Located southwest of downtown Memphis off Tennessee Highway 61, T. O. Fuller State Park, established in 1933, is the nation’s second oldest state park created for use by African Americans. The park currently contains 1,138 acres and includes Chucalissa Indian Village, a reconstructed Native American village and museum that interprets regional archaeology. Shelby County purchased the land from the Dover Barrett estate and called the original park the “Shelby City Negro State Park.” In 1949 the county deeded the land to the state for one dollar.
The site’s location was influenced more by the designation of the facility for African Americans than the aesthetic appeal of the landscape, and in April 1939 Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Company 1464 arrived and began park development. The group, which had just finished a project at Chickamauga National Military Park near Chattanooga, had been reduced in size to 44 men, but rapidly expanded to as many as 175 members with the hiring of local workers. Allegedly, the park encompassed one of the state’s most significant historical places–the legendary site where the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto first viewed the Mississippi River. In addition, the CCC uncovered a Native American village and burial mound dating to the Mississippian period while conducting routine excavation for a swimming area.
Following discovery of the Native American site, construction ceased while archaeologists, under the supervision of the University of Tennessee, investigated the site. Once archaeologists stabilized the area, the CCC participated in the excavation of what became known as the “Fuller Mounds” project. This work continued until the advent of World War II; major excavation activities resumed in 1952. The state reclassified the Fuller Mounds area as an unsegregated park and renamed it Chucalissa Archaeological State Park. In 1962 the state transferred approximately 187 acres, including the excavated site, to the Tennessee State Board of Education for research purposes. The University of Memphis administers the archaeological property today.
By 1943 T. O. Fuller Park contained very few recreational facilities. Early development of the park instead centered around excavation of the Chucalissa site. Limited state and federal funding prevented the hiring of additional labor, and diminishing CCC participation crippled further development. During the 1950s the park acquired cabins, a lodge, bathhouse, swimming pool, athletic fields, a concession building, hiking trails, and picnic areas. In 1956 the City of Memphis funded construction of a segregated golf course for African Americans. Today this park retains a rich and fascinating history as one of Tennessee’s most intriguing state parks, offering a wealth of information on Native American and African American history.