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 American Indians and settlers to the area. Many trails used by the Chickasaw 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 began with the Great Chickasaw Cession of January 1818 which relocated the American Indians south of the Tennessee state line. Two months later the Tennessee legislature established Shelby County and soon after Memphis was founded and laid out 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 eventually 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 the development of 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.
While the Railroad brought prosperity to Collierville, it also caused destruction. Collierville’s proximity to the strategically important Railroad would ensure that it could not sit peacefully on the sidelines during the Civil War. Wounded soldiers were being cared for in Collierville as early as 1862, left behind by trains passing through town. Soon after the Union capture of Memphis in June, federal troops occupied Collierville and built fortifications to protect the troops around the town.
After hearing a passionate speech from Texas Senator Louis T. Wigfall in favor the southern cause, a group of 80 men from Collierville volunteered for service and named themselves Wigfall Grays. They were sworn into Confederate service on August 17, 1861, becoming Company C, 4th regiment, Tennessee Infantry and fought in numerous battles including Shiloh, Murfreesboro and Franklin..
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 and he telegraphed for more reinforcements. Sherman’s soldiers set fire to nearby houses and buildings to prevent Southern troops from hiding and when Union reinforcements arrived, Chalmers was forced to order his men to retreat leaving behind a battle torn Collierville..
After the Civil War, Collierville lay in virtual destruction with some accounts noting that only three structures were left standing. Residents were anxious to rebuild and quickly reorganized local businesses, schools, and churches. The town square was developed around this time when Harrison Irby and Virginius Leake purchased 90 acres adjacent to the Memphis Charleston Railroad and began selling lots. Several Churches were established as well as both public and private schools and by 1877 the population reached 1,031 – more than double the pre-war figure.
In 1878 a huge outbreak of Yellow Fever broke out in Memphis. There was no known cause of the virus or cure at the time. 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 was characterized by growth, prosperity, new technologies, and expanding industry. The first car was purchased in Collierville by Dr. E. K. Leake in 1905 and Collierville established its own telephone company in 1907. The importance of education was also prominent in Collierville. Bellevue Female College was founded in 1879 and it eventually became Collierville High School in 1903 and then Collierville Middle School in 1995. Today it 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 even created to promote 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 the Carrier Corporation and FedEx have 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, repeatedly faced with hardships, the citizens have shown time and time again resilience and prosperity and Collierville continues to be an ideal suburban community.