Town History

Share & Bookmark, Press Enter to show all options, press Tab go to next option

Collierville is part of the Wolf River Watershed, 46,000 acres of extremely fertile land. This fertile land along with abundant wildlife, adequate rainfall and its close proximity to the Mississippi River drew both Native Americans and settlers to the area. Many trails used by the Chickasaw people for hunting purposes were later transformed into roads such as Poplar Pike. Although the Chickasaw did not live in present day Collierville, they used the land for hunting grounds, traveling on trails blazed first by buffalo herds from the 4th bluff (present day Memphis) to the surrounding areas.

Permanent European settlement started when the Chickasaw Nation moved south of the Tennessee state line after the Great Chickasaw Cession in January 1818. Two months later, the Tennessee legislature created Shelby County, and soon after, Memphis was founded on the 4th Bluff by John Overton, General James Winchester, and General Andrew Jackson. 

The state handed out land grants of the surrounding areas for settlement. 150 acres went to a land speculator named Jessie R. Collier who advertised them for sale in the Memphis Enquirer under the tagline “The Town of Collier for Sale” in 1836. A Post Office moved to “The Town of Collier” where it is believed to have morphed into the name Collierville.

By 1850, Collierville was a flourishing settlement and on Feb. 7th, a petition to incorporate Collierville was accepted by the Shelby County Court. Shortly after, a man by the name of William W. Talley built a log cabin to serve as a stagecoach stop for passengers traveling to Memphis. Roads leading from Collierville and the surrounding area however were bumpy dirt roads subjective to the weather. One account has the 30-mile trip from Collierville to Memphis taking almost a week!

Politicians and businessmen in the area realized an easier way to travel was needed to further develop the area. The Memphis and Charleston Railroad became the first railroad to link the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi river on March 27, 1857, and it ran right through Collierville. The railroad’s arrival rapidly transformed Collierville and by 1860, the population doubled to 500 with another 2,000 people living nearby.

Although the Railroad brought prosperity to Collierville, it also brought destruction. Collierville's important location near the railroad ensured that the town could not sit peacefully on the sidelines during the Civil War. As early as 1862, wounded soldiers were treated in Collierville after being left behind by passing trains. Soon after Memphis was captured by the Union in June, federal troops took over Collierville and built fortifications to protect the soldiers in the area.

After hearing a passionate speech from Texas Senator Louis T. Wigfall in favor of the Confederate cause, a group of 80 men from Collierville volunteered for service and named themselves the Wigfall Grays. On August 17, 1861, they joined the Confederate service as Company C, 4th Regiment, Tennessee Infantry. The Wigfall Grays fought in several battles, including Shiloh, Murfreesboro, and Franklin.  

During the Civil War, many enslaved individuals claimed their freedom within Union lines. In 1862, the Union Army started creating regiments of African American men who were previously enslaved. These regiments were called the United States Colored Troops (USCT) and eventually made up 10% of the Union Army. Between June and August 1863, 123 formerly enslaved refugees from Collierville and the nearby area were recruited and joined Company G and Company I of the 2nd West Tennessee Infantry Regiment.

The largest battle in Collierville took place on October 11, 1863 when Confederate Brigadier General James R. Chalmers received orders to attack the Union fort at Collierville. 12 Confederate Calvary divisions and an artillery battery attacked the unsuspecting Union forces from all sides and soon Chalmers was confident of a Union surrender. Events turned, however, when a train carrying Major General William T. Sherman and the 13th U.S. Infantry arrived from Memphis. Originally planning on passing through Collierville, when he learned of the battle, Sherman ordered the train to stop and his men vacated the train while he telegraphed for more reinforcements. Sherman’s soldiers set fire to nearby houses and buildings to prevent Confederate troops from hiding and when Union reinforcements arrived, Chalmers was forced to retreat leaving behind a battle torn Collierville. To learn more, visit our VIRTUAL Battle of Collierville Walking Tour.

After the Civil War, Collierville was nearly destroyed, with only three structures remaining, according to some reports. The residents were eager to rebuild and quickly reorganized businesses, schools, and churches in the area. Around this time, the Town Square was developed when Harrison Irby and Virginius Leake bought 90 acres of land next to the Memphis Charleston Railroad and started selling lots. Multiple churches were established, and public and private schools were also opened. By 1877, the population had grown to 1,031, which was more than double the number before the war.

In 1878 a huge outbreak of Yellow Fever broke out in Memphis. At the time there was no known cause or cure for the virus. Despite the establishment of a strict quarantine against Memphis travelers and goods, the disease spread to Collierville and across Shelby County. Most residents fled the area and by October, less than 200 people were left. Cold weather brought an end to the outbreak.

The 20th century brought growth, prosperity, new technologies, and expanding industries to Collierville. In 1905, Dr. E. K. Leake purchased the town's first car, and in 1907, Collierville established its own telephone company. Education played a significant role as well. Bellevue Female College was founded in 1879, eventually becoming Collierville High School in 1903, followed by Collierville Middle School in 1995. Today the building serves as the central office for Collierville Schools.

Collierville emerged as a dairy town in the early 20th century and Swift and Company opened a cheese plant in 1934 giving Collierville the title of "Cheese Making Capital of West Tennessee". An annual Cheese Carnival was celebrated from 1934-1940 promoting the industry with parades and a carnival like atmosphere. The World-Famous Wonder Horse was made in the Wonder Products factory of Collierville from 1950 to 1983. Other businesses such as Carrier Corporation and FedEx have since come to Collierville, making it an even more attractive place to live and work.

Collierville has come a long way in just over 150 years. Its citizens have faced hardships and have shown time and time again that the Town is resilient.