Home of Bluff City
There are 95 counties in Tennessee, and Shelby County is the largest in both land area and population.
The biggest city in Shelby County is Memphis. More than two-thirds of the county's residents live within Memphis city limits. Memphis is known as the Bluff City. That's because the city sits along the Mississippi River, and the land along the bank is dotted with bluffs, such as the Chickasaw Bluff.
Memphis is known for music. Elvis Presley moved there in 1948. Other musicians with Memphis roots include Jerry Lee Lewis, Otis Redding, Johnny Cash and Justin Timberlake. The famous Sun Studio is located in Memphis, and the Beale Street area is known for its live music and entertainment offerings. For proof of the city's musical ties, look no further than music itself. Memphis has been referenced in at least 400 different songs!
First Established in 1819
Many years ago, the people of the Chickasaw Nation lived in the Shelby County area. In 1818, the United States gave the Chickasaw people $300,000 for the Jackson Purchase.
Tennessee was already a state at that time. In 1819, the state's General Assembly established Shelby County.
The county was named for Isaac Shelby. Along with Andrew Jackson, Shelby was involved in negotiations for the Jackson Purchase. He also fought in the American Revolution and was the first governor of Kentucky.
The early government was known as the Shelby County Quarterly Court. Its members held their first meeting in 1820. They had a log cabin in Memphis in which to hold court sessions, but they often met in homes instead.
The county seat moved to the town of Raleigh in 1827. Memphis was restored as the county seat in 1868.
The county got its start in public education in the late 1800s. The first county-run school opened in 1871.
Beginning in the late 1800s and continuing into the 1900s, Shelby County's form of government changed multiple times. In 1976, the county had a mayor for the first time; the mayoral system of leadership is still in place today.
The government buildings have changed multiple times, too. For a while, officials worked at the Overton Hotel. A courthouse was built in 1909, and an administration building went up in 1969. That building, known as the Vasco A. Smith, Jr. County Administration Building, was renovated in 2014.
On the Mighty Mississippi
Tucked in the southwest corner of Tennessee, Shelby County measures 763.17 square miles. North of Shelby County is Tipton County. Fayette County sits to the east. Arkansas is to Shelby County's west, and Mississippi is to its south.
The Mississippi River forms the Tennessee state line and the western edge of Shelby County. The Memphis-Arkansas Bridge and the Hernando de Soto Bridge span the river to connect Tennessee and Arkansas.
Other waterways in the county include Nonconnah Creek, the Loosahatchie River and the Wolf River. All of these empty into the Mississippi.
The western portion of the county is marked by hills and bluffs. The land smooths out as you travel eastward.
Shelby County is part of the Mississippi River Delta. As a result, the soil is quite rich.
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is on the Chickasaw Bluffs and the neighboring bottomlands in the northwest corner of the county. This park measures 12,539 acres and is home to many hardwood trees, including state and national champions. There are swampy areas within the park, and Bald Cypress and Tupelo trees grow in the swamps.
Memphis, of course, is the largest city in Shelby County. Its population is over 650,000 people. Other Shelby County cities include Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington.
Growth and Diversity
Census estimates from 2019 showed a population of 937,166 people living in Shelby County. The county's population increased by 2.8% from 2010 through 2018. It's predicted that the population will grow by another 1.5% between 2018 and 2023.
Unlike most counties in Tennessee, the majority of Shelby County residents are Black. According to the 2019 census data, 54.3% of the county is Black. That's a percentage increase from the 2010 census when 52.1% of the population was Black
In addition, 40.9% of Shelby County's population is white, 2.8% is Asian, and 1.6% has mixed racial heritage. 6.6% of people are of Latino or Hispanic ethnicity.
In 2010, the median age of Shelby County's people was 36.2. Approximately 40% of people living in the Memphis area are between the ages of 25 to 54. About 14% are 65 years or older.
From Field to Factory
The Shelby County economy depends largely on manufacturing. Food products, medical devices, paper goods and car parts are just some of the items that are produced in the region. This sector employs about 39,000 Memphis-area residents.
Also, many goods pass through the region on their way from one place to another. Shelby County's location makes it an ideal logistics hub, and more than 400 trucking companies operate in the area. In addition to roads, railroads and the Mississippi River are also used for transportation. Plus, Memphis International Airport is one of the world's busiest cargo airports.
The soil quality in Shelby County is excellent, so agriculture has long been a pillar of the local economy. For many years, the main crop was cotton. While cotton plantations are no longer commonplace, there are 411 farms in Shelby County.
Agriculture activity extends beyond rural farms. Multiple agribusiness companies are engaged in research and development. Employers in that field include Indigo Ag, Agricenter International and AgLaunch. Agricultural businesses provide more than 2,000 local jobs.
Education is an important piece of the local economy. 62,000 students are enrolled at colleges in the Memphis area. They include Remington College, Rhodes College and Christian Brothers University. Around 2,400 staff and full-time faculty members work for the University of Memphis.
Shelby County Schools is among the 25 largest school districts in the county. It's certainly the biggest district in Tennessee. The system employs around 13,900 people, including about 6,000 teachers.
Graceland and Barbecue
Aside from the White House, no private home in the U.S. receives more visitors than Graceland, the mansion that belonged to Elvis. In addition to tours, the property offers museums, a wedding chapel and live entertainment venues.
If you like museums, Shelby County has plenty of them. They include the Museum of Science and History (MoSH), the Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame, and the National Civil Rights Museum.
Families will enjoy a day at the Memphis Zoo in Overton Park. The MGM lion, famous for his roar at the beginning of the studio's films, used to live there.
Sports fans can cheer on the hometown baseball and basketball teams. Both the Memphis Grizzlies NBA basketball team and the Memphis Redbirds, a Major League Baseball AAA team, play in Shelby County.
Camping is available within Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park. There are cabins as well as tent and RV sites. You can explore the park on the various trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. The park also offers disc golf, boating and fishing.
Don't miss Shelby County's pork barbecue! The Memphis in May International Festival includes an annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Year round, there are around 100 restaurants in the area that specialize in this style of cooking.
The annual Memphis in May event also includes the Beale Street Music Festival and the Great American River Run. Throughout the year, there are other Shelby County events, too. They include the Memphis Margarita Festival in June, the Memphis Barbecue Blues and Bourbon Festival in July, and the Mempho Music Festival in October.