Shelby County, Tennessee

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Shelby County, Tennessee
Shelby County Courthouse
Seal of Shelby County, Tennessee
Map of Tennessee highlighting Shelby County
Location in the state of Tennessee
Map of the United States highlighting Tennessee
Tennessee's location in the U.S.
Founded November 24, 1819
Named for Isaac Shelby[1]
Seat Memphis
Largest city Memphis
 • Total 785 sq mi (2,033 km2)
 • Land 763 sq mi (1,976 km2)
 • Water 22 sq mi (57 km2), 2.8%
 • (2010) 927,644
 • Density 1,228/sq mi (474/km²)
Congressional districts 8th, 9th
Time zone Central: UTC-6/-5

Shelby County is a county located in the U.S. state of Tennessee, bordered on the west by the Mississippi River; it is within the Mississippi Delta and was a center of cotton plantations in the antebellum era. As of the 2010 census, the population was 927,644.[2] It is the state's largest county both in terms of population and geographic area. Its county seat is Memphis,[3] the most populous city in Tennessee. The county was named for Governor Isaac Shelby (1750–1826) of Kentucky.

Shelby County is part of the Memphis, TN-MS-AR Metropolitan Statistical Area.


Shelby County was established by European-American migrants in 1819. The county was part of the lands acquired by the United States government from the Chickasaw as part of the Jackson Purchase of 1818. The county was named for Isaac Shelby, the former governor of Kentucky who had helped negotiate the land acquisition.[1] From 1826 to 1868, the county seat was located at Raleigh, Tennessee on the Wolf River; after the American Civil War it was moved to Memphis.[1] The lowlands in the Mississippi Delta, closest to the Mississippi River, were developed for large cotton plantations; their laborers were overwhelmingly enslaved African Americans. Well before the American Civil War, the population of the county was majority black and mostly slaves. Memphis developed as a major cotton market, with many brokers.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 785 square miles (2,030 km2), of which 763 square miles (1,980 km2) is land and 22 square miles (57 km2) (2.8%) is water.[4] The lowest point in the state of Tennessee is located on the Mississippi River in Shelby County (just outside the Memphis city limits), where the river flows out of Tennessee and into Mississippi.


Parks and recreation[edit]

Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park


Adjacent counties[edit]

Law and government[edit]

County government is headed by an elected county mayor and a thirteen-member county commission elected from five districts.[5] The members of the county commission serve four-year terms. Other elected officials in Shelby County include the sheriff, the chief law enforcement officer; trustee, chief tax collector, and assessor, the chief property appraiser.[6]

The government has an annual budget of $1.1 billion and 6,000 employees.


  • Mark Luttrell is the County Mayor and a former Shelby County Sheriff
  • Joe Ford served as Interim Mayor in 2009
  • A C Wharton 2002-2009 (current Mayor of Memphis)
  • Jim Rout 1994-2002[7]
  • William N. (Bill) Morris 1978-1994
  • Roy Nixon 1976-1978


Historical population
Census Pop.
1820 364
1830 5,648 1,451.6%
1840 14,721 160.6%
1850 31,157 111.7%
1860 48,092 54.4%
1870 76,378 58.8%
1880 78,430 2.7%
1890 112,740 43.7%
1900 153,557 36.2%
1910 191,439 24.7%
1920 223,216 16.6%
1930 306,482 37.3%
1940 358,250 16.9%
1950 482,393 34.7%
1960 627,019 30.0%
1970 722,014 15.2%
1980 777,113 7.6%
1990 826,330 6.3%
2000 897,472 8.6%
2010 927,644 3.4%
Est. 2012 940,764 1.4%
U.S. Decennial Census[8]
2012 Estimate[2]
Population pyramid Shelby County[9]

As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 927,644 people residing in the county. 52.1% were Black or African American, 40.6% White, 2.3% Asian, 0.2% Native American, 3.3% of some other race and 1.4 of two or more races. 5.6% were Hispanic or Latino (of any race).

As of the census[10] of 2000, there were 897,472 people, 338,366 households, and 228,735 families residing in the county. The population density was 1,189 people per square mile (459/km²). There were 362,954 housing units at an average density of 481 per square mile (186/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 48.56% Black, or African American, 47.34% White, 0.20% Native American, 1.64% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 1.20% from other races, and 1.02% from two or more races. 2.60% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 338,366 households out of which 34.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.80% were married couples living together, 20.10% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.40% were non-families. 27.00% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.70% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.60 and the average family size was 3.18.

