Friday, July 31, 2009

Why are some Memphians afraid of our heritage?

Reading what the RDC recently wrote about the Cobblestone Landing, you'd get the feeling that the Landing is just a big public nuisance:
The result is extremely unsafe walking conditions resulting in injuries, lawsuits and even one death from a fall. The current walking surface also creates a large barrier to pedestrian movement north and south along the Mississippi Riverfront at Memphis.

Other American cities aren't afraid of their historic cobblestones. They're proud of their heritage, and they encourage people to live, walk, play, and drive on the authentic cobblestone streets. Case in point: Fells Point in Baltimore.

Continues...While the 1980s-era Inner Harbor development may be more recognizable to outsiders, the Baltimore locals know that the real waterfront is actually one mile east. It's the historic Fells Point neighborhood, which was a major shipbuilding and commercial center from the 1700s until the Civil War.

Photo of a water taxi map showing both Fells Point (center) and the Inner Harbor (left).

In the early part of the 20th century Fells Point was a landing point for an influx of immigrants from all parts of the world, seeking jobs and a better life in America.

Now Fells Point is home to a diverse population of all income levels, and its picturesque streets are lined with rehabilitated row houses, restaurants, bars, galleries, and shops.
No wonder it has also been the filming location of popular TV series and movies.

And most of the streets are still cobblestoned, with hundreds of vehicles driving and parking on them every day.

Entrance to the huge City Recreation Pier on Thames Street at Fells Point. Fans of the TV show Homicide will recognize it as the police station in that series.

Directly opposite the Pier are row houses, shops, and cafes. This is only a sample -- the entire Fells Point area covers dozens of blocks.

While on a trip to DC, I visited Fells Point last week to take a closer look. The cobbles are similar in size, shape, and variety to our own Cobblestone Landing. Our cobbles are often butted up against each other. The Baltimore stones, however, are spaced farther apart (about a thumb's width), and the gaps are variously filled with either sand, dirt, or cement grouting. Here is a closeup:

In some sections, though, whatever had filled those gaps has evidently washed away. (The entire waterfront area, by the way, was severely flooded during Hurricane Isabella.) Here is an example of empty gaps:

Like any other type of city street, cobblestones do require periodic repair and maintenance. At some point I would expect the City of Baltimore to work on this patch.

But the City of Memphis has done nothing about our Cobblestone Landing for decades (except tear up two acres of cobblestones in 1994), even though the City long made promises, and has had the money since at least 1997.

I can understand if former Memphis public works officials and city engineers might have considered the cobblestones a nuisance, treating them as low priority, and avoiding doing anything for them until they completely ran out of excuses. I realize that not everyone enjoys a personal experience of history.

But I also know that that the current RDC officials have another reason to disrespect the Cobblestone Landing: It competes with their fake new Beale Street Landing.

That's the real reason they'd like to move people and boats off the authentic Memphis Landing for good. All the bluster about barriers and lawsuits is just bluster. It's intended to convince you, the Memphis public, to fear and disrespect your heritage, and to not be sorry when you no longer have the ability to enjoy it the way it's been used for over 150 years--as a riverboat landing.

Click here to see more of my photos of Fells Point and the Baltimore Harbor.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fells Point panoramas

Here is a series of panoramic photos I shot last week near the center of historic Fells Point, Baltimore. (Click each photo to enlarge)

Thames Street, at the corner of S. Wolfe, facing northwest.

Above is a good view of the historic City Recreation Pier, which was used as the set for the police station in the 1990s TV series Homicide: Life of the Street. At one time, it was the landing point for thousands of immigrants. It is now a parking garage, but there has been talk of making it into a hotel.

Looking west on Thames Street, the main drag, with the Recreation Pier's entrance (Homicide set) visible on the left.

These water taxis will whisk you from historic Fells Point over to the modern, more touristy Inner Harbor. In the background (right) of the photo you can see the home of Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) in the movie Sleepless in Seattle.

A closeup of "Annie's house" (the narrow one between the restaurant and the red building). If you want to check for yourself, watch for it immediately following the opening credits.

Looking north across Thames Street toward S. Broadway, with a little bit of Fells Point Square visible at the left.

In the photo above, looking south toward the harbor, you're seeing only half of Fells Point Square. (The other half is behind you.)

