Historic Structures

Hilderbrand-McTighe House, Memphis Tennessee

Date added: July 27, 2021 Categories: Tennessee House Plantations & Farms

According to local tradition, Benjamin Hilderbrand and his older brother Daniel traveled seasonally to the general area of this property as early as 1819, trading with the region's Native Americans from their base in the Natchez vicinity of Mississippi. Soon after that date, the brothers reportedly applied for a 7,000 acre federal land grant in the area of northern DeSoto County, Mississippi and southwestern Shelby County, Tennessee, though the grant was never issued. If true, the issuance of the grant probably was stalled by a continuing border dispute between the State of Tennessee, the Chickasaw Nation, and eventually, the State of Mississippi. The border dispute was not resolved until the Chickasaw Cession of 1834, and the 440 square miles of territory ceded were divided among members of the Chickasaw Nation, who were permitted to sell their properties to Anglo American settlers. One of the Chickasaws, Ton Tubby, deeded his interest in Section 1, Township 1, Range 8 West, and in Section 12, Township 1, Range 8 West, to Benjamin A. Hilderbrand on December 5, 1836 in two deeds for the total consideration of $2,980.00.

On this property Benjamin Hilderbrand established permanent residence in Tennessee for the first time. Born in Mississippi in 1806, Benjamin A. Hilderbrand was among the earliest settlers of rural Shelby County. Hilderbrand moved permanently to Shelby County between 1830 and March 22, 1833, when he filed for a license to marry Susan Robertson, whom he married on March 28, 1833. Hilderbrand's bride was born 1816 in North Carolina, the daughter of Medicus Robertson, Sr. (died 1844), another early pioneer of Shelby County.

Apart from marriage and deed records, the earliest references to Hilderbrand are found in the records of the Shelby County Court: in August 1836, it appointed Hilderbrand to be a member of a jury of residents from Civil District 12 to "mark out and lay off a road the nearest and best way from the town of Memphis passing by Person's Mill on the Nonconnor (sic) Creek to intersect a road lately marked out by order of the police court, DeSoto County in the State of Mississippi in Section 14, township J, range 8 in said State on the Thompson line .... " This road was first called the "Memphis to Jefferson Road", but later changed (ca. 1839) to Memphis to Hernando Road with the change in name of the Mississippi community of Jefferson to Hernando, as it is still known. Today, this roadway is Elvis Presley Boulevard, a part of U.S. Highway 51.

There is no record of Hilderbrand's ownership of land in Shelby County before December, 1836, which made his appointment to the road jury highly unusual. It should also be noted that one "M. Robertson" was also appointed to the same jury; this person is believed to be Medicus Robertson, Hilderbrand's father-in-law.

The Slave Schedule of the 1850 Census recorded the Hilderbrands in possession of 19 slaves, of which ten were males ranging in age from 4 to 32 years of age. Nine female slaves ranged from 2 years to 35 years of age. The number of slave houses on the property at this time was not noted by the Census taker.

In 1850 the Hilderbrand farm consisted of 300 improved acres of land and 660 acres of unimproved land, valued by the family at $10,000. The farm was worked by 9 horses and 4 oxen; 10 "milch" cows, 15 other cows, 12 sheep and 45 swine comprised the farm's remaining livestock. Major crops raised by the family and their slaves included 700 bushels of Indian com, 250 bushels of oats, 10 bushels of Irish potatoes, 15 bushels of sweet potatoes, but only 2 (400 pound) bales of cotton - a level of production out of character with surrounding farms. The reason for this imbalance is not known. The family also reported that they had produced $20.00 of goods by "home manufacture" (perhaps wool from their sheep), and had slaughtered $25.00 of their animals, probably for home consumption.

Based upon crop yield statistics for this general era of agriculture, the yield of the Hilderbrand's farm required the use of approximately 33 acres to produce their corn (21 bushel/ acre), 45 acres to produce their oats, 0.25 acre each for the Irish and sweet potatoes, and 6.5 acres for their cotton.25 The yield reported would have required only 85 of the 300 acres of improved farm land that the Hilderbrands had available. Even if an additional 60 acres were allotted as pastures for the cows, sheep and horses, the yields reported are not consistent with the amount of acreage in production. The yields also do not appear sufficient to feed the Hilderbrand family and their nineteen slaves, even if the seven children attended a boarding school away from the farm for part of the year. The acreage might have been leased to another farmer, but no records have yet been found to support that possibility.

