is one of the three Grand Divisions
in the U.S. state
. Of the three, it is the most sharply defined geographically. Its boundaries are the Mississippi River
on the west and the Tennessee River
on the east. The region's boundaries expand slightly to include the entirety of Hardin County
, which is bisected by the Tennessee River.
Unlike the geographic designations of regions of most U.S. states, the term West Tennessee has legal as well as socioeconomic meaning. West Tennessee, along with East Tennessee and Middle Tennessee, comprises one of the state's three Grand Divisions. According to the state constitution, no more than two of the state supreme court's five justices can come from any one Grand Division, and the Supreme Court meets in each of the three (the State Supreme Court building for West Tennessee is in Jackson). A similar rule applies to certain other commissions and boards as well, to prevent them from showing a geographic bias.
The region can also be defined by telephone area codes. Until 2001, West Tennessee, including all of Hardin County, was in area code 901. After a code split, Memphis and its suburbs retained 901, while the rest of West Tennessee received area code 731.
West Tennessee is the least populous and smallest in land area of the three Grand Divisions. At the 2000 census it had 1,499,802 inhabitants living in its 21 counties, which have a combined land area of 27,581.92 km² (10,649.44 sq mi). Its population was 26.36 percent of the state's total, and its land area is 25.84 percent of the state's land area. Its population density was 54.376/km² (140.83/sq mi) at the census.
While the region west of the Tennessee River was technically part of Tennessee at its statehood in 1796
, it did not come under definitive U.S. control until it was obtained in a series of cessions
by the Chickasaw Indians
, an acquisition known as the Jackson Purchase
after Andrew Jackson
, one of the officials involved. The purchase also included the westernmost tip of Kentucky
as well as part of northern Mississippi
. Although the vast majority of the purchases lie in Tennessee, the term "Jackson Purchase
" is used today to refer solely to the Kentucky portion of the acquisition. The term is also slightly misleading. Jackson, a military officer at the time, was one of several federal treaty commissioners. He did not personally negotiate the whole land cession, nor was it done in a single treaty.
Cities and landmarks
The largest city in West Tennessee, by far, and the most populous in the state, is Memphis
. Outside the greater Memphis area, the region is mostly agricultural. Much of the region geologically lies within the Mississippi embayment
Among the region's smaller cities (not including Memphis suburbs), some of the more important are Jackson, Dyersburg, Union City, Brownsville, Ripley, Martin, Paris, and Humboldt. Of these, only Jackson and Dyersburg have populations in excess of 15,000; and only Jackson has a daily newspaper or an officially-recognized metropolitan region.
The principal public universities in West Tennessee are the University of Memphis and the University of Tennessee at Martin; the main Knoxville campus of the University of Tennessee System also maintains a medical branch campus in Memphis.
West Tennessee is distinct from Middle and East Tennessee in that African-Americans make up a large percent of the population
The entire region, especially the area closest to the Mississippi River, lies in a zone of high earthquake
risk; this area is at the edge of the New Madrid Seismic Zone
. In 1811
, three of the largest quakes in U.S. history
hit the region when it had little European settlement. By some reports, the quakes briefly reversed the flow of the Mississippi; a lasting legacy of the quakes is Reelfoot Lake
, a shallow lake created due to topographic changes
caused by that event.