Baltimore's Inner Harbor

The next three panorama photos were taken at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, which is about a mile from Fells Point.

The angular modern buildings on the left are Baltimore's Aquarium.

Two of the ships permanently moored at the Inner Harbor. On the right you can see the bow of the USS Constellation, which was actually built at the shipyard in Fells Point. On the left a more modern vessel, the HMAS Ballarat a frigate in the Royal Australian Navy. At the far left, a sightseeing cruiser.

The visitor's center for the USS Constellation (left).

Federal Hill

The next two pictures are of a cobblestoned residential street in historic Federal Hill neighborhood across the harbor.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Garrow Report

In the summer of 1994, the City began digging up the Cobblestone Landing at the foot of Beale Street in preparation to move the Tom Lee Monument there. Before they were finally stopped by the Army Corps of Engineers, the City workers had destroyed a large section of the Landing and had unearthed artifacts from the beginnings of the City's history. Not only that, but the City hadn't secured the necessary permits and approvals.

Continues...A positive outcome of this unfortunate affair was that the City was forced to undertake a comprehensive study of the Cobblestone Landing area and produce an approved plan for preserving and enhancing the City's greatest landmark. (The City's memorandum of agreement with the Corps is downloadable here as a PDF [1.98 MB].)

The City hired Garrow & Associates to perform the study and prepare the plan. Their two-volume report is formally titled, Memphis Landing Cultural Resource Assessment and Preservation Plan (December 1995/January 1996). Informally, it is commonly known as the Garrow Report, Part 1 and Part 2.

The team who performed the study and authored the report consisted of:
  • Guy G. Weaver, team leader and principal investigator
  • John L. Hopkins, historical consultant
  • Marsha R. Oates, historical consultant
  • Gary Patterson, geological consultant
The Garrow Report is perhaps the best single reference resource and starting point for anyone who is interested in learning more about the history and significance of the Memphis Landing.

Furthermore, because Garrow's team was independent, the report's recommendations should carry much more weight than those of consultants chosen by the City (or the RDC) to support the City's objectives. As the report aptly noted in 1996, from the 1930s on, "the City of Memphis saw the Landing as a nuisance rather than an asset." They still see it that way.

Garrow Report downloadable as PDFs

I have scanned the Garrow Report, Part 1: Cultural Resource Assessment and Part 2: Preservation Plan, and made them into PDFs. The entire report is over 20 MB per volume. If you want to download the complete volumes, right-click the links below and click "Save link as..."
To make downloads more manageable, I've divided each volume of the report into seven sections. To download any section, right-click on its link and click "Save link as...".

Garrow Report, Part 1: Cultural Resource Assessment:
Garrow Report, Part 2: Preservation Plan:

Urban dig: Getting down to the roots of history

Here is a November 28, 1995 feature story from the Commercial Appeal about Guy Weaver, the archeologist who led the team that investigated the Cobblestone Landing and wrote the Garrow Report.

Urban dig - Getting down to the roots of history
by Christine Arpe Gang

When Guy Weaver tells people he's an archeologist, they sometimes ask him how many dinosaurs he's found.

"We're not into dinosaurs; we're into people," said Weaver, senior archeologist in the Memphis branch of Garrow & Associates, an archeological firm with headquarters in Atlanta.

As an urban archeologist, Weaver is usually one step ahead of a bulldozer, surveying sites slated for construction involving federal funds or the transfer of state property.

The area he is currently excavating is at North Main and Auction and will be the site of MATA's North End Terminal, a transfer point for buses and trolleys and a parking facility for autos. A building will house MATA's information center and be available for lease to private businesses.

Any project in which federal funds are used must have an archeological survey done before construction begins. The survey involves analyzing artifacts from several test trenches to determined if the site is archeologically "significant." If it is, a full-scale dig may be ordered.

In recent days, Weaver has been standing in ditches as deep as he is tall, looking at layers of soil, determining their color and texture and calling out code numbers to an assistant who records them.

It's tedious work, not to mention damp and cold in the winter and hot and humid in the summer, but it's what Weaver thrives on.

"I can see 150 years of history compressed into 1/2 foot of soil," he said.

The terminal location was once the site of two train depots: one for the Memphis & Ohio line dating to 1855 and the other for the Louisville & Nashville line dating to 1888.

