Bulldozers Clear Way for Building on Corner
Audrey West – February 14, 1974
Germantown began to see a change in 1974, beyond the original one-square-mile centered on the Germantown Depot, and beyond the short row of businesses along Poplar on the east side of Germantown Road. Audrey West, a staff writer for the Memphis Press-Scimitar, wrote of the community’s history and the way things were beginning to change.
Germantown old-timers are sadly humming “The Old Gray Mare She Ain’t What She Used To Be” these days.
The “mare” is the quiet little century-old community of Germantown which has evolved into a noise-gusting, bustling metropolis of new construction, subdivision, and prodding traffic.
What makes things more nostalgic is that “The Corner,” the town’s first and only shopping center for so many years, at the northeast corner of Highway 72 and Germantown Road, will be bulldozed at the end of next month. The one-story brick structure, painted pea-green five years ago when First National Bank moved in, will be smashed to rubble so that the bank can construct a million-dollar, two-story office building, some 23,000 square feet of New-Orleans-French styling.
Tenants in the old shopping area must vacate before April 1.
The Corner’s history spans 44 years. Back then the land was an open field with only a thin, rocky road holding the pastureland together like a zipper. This soon became Germantown Road which threaded all Shelby County together from Olive Branch, Miss., to Ellendale.
Then a two-lane road to parallel Old Poplar Pike was laid from Memphis to Collierville. It became Highway 72, and at the intersection, with Germantown Road, three filling stations opened.
A retired bank executive, the late D. Dacus, owned the property on the northeast corner and with a few carpenters built a row of small rooms himself. It latched onto an oil station already there with its sapphire blue roof and trim, and six stores. This was in 1946.
Immediately three young war veterans, still in their brown World War II uniforms, scouted the stores and decided to set out on their shoestrings. Frank Posey organized a drug store. Edgar McHenry opened his hardware store that is in the building today. It was nicknamed McHenry’s. Jamey Maddox began his laundry cleaning enterprise with a boiler in a tin-shack behind McHenry’s.
“We continually worried if the thing would blow up, particularly when it would saturate the place with steam on occasion,” said Maddox. He now owns a successful real estate company.
But in 1946, Germantown had a population of about 250 with city limits of about a quarter of a mile in radius centered around Old Poplar Pike and the new railroad station (re-built after 1947 fire). The new shopping center was outside the limits. In those days, many people still traveled on horseback to the store and in snowstorms by sleigh.
McHenry said that Dacus died, and the estate was offered at $90,000, “but we did not have the money then. That was like a million dollars to us. So, the estate sold the building to First National Bank (1st Horizon – today) and we rented from them. Mine is the oldest business here.”
And McHenry has hardly missed a day of greeting his customers. His gallantry is another symbol of the past. “We are all so sick of the traffic congestion around the Corner,” said Nancy Hoppers Hawkinson. “I was in McHenry’s the other day and commented the traffic was so bad I would never get out.
“But McHenry said, “Yes you will.” He walked out in the middle of all that traffic and trucks, took out his handkerchief, and waved it, making them all stop. I backed out and drove off.” (McHenry was often called upon by the Volunteer Fire Department to go out into Poplar Avenue with his red flag and stop traffic so they could proceed north and south without interruption.)
To this day, McHenry’s carried wood-burning stoves, mule harnesses, coal-oil lamps (which he sold out during the ice storm), and everything from farm equipment and toys to bees and bee supplies. He will move to a new site next to Germantown Laundry.
Posey’s Drug Store graduated from an icebox with dixie cups to a soda fountain, comic books, and cherry soda which were lapped up by the bobby-sox teenagers. This was when Elvis Presley was releasing “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
Dr. Posey always hired the good-looking football players as soda jerks and was the first to get one of those frozen custard machines,” Mrs. Hawkinson recalls.
“This was the hangout. Next door was Hix Pool Hall where the boys lounged. We girls bought more ice cream cones just for an excuse to loiter outside and peer into their activities.”
Posey’s was also the home of the original Germantown Coffee Club. Maddox reminisced that it consisted of Ralph Thompson, Joe Rape, Eason Hoppers, A.P. Foster, McHenry, Posey, and himself.
“Dr. Posey allocated a small area with tables and chairs for the daily coffee club meeting at 7:00 a.m.,” he said. “But the new drug store owners moved it out for more merchandising space. The club has since moved to a tin building behind a filling station across the street (to the west).” The famous club was written up in Time Magazine.
When Guy Cantrell opened his grocery, in the forties, at the end of the line of stores, he hired a hillbilly band and gave an award to the person who had the most children.
“I will never forget Lilly Sugars. She won with 17 kids,” Mrs. Hawkinson said.
Now owned by the Vanucci brothers in its final days, the store has kept its county flavor, stocking everything from strawberries and caviar to Weight Watchers ice cream and rabbit feed.
The brothers have been unsuccessful in finding a new location to hold to their atmosphere.