Dear Vance,“Around 1905-1915, my grandfather and his two brothers owned a saloon on Broad, somewhere between Hollywood and Collins. Can you give me some information on Binghampton and that stretch of Broad around this time?”— D.K., Memphis
Dear D.K.: The photograph you furnished looks like a scene out of the Wild West — a bunch of tough-looking characters hanging around an old-timey saloon, complete with hand-painted beer signs, wooden-plank sidewalks, and dirt street. Hitching posts and six-shooters would have made it picture-perfect, so it’s hard to believe that in the early 1900s this establishment actually stood in what is today the heart of Midtown. Any discussion of Binghampton usually provokes brawls about whether the town — and it was originally established as a separate city from Memphis — has a “p” in its name. Old records and maps spell it as “Binghamton,” city directory listings clearly identify various folks over the years as “Mayor of Binghamton,” and the last time I checked, the post office (always a stickler for these things) called its own station “Binghamton.” So I’m not sure how the “p” dropped in, or why, and even though the Binghampton Development Council spells it with a “p” I’m an old coot writing about old things, so I’m going with the old spelling. But back to the question at hand. My friend D.K. has already told me that his family originally came from Ireland and settled in Kentucky in the 1800s. Most of them made their homes near Lexington, one group stayed in a Kentucky town with the remarkable name of Dog Fennel, and the rest moved to Memphis. The original plan, it seems, was to establish themselves here as farmers. But three of those brothers — William, Henry, and James — had other ideas.
Sometime around 1905, they found employment at a lively bar at Broad and Bingham called Sailors, after the two brothers who owned it. The Sailors weren’t in the Navy or anything; that was their last name.
These Kearneys were obviously ambitious fellows, because in 1907, they opened their own place just a few doors down from Sailors, and they called it Kearney Brothers. William and Henry owned it, and James worked there as the barkeeper, according to old city directories.
The photo here, in fact, shows the saloon as it appeared in 1908. I know this because D.K. told me so (he recognized his great-uncle James standing out front, wearing the long apron), but he confirmed the exact date using very impressive detective skills. He noticed a poster in the window of the bar (barely visible here) advertising a “Moonlight Excursion” on “Wednesday Evening, May 20.” Using one of those perpetual calendars, he determined that May 20th fell on a Wednesday in 1903, 1908, and 1914. Knowing what we do now about James’ connection with this saloon (more about this later), it’s a safe bet the photo was taken in 1908.
Binghamton at the time was a rather sleepy rural community, populated by both whites and blacks, with a dozen small businesses clustered around the intersection of Broad and Bingham. Kearney Brothers, located at 233 Broad (this was the old street numbering, before the area was annexed by Memphis), was a good location to start a business. Along that same block you could find Hanover Dry Goods, Mr. Bowers’ Grocery #40, Hicks and Company Dry Goods, the Davis Confectionery, Howard Perkins’ soft drinks establishment (probably a lunch room), Charles Wells butcher shop, Hyman Hardware, the meeting hall for the fraternal group called the International Order of Odd Fellows, and even two doctors: Dr. Lyman Chapman and Dr. Hiram B. Everett.
Just down the street was the William C. Harrell Company, described in ads as “staple and fancy grocers.” Harrell was a prominent businessman in the community and also served as the town’s mayor, living in a nice residence over on Harvard Street.
Among the residents of the growing town were Hillman and Freeman Brumbelow, and I mention them here only because I like saying their name: Brumbelow. They were carpenters, by the way.
And bars were booming in the early 1900s. Memphis city directories for the time list more than 560 saloons, most of them just named for their proprietors, but some with enticing (and intriguing) names: the Horseman’s Club, the Green Tree House, the Iron Mountain Exchange, Café Royal.
But back to the Kearneys. For reasons I don’t understand, Kearney Brothers stayed in business using that name only two years. Brother Henry dropped out of the picture, leaving behind an establishment now called William L. Kearney, with James as a co-owner, and another Kearney, Daniel, showed up in Memphis to work there as a barkeeper.