Weaver already knows where the stations were because there are maps detailing exactly their locations.

So why, one wonders, is it necessary to go to the work and expense of digging trenches and sifting through soil to search for clues to the past when it has already been recorded in books and documents?

"Historical documents don't tell the whole story because they can be incomplete and written from the viewpoint of social elites," Weaver said. "It's a 'great men, great events' type of approach.

"There was a whole segment of the population who couldn't write and were not written about. We're looking for evidence of what happened to ordinary people," he said.

"As we like to say, the dirt don't lie."

A little over a week ago, state archeologist Nick Fielder visited the MATA site to determine whether the building foundations, well filled with shoes, bottles and vegetable remains, as well as tags from luggage or mailbags are significant enough to warrant a full-scale dig.

"Under the foundation for the L & N station is one for the M & O," Fielder said. "We know very little about the M & O, so I decided they should open up the area a little more. We're looking for architectural and engineering-type information about the building."

After Weaver further explores the old foundation, Fielder will come back again to see what he has unearthed.

"We're not just looking for neat bottles and pottery," Fielder said. "We're looking for additional information that can't be gleaned from further research."

Weaver's report will help designers of the MATA project minimize the impact of construction on the artifacts underneath the site.

"Our first choice is to preserve the artifacts," Weaver said. "We'll record their location and maybe 200 to 300 years from now, some other archeologists might have cause to investigate."

If it's clear construction will destroy the artifacts, Weaver said his firm will try to recover whatever it can before construction begins.

"Some people think we are anti-development, but we're not," Weaver said. "We're against uninformed development."

Tom Fox, director of service development for MATA, said this is the first MATA construction project that required an archeological survey. It will cost $45,000. The entire project, including land acquisition, will cost $5.4 million. Construction is slated to start next March.

Archeology, Weaver says, is like detective work.

"We're not ivory tower scholars," Weaver said. "We're striving to retrive information that can be useful and to manage cultural resources."

During the building of the new AutoZone headquarters downtown, for example, construction crews ran into several wells that were the receptacles of trash from early inhabitants of the site.

Weaver and his staff found a 130-year-old pair of shoes, thousands of fragments of bottles and dishes, remnants of clothing and bones and vegetable matter that tell about the diets of the people who lived there.

Weaver's wife, Louella Whitson Weaver, is also an archeologist and conservator of artifacts for Garrow & Associates. Items from the AutoZone project were pieced together and photographed for the final report. They are the property of AutoZone.

It took 1 1/2 years to complete the AutoZone work - from excavation, artifact retrieval and conservation to preparing the written report.

"Some of the objects (from the AutoZone site) are museum quality," Weaver said. "Objects have a special quality to capture the past."

Weaver, 42, describes himself as an "Army brat" who lived in Europe and numerous cities in the United States before setting down his roots in Memphis. A graduate of Memphis State University, he said coming to Memphis was a logical choice because it was always "home" to his transient family. His father is from West Tennessee and his mother from North Mississippi.

While growing up in various places around the world, he was fascinated with the differences and similarities between people. He wanted to study primitive people in New Guinea or South America but said he was too late. The tribes have been studied or have disappeared. So he turned to the next best thing - archeology - a science that emcompasses anthropology, social sciences, geology and logic.

"You need to be curious and patient because it can be slow going," he said. "You need to be detail-oriented but in control of the big picture. And you need a perspective of time and understanding of events, trends and patterns that transcend your own generation."

He is working for the City of Memphis to assess the archeology, geology, history and design of the riverfront cobblestones, which he calls "the last great cobblestone landing in the country." And he is always on the lookout for evidence of Fort San Fernando, a Spanish fort dating to 1795 he believes to be about a block south of the MATA project.

Despite the fact that there are other archeologists working in Memphis, Weaver said there are "not enough archeologists to keep up with destruction in the Mid-South. So many Indian sites have been plowed away for shopping centers or dug out for ditches. Burial grounds are nonrenewable resources..."

Turn-of-century trash gives lowdown on life then, now

This story of how City engineers clumsily started digging and stirred up a hornet's nest of trouble is reported in this October 8, 1994 story in the Commercial Appeal.

Turn-of-century trash gives lowdown on life then, now
by Tom Charlier

By all indications, they lived high and ate well. Even their garbage was first-class.