The 1860 Census, not surprisingly, shows a more complex family structure on the Hilderbrand farm. Benjamin Hilderbrand, then 56, reported that the value of his real estate holdings was estimated at $20,800, while the value of his personal property was $35,000, much of it probably accounted for in the value of his 29 slaves. The eldest daughter, Amanda, was not reported living with the family, and had perhaps married and moved out of Shelby County. The eldest son, David, had also married and was living in a separate household on the Hilderbrand farm with his wife Henrietta and their infant daughter, Susan. The remaining children, all in their teens and early twenties, were still living with their parents. William, the eldest of the children at home, listed his occupation as "farmer" and reported ownership of $600 worth of real estate and $200 of personal property. No deed records have been found in Shelby County to indicate where this property may have been located. The returns of the Slave Schedule for 1860 show that the Hilderbrand's owned fifteen male and fourteen female slaves, housed in five dwellings on the property.

Because there are no separate returns for sons William and David, the returns in the Agricultural Schedule in 1860 are suggested to represent the production of the entire family and its slaves. Of interest is the fact that seven of the family's horses .reported in 1850 had been replaced by mules in 1860, and the farm had 35 "other cows," more than twice as many as in 1850. Other livestock remained at comparable numbers. However, the crop yields provided by the family in the Census once again appear greatly understated. The farm was reported to have produced 28 bushels of wheat, 800 bushels of Indian com, 15 bushels of peas or beans, 150 bushels of sweet potatoes, and 350 pounds of butter. Cotton production increased significantly, to 55 bales, which would have required 182 acres of land to produce. While the cotton production is comparable to other farms of a similar size, the other crop yields again appear meager in comparison with other farms in the immediate vicinity.

All of B. A. Hilderbrand's male children served for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and each returned to Shelby County after the war. Their mother, Susan, died in 1862.

On May 18, 1867, Benjamin A. Hilderbrand issued a series of deeds dividing some of his property holdings among some of his children, transferring by gift the title to 160 acres in the Twelfth Civil District. John I. Hilderbrand was deeded the northwestern quarter section of Section 12, Range 8, Township 1 West; Daniel H. Hilderbrand was deeded the northwestern quarter section of Section 1, Range 8, Township 1 West; William W. Hilderbrand was deeded the southwestern quarter section of Section 1, Range 8, Township 1 West; and, Benjamin F. Hilderbrand was deeded the north~astern quarter section of Section 1, Range 8, Township 1 West. The final deed in this group consisted of the northeastern quarter section of Section 12 in Range 8, Township 1 West, and was issued to "my Daughter, Mrs. Sallie E. Elam."

In this series of transactions, it is significant that Benjamin A. Hilderbrand did not relinquish title to the southeastern quarter section of Section 1, Range 8, Township 1 West. This was the portion of the farm containing the Hilderbrand House. Of additional significance in this series of deeds is the transfer of property to Sallie E. Elam. Previous Census listings do not include Sallie's name among the family members of B. A. Hilderbrand. Sallie E. Elam appears in the 1870 Census as the wife of Ernest Elam, living in the Twelfth Civil District on a farm adjacent to Benjamin A. Hilderbrand. Her age listed in the Census suggests that she was born in 1845, making her the youngest of the Hilderbrand's children. The reason for her absence from the 1850 and 1860 Censuses is not clear; it is possible that she could have been adopted by the family.

The 1870 Census listed B. A. Hilderbrand as the head of his household, with his youngest son, Benjamin F., and Benjamin's wife, Mary B. living with him. Values for the elder Hilderbrand's personal property and real estate were not given. In households immediately adjacent to B. A. Hilderbrand were a number of AngloAmerican and African-American families who listed their occupations primarily as "farmers". No notation of personal property or real estate holdings was made for any of these families as well. Given that all property immediately surrounding the Hilderbrand House was owned by Hilderbrand or other family members, it is likely that most, if not all, of the other families listed in the Census were tenant farmers.

For reasons that presently are unclear, B. A. Hilderbrand issued a trust deed on April 14, 1879 to W. B. Vanhook for the purposes of securing two notes, one issued by his son, W. W. Hilderbrand, and the other by Sallie E. Elam, which totaled $1,500.00. The deed of trust included the southeastern quarter of Section 1, Range 8, Township 1 West "together with all improvements thereon and the same tract of land on which I am now and have for several years lived, also two cows & their calves, 3 year lings (sic) and one dry cow on said place." B. A. Hilderbrand died on December 22 of 1879. The terms for default of the trust deed were carried out with the acceptance of W.W. Hilderbrand and Sallie Elam, which called for the property to be advertised and sold at auction. The property was sold by Vanhook to Dr. George W. Ham for the sum of $1,470.00, and title transferred to Ham by a deed dated December 29, 1881.

Dr. Ham and his wife took up residence in the old Hilderbrand House, as was noted in a 1914 deed for "the old George Ham homestead". Dr. Ham (1838-1892) and his wife Mary Ellen Gabbert Ham (1847- 1912) came to Shelby County from just over the state line in DeSoto County, Mississippi during the 1870s, apparently taking up residence in Shelby County for the first time with the acquisition of the former Hilderbrand property. Very little else is has been found about the life and career of Dr. Ham, but by appearances, he was a country doctor who also farmed the 160 acres of the former Hilderbrand property.