And that business changed its name the very next year. In 1912, it became known as J.D. Kearney, with James now as the sole owner (apparently) and Daniel still working as a barkeeper/clerk there. So where did William go? Well, he moved on to loftier things, taking a job as a justice of the peace, with nice offices downtown on Adams. And brother Henry stepped back into the picture, with city directories now showing him working as a dairy inspector with the Shelby County Board of Health. My, that family did get around.
And they got turned around, too. By 1913, the two Kearneys still working on Broad had switched positions. It was now Daniel A. Kearney running a “soft drinks” establishment at 233 Broad, and James D. was a clerk there.
Despite all the complicated family involvement, and what seemed (to me, at least) to be a good location, by 1915 the Kearneys were out of business on Broad. Daniel joined brother Henry as an inspector with the Shelby County Board of Health. James was still listed in the phone books, but they didn’t mention his occupation. Meanwhile, William continued working away downtown as a justice of the peace — though much bigger things were headed his way.
The Kearneys left Broad just as the community really started to grow. The Memphis Street Railway Company extended a trolley line through Overton Park and straight down the middle of Broad, where it stretched eastward until finally turning north onto National. The American Car and Foundry Company located a big factory in Binghamton, building railroad cars, finally bringing industry to the area. Located right across the street from the Kearneys’ bar, it would have provided a stream of thirsty foundry workers, it seems to me.
And one by one, the vacant stretches of Broad became filled with an assortment of homes and businesses. Clarence Saunders opened one of his Piggly Wiggly stores on Broad, and the street also welcomed the Palace Drug Store, the Binghamton Furniture Company, and the Mississippi Elevator Company. (In later years, Broad became home to our city’s much-beloved Merrymobile ice-cream company, and Sears opened a regional repair and distribution center there.)
And what became of the Kearneys’ little saloon shown in the 1908 picture? Well, the year after they left it, a fellow named David Dent converted the building into a dry cleaners. In 1921, Rufus Young opened a barber shop there.
But wait, the Kearneys weren’t quite done with Broad. Remember young Daniel? Well, in the mid-1920s, he teamed up with another businessman and opened Baker and Kearney Billiards Parlor, at 225 Broad, just a few doors west from the old saloon.
After the city annexed this area in 1919, the post office (or whoever does these things) provided all-new street numbers to every single home and business in Binghamton. The address of the saloon became 2559 Broad. If that sounds familiar, well … be patient.
Now, I suppose I could fill the rest of these pages, showing you the changes that took place year by year along Broad, or the different jobs held year by year by all these Kearneys. But good gosh-a-mighty, that seems like an awful amount of work, doesn’t it? So let’s just cut to the chase. If you’re really interested, you can drive down Broad for yourself and see how much it’s changed since the days of the old photos.
But I hinted that big things were in store for William L. Kearney. He eventually became director of the Shelby County Work House, when it was located outside the city on Jackson, and then took over the operation of the old Shelby County Penal Farm before he passed away in 1943. James and Daniel worked in various places for the rest of their long lives, James passing away in 1972 at age 91, and Daniel dying in 1974 at age 88.
And Daniel’s old billiards parlor at 2549 Broad? For years a fellow named E.E. Baker sold “general merchandise” there. Later Paul’s Upholstery Shop moved in, then a plastic manufacturing company, and other odd businesses. Today it’s home to the spiffy Victory Bicycle Studio.
The old saloon at 2559 Broad went through various owners: Lowry and Tutt Grocers, then Howard’s Restaurant. It stood vacant for years, and then Daniel Kearney — I have no idea where he’d been all this time — came back and opened a second-hand furniture store there. By the 1940s, he had moved out (again!), and Nick and Paul’s Grill opened there, followed by a string of other restaurants that few people remember. But the building is still standing after all these years, and I know many men and woman who have had wonderful times there, because it’s come full circle back to its original use. These days, you and I know it as The Cove, famous for its food, drinks, and nautical embellishments rescued from Anderton’s East. If only the Kearneys could see it now.
Got a question for Vance?
firstname.lastname@example.org Vance LauderdaleMemphis magazine 460 Tennessee Street #200 Memphis, TN 38103