Thanks to a troubled city park project, the soft mud of the Memphis riverfront these days is yielding what appears to be evidence of the city's blue-blood past. The finds so far include fragments of long-stemmed wine glasses, fine china, ornate serving bowls and the bones of butchered animals, all apparently from an exclusive home or restaurant.

"It's an historic site," said Jim McNeil, staff archeologist for the Corps of Engineers' Memphis district. "It gives a look into Memphis in the early 1900s."

The items were found in the bottom of a pit excavated at the mouth of the Downtown Harbor as part of the Tom Lee Park renovation project. They probably are relics of a trash heap on the riverbank dating back to the turn of the century, McNeil said.

But while the discovery has excited archeologists and historians, it is proving to be a major headache for city officials. It means more delays and red tape for a project involving the relocation of the Tom Lee statue and the construction of a plaza.

Last month, the corps ordered a halt to the excavation not long after it had begun because the city hadn't obtained the permit required by environmental laws. Because the work can only be done during the brief period when the Mississippi River is at its lowest, city officials tried to pursue an "emergency" permit allowing the project to resume quickly.

The discovery of the artifacts helped quash that idea.

"We've talked about it with the city, and because of these issues and because of other concerns about issuing an emergency permit after the fact, we felt like it wouldn't be appropriate," said Larry Watson, chief of regulatory functions for the corps.

Without the emergency permit, the city will have to wait at least a month for authorization for the work. The project calls for the placement of 23,350 cubic yards of sand, filter rock and stone riprap in the excavated area to form the foundation for the statue and plaza.

In addition to the permit requirements set by the corps, the Tennessee Historical Commission wants the city to conduct further archeological testing to more fully assess the site.

In a letter to the corps this week, the commission also said Memphis should be required to prepare a plan to "mitigate," or offset, damages to the historic cobblestone area caused by the project.

The cobblestones are part of the South Bluffs Warehouse Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. According to the commission, the newly found archeological site also might be eligible for the register.

City engineer James Collins said officials haven't given up their efforts to complete the project during the current low-water season.

"We're still trying to get everything done and hope the water stays down, but frankly it doesn't look very good," he said.

If the river rises much more before the city gets approval to proceed with the work, the project will have to wait until stages return to near zero on the Memphis gauge. That probably wouldn't be until at least next summer.

McNeil said the excavation appears to have uncovered a refuse heap. He's found parts of plates, glasses, bottles, medicine containers, sawed animal bones, a dinner knife handle, part of a urinal, an oyster shell, a planter and other items. A layer of ash, probably from a stove or furnace, is intermingled with the items.

McNeil dates the material to the late 1800s or early 1900s primarily because the bottles that have been found predate the screw-on caps that arrived in about the 1920s.

Most of the items remain unguarded in the excavated pit. However, McNeil pointed out that federal laws prescribe stiff penalties against anyone caught illegally disturbing historic and archeological sites.

McNeil said the site could provide valuable insights into the history of Memphis, including its commerce, food supply and medical services.

"That's why dumps are important," he said.

Next: Lode of past beckons under cobblestones

Lode of past beckons under cobblestones

When the City brought in professional archeologists to assess the situation, they learned that it wasn't just a matter of a previous generation's trash. This November 14, 1994 article in the Commercial Appeal advances the story of the Tom Lee Monument that wasn't to be.

Lode of past beckons under cobblestones
by Tom Charlier

Article Text:

Racing against time, looters and a rising Mississippi River, archeologists mined just enough of a rich vein of Memphis history last month to get an idea of the treasures that might lie uncovered.

A new report says an archeological dig beneath the cobblestones at Beale Street Landing turned up everything from an 1890 Indian head penny to 100-year-old tableware and tobacco pipes. Unremarkable by themselves, the artifacts together help illuminate a "complex mosaic" of local history, says the report by Garrow & Associates Inc. of Memphis.

The Garrow firm completed a survey at the riverfront as part of a nearly $14,000 contract with the city, which plans to relocate the Tom Lee monument to the top of the site. The work was done to see if the area was of ample cultural and archeological significance warranting protection during construction of the project.

The answer came back a resounding yes.

