West Tennessee is one of the three traditional regions in the U.S. state of Tennessee. 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.
The region can also be defined by telephone area codes. Until fairly recently, 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.
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 purchased by Andrew Jackson from the Chickasaw Indians in 1818, an acquisition known as the Jackson Purchase. The purchase also included the westernmost tip of Kentucky. Although the vast majority of Jackson's purchase lies in Tennessee, the term "Jackson Purchase" is used today to refer solely to the Kentucky portion of the acquisition.
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, Martin, Paris, Humboldt, and Covington. Of these, only Jackson and Dyersburg have populations in excess of 15,000.
The principal public universities in West Tennessee are the University of Memphis and the University of Tennessee at Martin; the University of Tennessee also maintains a medical campus in Memphis.
The entire region, especially the area closest to the Mississippi, lies in a zone of high earthquake risk; the Mississippi flows at the edge of the New Madrid Seismic Zone. In 1811 and 1812, three of the most devastating 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.
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.
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