Memphis, the county seat of Hall County, is at the junction of U.S. Highway 287, State Highway 256, and Farm Road 1547, in the northeastern part of the county. It had its beginning in 1889, when J. C. Montgomery purchased land for a townsite north of Salisbury on the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway. This land had been previously owned by W. H. Robertson, who had a dugout near Parker Creek. Montgomery and Robertson, with Rev. J. W. Brice and T. J. Woods, Jr., of Dallas, formed a townsite company and presented a plat early in January 1890. P. M. Kelly opened a law office. A rooming house (later the Memphis Hotel), a general store, a drugstore, and several residences were soon erected. For a time the new town was without a name. Several suggestions were submitted to federal postal authorities but with negative results. Finally, as the story goes, Reverend Brice, while in Austin, happened to see a letter addressed by accident to Memphis, Texas, rather than Tennessee, with the notation "no such town in Texas." The name was submitted and accepted, and a post office was established on September 12, 1890, with Robertson as postmaster.
In the meantime Hall County was being organized. Memphis was engaged in a heated county seat battle with neighboring Salisbury and Lakeview. In the election Memphis won with a total of eighty-four votes. County officers were elected in June, and a school district was subsequently formed. Since Memphis was without a depot and trains did not stop there, certain citizens sought to remedy that situation by smearing the tracks with lye soap. A subsequent agreement was struck between town promoters and railroad officials. In 1891 a depot was built, and businesses were moved on wheels from Salisbury to the new county seat, where a courthouse of homemade bricks was constructed in 1892.
Memphis thus enjoyed a boom period. Two saloons, a bank, numerous stores, blacksmith shops, and livery stables attested to its role as a shipping and trading center for area ranchers and farmers. The Missionary Baptist Church was organized in Memphis; its minister Rev. J. L. Pyle began Baptist congregations throughout the county. Telephone service was first installed in 1901. In June 1906 the town was incorporated with a mayor-council form of city government. The Memphis Cotton Oil Mill was established in 1907. Memphis had at one time or another several newspapers, including the Hall County Record (1889–93), the Hall County Herald (1890–1928), the Memphis Journal (1892–94), the Memphis Times (1896), the Memphis Leader (1897–99), the Hall County News (1897–1903), and the Memphis News (1928–29). The only newspaper extant in 1986, the Memphis Democrat, was launched in 1908 and went through a succession of owners. By the 1920s Memphis had a new brick-and-stone courthouse, modern utilities, a cotton compress, three hotels, brick school buildings, and a Carnegie Library. In 1922 the city's Morning Side addition was founded east of the tracks as a residential area for Blacks who labored in the cotton fields and mills. In 1935 E. M. Ewen and his wife formed the Hall County Old Settlers' Reunion (later the Hall County Picnic Association). Four years later they staged a rodeo as part of the annual two-day celebration.
Since the Great Depression era Memphis has continued as a farm supply center. In 1986 the city had a cotton compress, gins, a grain elevator, two banks, eight churches, four public schools, a modern medical complex, two motels, several mercantile stores (including three wholesale houses), and a municipal airport northeast of town. In addition, Memphis is noted for its tree-lined streets, city park, two swimming pools, community center, and fifty blocks of brick paving laid in 1926. Brookhollow Country Club Lake, a private fishing lake with cabin sites, is six miles northeast of the city. Heritage Hall, which occupies the old First National Bank building on the square, contains local history displays and natural science exhibits. The population was 3,332 in 1960 and 3,352 in 1980. Memphis reported eighty-one businesses in 1984. United States Congressman Jack Hightower comes from Memphis. The route of the annual Cotton Boll Enduro, a 125-mile cross country motorcycle event held in late October, begins and ends at Memphis. In 1990 Memphis had a population of 2,465. The population was 2,479 in 2000.