"The potential is there for some very significant finds," said Guy Weaver, senior archeologist for the Garrow firm. He added that only the upper few feet of the site were explored during the one week of field work.

The report, describing the dig site as a significant resource, recommends that it be considered eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Further archeological work, it says, could shed light on more of 19th Century Memphis.

As a result, representatives of the firm, the city, the Corps of Engineers and perhaps the state will meet as early as today to discuss a possible agreement on steps that must be taken to minimize impacts during the monument relocation. The work is part of the expansion and overhaul of Tom Lee Park now under way.

"We'll have to work up an agreement between the city and state and us as to what is to be done when and if they (the city) get to do the work," said Jim McNeil, staff archeologist for the corps' Memphis district.

Weaver said he would like to see the city either avoid the Beale Landing site or redesign the project to minimize impacts. "If that isn't possible, then we'll probably push to go to some kind of major excavation" to obtain more artifacts, he said.

No one knows how much the archeological preservation work will add to the cost of the park project. City engineer James Collins said he hopes the city will be allowed to complete the monument work with a minimum of disruption.

"But if they tell us to find something else to do, we'll find something else to do," he said.

City officials want to move the obelisk because, "where it is now, you don't hardly notice it driving down Riverside (Drive)," Collins said.

But complications in the project arose this fall when a city contractor began excavating the riverbank so a foundation for the new monument site could be laid. Since Memphis had not received the federal Clean Water Act permit needed for the work, the corps shut the project down.

After old bottles and other artifacts were found in the hole, the city, as part of the permit process, commissioned the survey.

Archeologists and historians already were aware of the significance of the cobblestones. Fourteen years ago, low water on the river exposed high concentrations of glass, ceramics and other material.

Citing "available information," the report says the landing at Beale had been used by riverboats before 1840 and received heavy passenger traffic just after the Civil War. It was later the site of Vicksburg and St. Louis Anchor Line's huge freight elevator, which burned in 1878.

The landing served as a place to dump the city's refuse in the massive cleanup following the Yellow Fever epidemics of the 1870s, the report says. After that, in the early 1880s, the cobblestones were laid at the Beale site, it says.

The survey found ample evidence pointing to the presence of a dump beneath the cobblestones. In digging into the site, archeologists found a "rich 19th Century midden," or layer of debris, according to the report.

The various trenches dug during the survey yielded glass bottles made from molds, bottle closures that predated bottlecaps, porcelain doll fragments and toy dishes, buttons, ceramic tableware with backmarks identifying their makers, tobacco pipes, nails, oyster shells and other material.

Perhaps most interesting was the discovery of dozens of straight pins, Weaver said. He speculates that they might have held down cloth used during the laying of the cobblestones.

But the findings attracted the attention of local bottle-collectors, who "undermined" the site, the report says.

Weaver said archeologists arriving at the work trenches in the mornings would see signs that looters had been there overnight. "They haven't done a whole lot of damage, but they shouldn't be there," he said.

The area is now fenced, and officials point out that federal law prescribes tough penalties for illegally disturbing archeological sites.

When it comes to unearthing valuable information at the Beale site, the best may be yet to come, Weaver says. He thinks deposits beneath it could be stratified chronologically, meaning the deeper you dig, the further back in time you go. Shipwrecks, even relics from prehistoric Indians might lie 10 feet down, he said.

Weaver says further archeological work should involve "controlled excavations" at certain intervals extending all the way to the bottom of the debris.

Tennessee historical officials have concurred with the Garrow firm that the site is eligible for listing on the register, which automatically brings protection under the National Historic Preservation Act.

"This is a site that will tell us a fair number of things about what people were doing at that period of time," said Joe Garrison, review and compliance coordinator with the Tennessee Historical Commission. "It sort of reinforces some of the things we already knew, and it may call into question some of the things we thought we knew."

Garrow: Historical Summary of the Memphis Landings (Timeline)

Reproduced below is a convenient historical timeline of the development of the Memphis Landings. It appears as a table in chapter 6 of the Garrow Report, Part 1.

The following material is reproduced from The Memphis Landing Part 1: Cultural Resource Assessment, Garrow & Associates, January 1996, by Guy G. Weaver, John L. Hopkins, Marsha R. Oates, and Gary Patterson. The text below is identical, with only minor formatting changes. (To download scanned PDFs of the original document, go to this page.)

