Western Tennessee North of Memphis, Noah Lewis was from around Henning. Near Ashport is where Minglewood was supposed to be.
While in Memphis in 1995 to see the Grateful Dead, I thought I would try to find the mythical place called Minglewood. After all, as the song says, If you're ever in Memphis, better stop by Minglewood.
I knew the song was written by Noah Lewis and that he was from Henning, Tennessee, just north of Memphis. I started with a map of western Tennessee and noticed a small town about an hour north of Memphis called Menglewood. Given the proximity to Memphis and the closeness of the name I thought this would be a good place to start. I also have found other old blues songs that refer to Menglewood (spelled with the "e" instead of the "i"), but I can't be sure that the different is not a transcription error.
While in Memphis I found a copy of a long out of print book called Memphis Blues that contains a lot of information about the music of Memphis in the 1920s and 1930s. It included a chapter on Cannon's Jug Stompers and another on Noah Lewis. Here are a couple of quotes from that book about Minglewood.
David Rice (Noah Lewis played for customers in his store): "Minglewood is a saw-mill place in Ashport, west of Ripley. It was torn down fifteen or twenty years ago." (This was probably in the 1940s)
John 'Red' Williams (Memphis pianist):"The song Minglewood Blues was popular around Ripley. There was a piano player there who played that song. I can play it too. I learned it from him. Minglewood is a box factory."
Eddie Green:"I helped Noah to make up Minglewood Blues. At the time we both worked on the Minglewood."
This made things more interesting. Ashport is on the Mississippi river about 25 miles south of where Menglewood was on the map.
Menglewood is on Rt 104 (unlabeled in this map) that goes west from Dyersburg (just before it crosses the small river). Ashport and Riply are to the south.
So one afternoon my wife and I set out to find the Menglewood I had seen on the map. We drove north of Memphis for about an hour. We passed the location were the town was on the map without seeing any signs, so we turned back and asked some of the locals at a gas station. Turns out we had driven right through it! What we found was about 8 to 10 houses bunched together along side a rural road. We saw a woman in her yard planting flowers, so we stopped and ask her. Turns out Menglewood is an old name for this very small community. The side road by her house used to be called Menglewood Road, but it had been changed to a route number. Menglewood itself had been merged with another nearby community and there were no signs left that refer to it as Menglewood. The locals still use the name, but it's slowly fading away. I was really hoping for a sign to take a picture of, but none was to be found.
You may ask why would you stop by Minglewood when you're in Memphis if it was a saw-mill or a box factory? One explanation I've seen is that the song refers to a "good time" place near Minglewood where the workers went to drink and gamble.
So, did I find Minglewood? Well, to be honest, I'm not sure. The little community that's called Menglewood is sort of far (25 miles) from where the saw-mill was supposed to be in Ashport, especially for the 1920s. I guess I'll just leave this one open until I get a chance to get back to Tennessee.
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