Monday, January 18, 2010

Walking In Memphis ...

"Then I'm walking in Memphis ...
Walking with my feet ten feet off of ..." ... uh, Galena!

No, not Memphis, Tennessee, Memphis, Nebraska!

What? You've never heard of Memphis, Nebraska?

Neither had I until a semi-recent conversation turned to ghost towns and ghosts.

"Saw the ghost of Elvis On Union Avenue ..."

Whether or not Memphis is indeed a ghost town, or a ghost town to be, is in the eyes of the observer, literally, as this all-but-abandoned village is the site of many reported sightings and close encounters.

"Some residents assert there are no ghosts, but a stopover in Memphis, Nebraska will make anybody believe."

Oh, Mama, can this really be the end?

There's not much information on the web about Memphis. Googling "Memphis, Nebraska" brings up mostly those stupid machine-generated pages "Find singles in Memphis, Nebraska", yeah, right -- or else lifted copy from the Wikipedia article, which really doesn't say much.

Memphis lies roughly 5 miles northwest of the town of Ashland, and was once connected to Ashland via a Burlington rail line. Although this has been de-mapped for some time, the route of the railroad is obvious from the air.

(Exercise for the student, follow the railroad right-of-way on Google Maps.) :)

Memphis was once a thriving small town, with two hotels, two saloons, several churches ("yes, I am tonight!"), schools, a town doctor, blacksmith shop, and the Bank Of Memphis.

Today, Memphis is best known for (other than Don's Bar), the Memphis Lake State Recreation area.

This placid lake, just north of the village, is what remains of Memphis's once-thriving industry: ice.

Before the advent of mechanical refrigeration, natural ice was a valuable commodity, and Memphis, Nebraska was home to what was said to be the largest ice production facility in North America, operated by the Armour Refrigerator Line, a subsidiary of the Chicago-Omaha-Kansas City Armour meatpackers.

"Refrigeration Killed My Town" reported Myrna Washburn in her college paper in the 1970s.

In the heyday of ice production, the vast lake was flooded each autumn, and when the ice thickness reached 8 inches, the harvest began. Massive blocks were cut from the ice sheet and were floated to the ice house, where they were lifted into storage by a high-tech for the time steam-powered conveyor system. The ice blocks were packed in sawdust and stored year-round.

As needed, the blocks were cut into smaller sections and transported by rail to Armour's facilities in Omaha and Chicago.

Nothing remains of the facility today.

The site of the former ice house is now a picnic area, the ice house having burned to the ground in the 1920s.

Following the destruction of the ice house, the ice harvest continued in the winter, with the ice blocks being loaded directly into rail cars. However, as mechanical refrigeration took over, the demand for natural ice dwindled, and so did the population of Memphis, reaching a low of 106 as of the 2000 census.

It appears that the ghosts of Memphis prefer driving four-door sedans ...

A few junk cars and a rusty piece of some kind of farm equipment are scattered about this lot.

The best part of Memphis, however, is the State Recreation Area.

The State Recreation Area covers what was one of the Armour ice lakes.

In the early 2000s, the lake area fell into disrepair and turned into what was best described as a muddy swamp.

However the lake was re-dredged and the shoreline beautifully landscaped, and remains quite a hospitable get-away today.

Hmmmm ... Looks like somebody had a spot of bad luck! :(

"But do I really feel the way I feel?" :)

1 comment:

Rick Waldroup said...

Excellent. I love reading about old towns that have fallen by the wayside. Great photos, too, to illustrate the story.