Table 3: Historical Summary of the Memphis Landings


Public Promenade is established from the mouth of Bayou Gayoso to Beale Street. The Public Landing extends from Auction Street to Winchester Street.


A sandbar accretes across the west and southwest frontages of the Public Landing. A wooden walkway and wharf are built across the bar in 1837 at the end of Winchester Street.


Captain William W. Hart, wharfmaster, moves the wharfbcat south to the vicinity of Union Street.


The City formalizes the development of the Batture. Center Landing is established between the extensions of Poplar and Washington streets. A "public levee" extends along the frontage of the river on both sides of Center Landing. At least portions of Center Landing are paved before 1859.


In March, the City "introduces a plan for paving the wharf with limestone or granite, of not less than four nor more than eight inches in surface, to be laid on gravel not less than five nor more than eight inches in depth; the width of the pavement to be 100 feet, the length 3300." Amendments establish a uniform grade and set the depth of the paving at 12 inches. The completed revetment is to stretch from the north end of Jefferson Street to the south line of Union Street at Howard's Row.

In September, the first stones of the pavement at the city wharf are put down by the contractor, John Lowdon.


Audit shows Lowdon has paved 12,428.88 square yards between Adams and Jefferson (Union?) streets and 7,129.39 square yards between Union and Beale streets. Also mentioned is the requirement for Loudon to "grade from the wharf" some 40,000 cubic yards of earth. Lowdon is already obliged to repair "that portion of the nine inch pavement between Union and Beale Streets which has given way and sunk." The settling of the grade is attributed to the lack of "sewers or drains underneath said pavement necessary to conduct all water beneath it to the river."


Mayor and board receive proposals "for the sinking of a barge or other river craft with sufficient stone or other material to hold it in place at the landing below Poplar Street where the bank is now being washed away."


In June, Federal forces arrive in Memphis.


Changes in the currents of the Mississippi slowly begin to erode the Batture. By 1886, the paved frontage flanking the open square of the landing slips into the river.


The City awards a contract to John Loudon for new paving from Jefferson to Monroe streets, "to be one hundred feet in width, composed of square blocks of stone."


Loudon calls attention to caving conditions of public landing northward from Jefferson Street; a strip 700 x 100 already had disappeared, carrying away $20,000 worth of paving. Caving could be stopped by sinking two or three old barges loaded with gravel opposite the head of "Old Hen." Resolution extends the contract of M. & J. Lowden to include unpaved portion of city wharf from Court to Union; the work is to be done within 60 days.


City Engineer instructs J. & M. Loudon to pave Landing at the foot of Union Street.


The Vicksburg & St. Louis Anchor Line's massive freight elevator is constructed at the foot of Beale Street.


Freight elevator is destroyed by fire.


Ordinance requires "parties laying sewers to the River to use Iron pipe under the Landing."

City Engineer recommends completing the levee south of Union Street. Contract is awarded to M. Larkin & Co. Material for the paving project is provided under a separate contract with James A. Loudon.

In March, T. C. Betts is awarded the contract to construct a "dump or dredge boat" at the elevator site.


In June, Grider begins paving, breaking ground at the lower end of the old elevator and working up to Beale Street."

In July, newspapers report a renewed contract for Larkin & Company to finish "paving of the wharf & Landing from the north edge of the elevator to the south edge of Beale Street, a distance of about 400 feet by 200." Also in July, the City Engineer designs new specifications and advertises for bids to pave the area of the wharf from the elevator to Beale Street. A contract calling for "paving the wharf from N side of old elevator to S. side of Beale Street [with] the district reserving the right to do any or all of the grading" was awarded to O. H. P. Piper. The fire and police commissioners are authorized to insure more rapid progress by W. H. Grider & Co. to complete work.

In August, a diver cuts away the burned pilings at the bottom of the river at the old St. Louis Packet Company elevator at the foot of Beale Street.


In October, the contract with Grider & Co., "having done the paving and not the rip rap & repairing" because of the "stage of water and other reasons," is canceled.

