Broad Avenue was originally the main street of Binghampton – a small railroad town outside of Memphis – chartered in 1895. In 1919, the town was annexed by Memphis, and the following decades saw Broad gradually fall into disrepair.
The town of Binghampton was founded by William H. Bingham. He emigrated from Ireland to Shelby County around 1860 at the age of 23. He built a career in the hotel business in downtown Memphis, including the role of manager of the John Gaston Hotel. But by by 1890, he had tired of the hotel business and moved east of the city to what was considered farming country at the time. The village of Binghampton soon grew up around his farm, and Bingham became its first mayor.
By the turn of the century, Binghampton had become a thriving blue-collar town, with the lumber industry and railroads at its core. The town had its own mayor, water system, police, weekly newspaper (The Binghampton News), hotel (The Binghampton Hotel), and school (Lawler, where Binghampton Park is today). The Binghampton Light & Power Company had its own power plant and a growing business district on Broad Avenue. In 1919, Binghampton was annexed by the City of Memphis.
In the mid-2000s, various efforts were organized to bring the street back into use. From 2007 to 2012, the street became a vibrant arts district as local businesses began to occupy the then-vacant storefronts.
Over the years, numerous nationally acclaimed musicians have called Binghampton home. Robert “Honeymoon” Garner (WDIA disc jockey and musician in the 1050s and 60s), Theo “Bless My Bones” Wade (gospel music disc jockey and producer in the 1960s), Johnny Cash (country music singer and composer, considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th Century), and Lecrae (Grammy award winning gospel rap musician) all lived in the community for a period of time during their adult life. However, Memphis Slim (born Peter Chatman II, 1915 – 1988) spent his childhood in Binghampton. He attended Lester High School, where he played the bass in the school band. Memphis Slim was an American blues pianist, singer, and composer. He led a series of bands that, reflecting the popular appeal of jump blues, included saxophones, bass, drums, and piano. A song he first cut in 1947, "Every Day I Have the Blues," has become a blues standard, recorded by many other artists. He made over 500 recordings and was named America’s Ambassador at Large for Goodwill by the US Senate.
Scott Street Farmers’ Market
The Scott Street Farmers’ Market was Memphis’ first outdoor farmers’ market, selling “the freshest and best quality” produce directly to shoppers for 64 years. The Shelby County Growers’ Association (SCGA) was chartered in 1934 and operated as a cooperative market of 500 growers. Originally located in downtown Memphis at Washington Avenue and High Street, the SCGA relocated to Binghampton in the early 1950s and remained on Scott Street until the market closed in 1999. During the growing season of 1975, 78,000 vehicles came to the Scott Street Farmers' Market with customers looking for fresh, healthy food. The fingers of many children in Binghampton turned purple every summer as they shelled purple hull peas for their mothers and grandmothers.
Binghampton Civic League
African American civic leagues (often called “clubs”) took root in Memphis during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Of the numerous clubs founded in Memphis during this time, the Binghampton Civic League is most often cited as the group on the forefront of creating change in the city of Memphis. On October 13, 1958, two members of the Binghampton Civic League, Tarlease Matthews and her friend Anna Williams were ejected from the Overton Park Zoo for being there on a day when blacks were not allowed. Two years later, the Zoo, Fairgrounds, Brooks Museum and other publicly funded institutions were fully integrated. During this period of civil rights advancement, O. Z. Evers (1925–2001) served as the Club’s president and is often credited for being the galvanizing force within Binghampton. In addition to integrating the Zoo, Mr. Evers successfully sued Greyhound and Continental Bus Lines, forcing the removal of segregation signs at the Memphis bus terminal, and helped organize a labor union for the sanitation workers in 1958. Ten years later, the sanitation workers’ strike would become a pivotal moment in Memphis history.
The Role of Transportation
The role of transportation has be a catalyst for growth and change in the Binghampton community.
The community of Binghampton grew thanks to Litchfield Car Works, which opened in 1893. The factory built boxcars and electric streetcars from oak and pine and converted mule-drawn cars to electric cars. The owner of the Car Works factory changed several times during its history; however, it was the main source of employment for the community – employing more than 3,000. The factory ceased operations in 1929 due to the economic depression and the switch to metal boxcars.
Electric Street Cars
Opened in 1892, the Raleigh Springs Electric Line started in the Overton Park area and followed the New Raleigh Road (now Broad Avenue) through Binghampton, finally ending in the community of Raleigh Springs.
Both L&N (Louisville & Nashville Railway, now CSX) and IC (Illinois Central Railroad, now Canadian National Railway) built railroad tracks through Binghampton (crossing Broad Avenue) in the early 1900s. In 1914, the L&N Railroad Station was built as a passenger and freight depot. During WWI, the Station provided area Doughboys their connection to the northern bound trains and WWI duty. Over 100 years later, the IC/CN track remains a primary north/south route. The amount of cargo carried over these tracks rivals only the Mississippi River for north/south passage.
Automobiles and the US Interstate System
Just as transportation was the engine for growth of Binghampton, it also almost destroyed the community. In 1970, the community was split in two as the right of way for Interstate 40 was cleared. Two hundred Binghampton residents were displaced. After a ten-year legal battle, the US Supreme Court redirected the build away from the area.
Bicycles are knitting Binghampton back together – reconnecting a community that automobiles split apart. Flanked by the Shelby Farms Greenline (opened 2010) on the east and Overton Park on the west, the Overton Broad Connector (OBC) was proposed as a link for bicycle riders seeking to take advantage of these cultural assets. Now known as The Hampline, connector’s design – on street, protected bike lanes – is recognized nationally for incorporating innovative, best-in-class design.