Sunday, September 28, 2008

Who was Colton Greene?

This beautiful, gawdy thing is now office space for lawyers. But it was built as the Tennessee club. Colton Greene was the man who made it happen. He turned up in St. Louis in the 1850's. He was twenty. He was also penniless, intelligent, charming and very vague about his origins. All he'd say was that he came from South Carolina. By the start of the Civil War he'd amassed a fortune through hard work.

He fought bravely for the losing side in the war. In 1867 he rode into Memphis, again penniless. The river town was pretty hopeless in those days, Yellow Fever was rampant. Greene went into business. Insurance, banking, anything where he could make a dollar. He also turned his hand to the morale of the war ravaged city. He promoted better sanitation, and started a Mardi Gras celebration that revived community spirit. He was just always into something. He organized the Tennessee club to bring together city leaders for charitable and economic cooperation.

There's no record that he ever told anyone about his life before St. Louis. He spoke several languages fluently and quoted Shakespeare with ease. If he ever trusted anyone enough to talk about his family or childhood, he must have trusted well, because they kept his secrets. Colton Greene died in 1900. He left his fortune to various charities. He left me a really cool building to admire, and a mystery that will probably never be solved.

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