In December, a status report indicates the progress over the "past three years in grading and extending the wharf and landing southward from Union street and to the south side of Beale. About thirty thousand square yards of new pavement has been laid, making the new levee front some eleven hundred feet, by two hundred and fifty feet with the slope. Two-thirds of this work is of first-class block stone and the remainder first-class rubble-range work. About four thousand cubic yards of stone rip rap has been placed at this levee as a protection against washing and undermining of same." The city's paved landing surface extends in an unbroken line from Beale Street north to Jefferson Street, a distance of more than one-half mile, averaging 225 feet in width.


The uppermost (eastern) edge of the Landing pavement is altered during the construction of the Mississippi & Tennessee Railroad. These efforts also require the removal of "all of the bluffs out of their line between Beale and Jefferson (save that between Union and Monroe), amounting to over fifty thousand cubic yards."

ca. 1912

The massive Memphis Siphon storm sewer is constructed beneath the Landing between Union and Gayoso avenues.


Riverside Drive is constructed.

Garrow: Historical Overview of the Memphis Landing

Here is a brief overview of the history and significance of the Cobblestone Landing (a.k.a. the Memphis Landing), taken from Part 2 of the Garrow Report (December 1995). See also the historical timeline.

The following material is reproduced from The Memphis Landing Part 1: Cultural Resource Assessment, Garrow & Associates, January 1996, by Guy G. Weaver, John L. Hopkins, Marsha R. Oates, and Gary Patterson. The text below is identical, with only minor formatting changes. (To download scanned PDFs of the original document, go to this page.)

The following overview of the history of the Memphis Landing is drawn from a much more extensive summary in the first volume of this report (Weaver et al. 1995). The reader should consult that report for further information and bibliographic citations.

The present Memphis Landing is the surviving portion of a series of four river landings developed along Memphis' frontages with the Mississippi and Wolf rivers between 1819 and ca. 1881. Today's Landing includes portions of the South Memphis Landing, developed between Union Avenue and Beale Street beginning in 1838, and the southern portion of the great Memphis Landing, first developed in the 18405 between Jefferson and Union avenues.

Before 1859, the appearance of the great Memphis Landing and the South Memphis Landing were quite different from the existing vast but well-defined stone pavement. Printed images from the 1840s and 1850s show the Landing as an expanse of rough, exposed, eroded bluff terraces, divided by east-west road cuts through the terraces to reach a narrow strip of land at the water's edge. The river's edge, a much smoother plane of clay and silt, was subject to erosion by the currents of the Mississippi River and proved to be an unreliable place for river traffic to land. Falling water levels often revealed impassable sheer drops in the slope of the embankment, caused by erosion of the bank by river currents during high water levels. The vertical movement of the Mississippi River is astonishing, sometimes exceeding 50 feet between periods of high and low water and 30 feet between average annual high and low water. During periods of low water, river passengers and laborers were forced to traverse two hundred to three hundred feet of the unstable bank before reaching compacted ground. Newspaper descriptions from this period suggest that crossing this embankment of mud was usually difficult, and virtually impossible during rainy periods.

The City of Memphis recognized that the surface of the Landing should be improved. Center Landing, between Adams and Poplar avenues, was paved before 1859. However, paving the portion of the Landing that remains today was not considered until 1859, when the opening of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad fueled a boom in activity at the Landing to connect river with rail transport. At that time, the City hired paving contractor John Loudon to initiate 'paving the wharf with limestone or granite" between Adams and Union avenues to cover a width of 100 feet and length of 3,300 feet. Amendments to Loudon's contract set the thickness of the paving at 12 inches and extended its length to Beale Street. The stone used in the project was quarried in Illinois; contrary to popular and longstanding myth, it did not originate as ballast stones in sailing ships.

Loudon began the work in 1859; by August 1860 the City Engineer reported that Loudon had completed 19,558.27 square yards of paved surface. The project was halted soon after the outbreak of the Civil War. Loudon resumed the project in July 1866. Subsequent contracts with Loudon's sons and other contractors brought the Landing to completion in 1881. Analysis of the remaining pavement fabric on the Landing strongly suggests that at least portions of each of these paving projects remains in place today.

By the early 1880s, the original Memphis Landing at the mouth of Bayou Gayoso near Auction Avenue had been rendered obsolete by accretions of the river bank to the west. Center Landing was in the process of eroding away and was landlocked by the late 1880s. The focal point of commerce on the Memphis waterfront permanently shifted to the great Memphis Landing and the South Memphis Landing, then recognized as a single place.