Scenic view in Shelby Farms park

In the county, the population was spread out with 28.20% under the age of 18, 9.70% from 18 to 24, 31.10% from 25 to 44, 21.00% from 45 to 64, and 10.00% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 91.40 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.80 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $39,593, and the median income for a family was $47,386. Males had a median income of $36,932 versus $26,776 for females. The per capita income for the county was $20,856. About 12.90% of families and 16.00% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.90% of those under age 18 and 13.30% of those age 65 or over.

Shelby County Courthouse[edit]

The Shelby County Courthouse, located in Memphis on Adams Avenue between North 2nd and North 3rd streets, was designed by James Gamble Rogers and completed in 1909. This neoclassical pile features a long portico topped by a cornice supported by massive Ionic columns. The ambitious sculptural program designed by J. Massey Rhind includes the pediment groups, Canon Law, Roman Law, Statutory Law, Civil Law and Criminal Law. Female allegorical figures can be found on the north facade cornice representing Integrity, Courage, Mercy, Temperance, Prudence and Learning. Flanking the main entrances are over-life-sized seated figures embodying Wisdom, Justice, Liberty, Authority, Peace and Prosperity.

It is by far the largest courthouse in the state. The courthouse was featured in the movie The Silence of the Lambs as the place where Dr. Hannibal Lecter was held and escapes custody.


Major highways[edit]

* Once fully completed the mainline of I-69 will travel from Brownsville, TX to Port Huron, MI.

Air travel[edit]

Shelby County is the site of Memphis International Airport, located 3 miles (5 km) south of the center of Memphis.


Until the end of the 2012-2013 school year, almost all areas in Shelby County that were outside the city of Memphis were zoned to schools operated by Shelby County Schools. Schools in Memphis were operated by Memphis City Schools. On June 30, 2013, Memphis city and Shelby County schools consolidated, forming a unified county school system (still called Shelby County Schools). This lasted one year.

In 2014, the incorporated suburbs of Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland, and Millington broke away from the Unified System and formed their own municipal districts. Their residents had previously voted in favor of creating municipal school districts, and all voted to pass the related sales tax hike except for Millington, which narrowly rejected the sales tax hike by three votes.[11] On November 27, 2012, U.S. district court Judge Samuel Mays voided this vote since the state law passed at the time applied only to a specific area (which is unconstitutional). The Tennessee state legislature passed the law again, to include all of the state. All six suburbs voted again for the municipal districts and started classes on August 4, 2014.

Memphis is home to Baptist College of Health Sciences, Christian Brothers University, Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University, Worldwide (Memphis Campus),[12] Harding School of Theology, LeMoyne–Owen College, Memphis College of Art, Memphis Theological Seminary, Rhodes College, Southern College of Optometry, Southwest Tennessee Community College, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and the University of Memphis.

Cordova is home to Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Germantown is home to a satellite campus of Union University.



Map of Shelby County, Tennessee.svg

Municipality populations are based on the 2010 Census.[13]

Cities and towns[edit]

# Incorporated Community Designation Date incorporated Population
4 Arlington Town 1900 11,517
2 Bartlett City 1866 55,055
7 Collierville Town 1807 46,462
6 Germantown City 1841 39,161
3 Lakeland City 1977 12,430
5 Memphis City December 29, 1826 670,132
1 Millington City 1903 10,176

Unincorporated communities[edit]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Edward F. Williams III, "Shelby County," Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Retrieved: 31 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 7, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  4. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  5. ^ Shelby County Commission, Shelby County Government website
  6. ^ Shelby County Topic Page, News about the Shelby County government, The Commercial Appeal
  7. ^ "Haslam Recruits Former Shelby County Mayor to Leadership Team," TNReport, 30 June 2010. Retrieved: 31 March 2013.
  8. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". Retrieved December 7, 2013. 
  9. ^ Based on 2000 census data
  10. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2011-05-14. 
  11. ^ "Voters Choose to Form Municipal School Districts". Retrieved 3 August 2012. 
  12. ^ Embry-Riddle Worldwide official website. Retrieved: 31 March 2013.
  13. ^ "See "Population and Housing Occupancy Status: 2010 - Tennessee County -- County Subdivision and Place"". 2010 Census. United States Census Bureau, Population Division. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°11′N 89°53′W / 35.18°N 89.89°W / 35.18; -89.89