place to be. But summer watering
places were again declining in popularity, and with the development of artesian wells in Memphis the end came to the craving for spring water.

In 1903 the Raleigh Inn closed and the building was sold. It operated as Maddox Seminary for Young Ladies for several years and then turned into the James Sanatorium. Fire destroyed it in May 1912. The last of the springs dried up when the county sank wells in the area in the 1950s.

Personal remembrances

Phyllis DeShazo, who has lived the majority of her life in Raleigh, recalls her life there. She moved to Raleigh in 1943 with her parents and two sisters when she was six years old. Her father, a Methodist preacher, had had a stroke and was incapacitated, compelling her mother to work. Their friends in Raleigh, Mr. and Mrs. R.L. Belcher, gave her mother a job in their small grocery store.

Raleigh itself was very small. There were three grocery stores, Raleigh Feed (where her mother worked), Mr. Taylor’s store on Stage and L.D. Gorden’s store on James Road. There were three churches, the Methodist Church on East Road (now moved to Powers Road and still serving the community), the Christian Church (now a motel) on Austin Peay and the Baptist Church (the building is no longer there), which was next to the Christian Church.

There were two garages/service stations, a blacksmith shop and The Stand, which sold hamburgers. Jaybird Park was on James and had swings where they would play. The children swam in the Wolf River, where there was a beach left from the hotel, and the river was clean in those days. When they went to Memphis they rode the yellow bus that traveled to the outlying areas.
Phyllis attended J.M. Coleman School through eighth grade and then attended Bartlett High School, which served the entire area. She went on to Lambeth College and majored in music. She came home and taught music at Coleman and Scenic Hills schools and gave piano lessons at home.

After several years she earned her teaching certificate and became a librarian, working for Shelby County Schools. She attended the Methodist Church where she sang in the choir, played the piano, taught Sunday School and was involved the Women’s Society.

The DeShazo family lived in the old store until 1947, when the mother (Mary) bought the old Scheibler home. In the early 1950s she built a grocery store and then in 1959 built a larger building next door, opening a Big Star grocery. Her niece, Ruby, opened Ruby’s Dress Shop opened in the old space. Mary ran the grocery store, and her cousin (Bill DeShazo) worked there many years.

They delivered groceries, feed and hay to the whole area. The store closed in 1967 when both Mary and Bill retired. Ruby’s continued in business into the 1980s and was very popular.

Probably the oldest continuing business in Raleigh is the Raleigh Feed Store on Stage Road just east of Austin Peay. Mr. Taylor opened it in the 1940s and at some point sold it to Harold Kathy. Charles R. (Bob) Lewis bought it in 1963.

In 1969 Stage Road was widened and the store had to be torn down. The building directly behind the old store contained a pool hall and race car track, and it remained. Lewis bought it and turned it into a feed store. His son, Scott Lewis, grew up helping there and now owns and operates the store.

Scott said he has seen a lot of changes through the years. In the 1960s and ’70s, they delivered feed and hay to dairies and to chicken, hog and cattle farms throughout the area. In the 1980s and ’90s it was a horse market, and today it is primarily a pet feed store. He calls it “pit bull heaven.”

He talked about all the changes Raleigh has gone through and how they have had to change with the times. He said he is making a living out of the store, has a good mixture of customers and enjoys what he does.

The first bank in Raleigh was Peoples Bank on James Road. In the late 1950s and early ’60s Raleigh seemed to boom. Subdivisions were popping up everywhere. The first subdivision was Lake Windermere and then Raleigh-Bartlett Meadows, followed by many more.

Businesses followed the residential growth, and in 1971 Raleigh Springs Mall opened as the community’s commercial center and one of the first large malls in Memphis. Several smaller shopping centers grew up around the mall along Austin Peay, and in 1978 Methodist Hospital North opened and has expanded several times since then.

Memphis annexed Raleigh in January 1973, and today the 38128 ZIP code designates its boundaries. During the 1990s and 2000s Raleigh has declined, but Memphis has proposed a plan to revitalize Raleigh Springs as a civic center to include a police substation, library and skate park.

Raleigh residents are proud of their community and continue to work to improve it.

Sources: “I Remember Raleigh” by M. Winslow Chapman; “Raleigh Ruins” by Vance Lauderdale in Memphis Magazine, May 2007; and interviews with Phyllis DeShazo and Scott Lewis.

Written by Suzanne Griffith Coleman, special to the Express.