George W. Ham died in January 1893, leaving all of his assets and liabilities to his wife, who continued to reside in the old Hilderbrand house until her death in 1912. She left no will.

The absence of a will left by Mary Ham caused the Probate Court of Shelby County to act in the division of her estate among her heirs. The matter was resolved by the decree of the court on December 13, 1913 to sell the property for the division of the proceeds among the major and minor heirs. The sale of the property occurred on January 3, 1914. The winning bid of $8,500.00 was received from the partnership of E.W. Hale and the firm of Bluthenthal & Heilbrunner; however, before the sale could be confirmed by the court, a higher bid was received from P. V. Holmes, causing the property to be re-bid among the parties. New bids were received from both parties on February 7, 1914, resulting in the sale of the property to P. V. Holmes for the price of $10,200.00. The final sale was confirmed by the court on February 27, 1914.

The ciraunstances surrounding the next transfer of the property are not entirely clear; however, Holmes issued a deed for the sale of the property to Emmye B. Hilderbrand on January 5, 1914, effectively two days before Holmes' re-bid for the property had been opened and affirmed by the Probate Court. The sale was made pursuant to conditions and costs that could have only been known to Holmes, suggesting that he was working as agent in the sale for Hilderbrand. The transaction included $1,500.00 paid in cash by Hilderbrand, with the balance due in five annual notes, for a total sales price of $11,200.00.

Emmye B. Hilderbrand was the wife of Charles B. Hilderbrand (died 1962), the son of William W. Hilderbrand and the grandson of Benjamin A. Hilderbrand. Little else is known at this time about Charles Hilderbrand, other than the information found in deed records (also spelled "Hildebrand" and "Hilderbrant"). However, these records show that, beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, he was actively buying and selling both city and rural real estate, particularly in the Whitehaven area. His interest soon focused on acquiring much of the lands originally owned by his father and grandfather, concentrated in Sections 1, 6, 7 and 12 in Ranges 7 and 8 of Township 1, North.

Charles Hilderbrand's efforts to re-assemble properties associated with his family apparently began in 1902, when he acquired the holdings of J. B. Hilderbrand, his cousin. Other properties held by family members were acquired over the next two decades, including the acquisition in 1912 of the 160 acres deeded to his father by his grandfather a half century before. The acquisition in 1914 of his grandfather's 160 acre farm in the southeastern quarter of Section 1 was a natural extension of his effort, though it was not the last. It is not at all clear where Charles B. Hilderbrand chose to make his home before 1914, but it appears that he took up residence in his grandfather's house after acquiring the property.

Hilderbrand's investments appear to have over-extended his means by 1925. In March 1925, Hilderbrand and his wife entered into a trust deed with W. K. Noell, effectively selling 931 acres that included his grandfather's and father's land holdings, among others. The purpose of the trust deed was to settle several "debts and mortgages" held by the Hilderbrands, and allowing Noell to sell portions of the property as needed to extinguish the indebtedness. The property was described as containing lots 1 through 42 of "the unrecorded Hllderbrand subdivision," suggesting that Hilderbrand had planned to sell or already had begun to sell the property, in lots ranging from 10 to 25 acres in size.

Noell formalized the unrecorded subdivision with a plat recorded on September 24, 1926. The plat is a valuable historical record apart from its worth in demonstrating the pattern of land division for the area in succeeding year: it also notes the location of houses, barns and other outbuildings throughout the entire 931 acre parcel, including the two houses, two barns and what is believed to be a carriage house on lots 23 and 24 of the subdivision - the developed core of land that comprised the former Benjamin Hilderbrand home site. Though the locations and relative scales of these improvements are represented schematically on the plat, this is the earliest known image representing the organization of the old house site. Each of these buildings corresponds in general location and use with buildings visible in the earliest aerial photographs of the property, which date from 1940.

The fifty acres of lots 23 and 24 were sold by Noell to T. J. Gayley and his wife Fannie Pitts Gayley on December 17, 1929. The Gayleys sold the northern 22 acres of the property, containing the Hilderbrand House, to Velver and W. E. Blagdon [also spelled ''Brogdon" in later records] in October of 1937. The Blagdons retained the property for only four years, selling it to W. D. and Blanche Z. Jemison in February of 1941. The Jemisons sold the same property to William A. and Jane D. McTighe on April 25, 1950. Apart from further subdivisions of the property since 1950 that reduced the house lot to its current size of a little more than four acres, the former Hilderbrand House remained in the hands of the McTighes until its sale to the Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority in 1987.