The paving of the Memphis Landing between 1859 and 1881 was arguably the largest and most complex public works project undertaken by the City of Memphis in the nineteenth century, perhaps rivaled only by the construction of George Waring's revolutionary sanitary sewer system, which began in 1879. The completion of the Mississippi and Tennessee Railroad line across the brow of the Landing in 1882 established a direct connection between the river and rail terminal.

For the next fifty years, the Landing bustled with activity. The growth of the nation's railroads slowly diminished the importance of the Landing for passenger traffic, especially after the completion of the Frisco Railroad Bridge in 1892. Still, the river remained a necessary connection between the rich cotton plantations of the Mississippi and Arkansas deltas and the industrialized North. The poor quality of the road systems in the Mid-South region guaranteed that the river would remain an important transportation route for agricultural crops well into the twentieth century. Local steamship lines like the Lee Line and national carriers like the Anchor Line originated service from the Memphis Landing and continued to make Memphis a port of call on their routes, with daily trips until the 1930s. Individual steamships such as the Lee Line's Kate Adams attained such status in the city's collective consciousness that their names are still familiar to most Memphians.

It is difficult to pinpoint when the Memphis Landing began to slip in commercial importance and prestige. Some argue that the completion of the Frisco Bridge started the decline of the Landing's commercial role; others point to the region's escalating agricultural depression that began in the 1910s. An important factor was the isolation of the Landing from the main channel of the Mississippi River by the growth of Mud Island beginning in the 1910s. In all likelihood, a combination of these and other factors changed the role of the Landing in city life.

Harland Bartholomew proposed altering the Landing for a new purpose in the city's first comprehensive city plan, completed in 1924. Since then, urban planners, architects, and city leaders have occasionally proposed a solution to the question, "What shall we do with the Memphis Landing?" To date, the complex terrain of the river bluffs and the Landing itself have combined with the formidable and fickle Mississippi River to render many proposals impractical or impossible. Riverside Drive was constructed across the brow of the Landing in the 1930s; apart from that road project, the other proposals, including the massive parking lots proposed by Bartholomew, the 17-lane interstate highway, the heliport, and the megalithic apartment building included in other plans have all been considered briefly but discarded.

One probable reason for the survival of the Memphis Landing into the 1990s is its special place in the collective memory of Memphians. At its peak, the Memphis Landing played a role as important to the commercial and civic life of the city as the FedEx "Hub" and Memphis International Airport are in our own times. Perhaps its preservation has been accomplished in recognition of its valued service to the Memphis community, not just for its place in the City's economic development over a century and a quarter, but also in memory of the thousands of unknown people who built it and moved the commerce of the city across its surface.

For a much larger group, those who might be in Memphis for only a few days or even a few hours, the Memphis Landing provides a rare opportunity to approach the edge of the waters of the Mississippi, to touch the water if they wish to. Though this may seem insignificant to Memphis residents, the powerful place held by the Mississippi River in our national heritage, our literature, and our music is a magnet for visitors who feel attracted to this mighty waterway. Along its entire route, there are few places where the topography allows one actually to reach the river easily. Keeping the Memphis Landing as one of a very few urban places to experience the Mississippi River may be enough to justify its preservation.

Level of Historical Significance

The Memphis Landing was recognized as a significant historic resource by its inclusion in the boundaries of the Cotton Row Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in August 1979. Although this form of recognition is adequate to afford it protection under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the listing does not provide a comparative context to evaluate the Landing on a larger scale.

In conjunction with this study, an effort was made to contact each of the State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPO) in the 13 states that border the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to gather comparative information concerning the survival of historic landings in their states. Based on this informal survey, the Memphis Landing is likely the best preserved of all of the nineteenth century landings in the Mississippi River drainage basin. Unlike landings in other major cities (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, New Orleans), the Memphis Landing remains largely intact in its historic dimensions and physical composition. Moreover, the construction of flood control measures, interstate highways, and other obstructions has not severed its contact with the city it served. On a national level, then, the Memphis Landing may best represent the significant national themes of river commerce in the nineteenth century, in addition to its significant role in westward migration. There are no resources listed as National Historic Landmarks that represent these themes. It is recommended that nomination of the Landing as a National Historic Landmark be pursued.