The Germantown Museum

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In Times Past………..
By Andy Pouncey

For most of us who have repetitiously traveled Poplar Avenue it appears that it has always been there.

In the 50’s and even the 60’s, people traveling eastward to Germantown, from Memphis, and coming upon Ridgeway, would veer to the south near Memphis University School (MUS), cross the railroad at grade, and continue eastward to Germantown. Today you can find a sign in front of MUS that states, from this point west this road is Park Avenue and to the east this road is Poplar Pike. 

Poplar Pike back into the 30’s was carefully watched over by the Poplar Pike Improvement Association, relative to signage and commercial uses, from White Station to Collierville. But Poplar (State Highway 72) as we know it today did not exist until 1937. 

In 1956 the volumes of traffic carried by Poplar Avenue were very low. Highway Patrolman Stuart Dean recommended that the City not install a stop light at its intersection with Germantown Road until more homes are built.

Next year, the City suggested placing a warning light at the beginning of a 30-mph zone on Hwy. 72. The zones were located at Pete Mitchell Road to the east and Germantown Heights Subdivision at Willey Road on the west. The motion to approve MLGW placing the blinking lights at these two locations did not come until ’67 at a cost of $412. The light at Willey Road was removed in 2006.

A year later in 1958, Boyd Arthur got a firm bid ($2200) from MLGW on a stop light at Poplar and Germantown Road. It took until 1960 for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) to approve an automatic, trip stoplight there costing $2,873. Today, signalizing an intersection can cost up to $200,000. 

By 1959 traffic volumes had picked up to the point that the BMA went on record favoring the widening of Poplar Avenue to four (4) lanes from Memphis to Collierville. They waited until ’63 to write the Tennessee Highway Department recommending that additional lanes be constructed for Poplar, at its present location, to make a four-lane highway. In ’65 the City accepted the right-of-way agreement with the State of Tennessee Highway Department in connection with this widening through the City.

By 1962 traffic was increasing to the point that a motion was approved to install “yield-right-of-way, turn right anytime” signs on Germantown Road turning onto Poplar Avenue. The population had doubled from 920 in ’55 to 1,845 in ’65. An increase in population even pushed forward the installation of a two-line, push button, hold control telephone in City Hall. 

And we shouldn’t forget how fire trucks crossed Poplar Avenue north to south. Early on, Edgar McHenry, a local businessman, would receive a call from the Volunteer Fire Department and hustle to the intersection of Poplar and Germantown so he could flag down the traffic going east and west allowing the north-south traffic to flow unimpeded.

This growth came to me all to clearly last week at the Germantown Community Theatre on Forest Hill-Irene. In practice for the play “Germantown Stories” (March 30- April 1), highlighting perspectives of our City through time, we attempted to recreate with people movements through the intersection of Poplar and Germantown Road. Please, just work with me here.

We began, one person at a time, moving slowly through the intersection, observing the stop sign and waving to friends on the street or in cars. Then the traffic light came, played by 8-year old Andrew. We could still delineate our neighbors, raising one hand off the wheel to waive.

Eventually we had such numbers stopping (or not) and the stage became extremely busy. We had to focus on our movements with two hands and there were a few scraped shins. Now we have more lanes, more traffic, more attitudes, changing street names, and 
40, 977 people. With Smart Growth we are talking about the amazing movement of joining Germantown Road to Germantown Road to facilitate traffic and invite pedestrians back to the street. What will these planners come up with next! Shaaaazam! 

My question is, with all this traffic, how does grass continue to grow all summer on the manhole in the middle of the intersection. In all this Mother Nature plays her role. 



apouncey@ci.germantown.tn.us

Poplar Av / Germantown Road

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