Historic Markers Across Tennessee

Memphis,Tennessee/Mud Island

Marker ID:  
Location: Mud Island River Park on Riverside Drive, Memphis, TN
County: Shelby
Coordinates: N 35° 8.968    W 090° 3.507
  35.14946666    -90.05845
Style: Free Standing **
Waymark: None


Memphis, Tennessee/Mud Island

Memphis, TennesseeIts central location on the Mississippi River has been the basis for Memphis’s growth. The fourth Chickasaw Bluff was long occupied by the Native American tribe for whom it was named. France and later Spain built forts there but failed to conquer the Chickasaws. The area became U. S. Territory in 1798, and it opened for settlement 20 years later, after the Native Americans were forced to sell their land.

John Overton, James Winchester, and Andrew Jackson bought 5,000 acres on the bluff and laid out the town in 1819. Its early years were difficult, but the new delta cotton plantations and a stage road running east and west made Memphis a boomtown by the late 1840’s. Railroad lines were opened, and the city became the busy junction of road, river, and rail. By the Civil War, it was a major port and manufacturing center.

Mud Island
Present day Mud Island began as a sandbar which appeared in front of the Memphis harbor as early as 1900 and became permanent in 1913. As silt and sand deposited by the river steadily enlarged it, it joined Frame’s Island to the north and continued to grow southward threatening to block the Memphis waterfront. In 1916, Mud Island was connected to the east bank north of the Wolf River, which was channeled to flow between it and the Memphis bank to keep the harbor open. Squatters sometimes farmed on the island, but it was periodically covered by high water. In the 1950’s a small airport was built here.

The Wolf River has since been re-routed into the Mississippi to the north, and its old channel is now a still-water harbor. A large western section of the island was removed in 1958, in preparation for the construction of the Hernando Desoto Bridge, and the soil was placed on the northern end of the Island, raising it above flood stage.

Design of Mud Island River Park began in 1973, and construction started in 1977. Opened in 1982, Mud Island River Park is a unique showplace of the life and culture of the Lower Mississippi River.

Three Yellow Fever epidemics in the 1870’s killed thousands, drove away residents and wrecked the local economy. Determined rebuilding efforts were spurred by the railroad bridge built over the Mississippi at Memphis in 1892. By 1900, its population over 100,000, Memphis recovered. Cotton was king, and Memphis was its capital. The Beale Street night-life district became legendary and W. C. Handy made Memphis the “Home of the Blues” with his popular songs.

Revival of river traffic in the 1920’s renewed the city’s importance as a port. Memphis grew to be the nation’s hardwood lumber center. In the 1950’s and 60’s, Memphis became headquarters for a number of major corporations, and a new harbor at Presidents’ Island increased river activity. The city regained the musical spotlight as Memphis musicians produced scores of trend-setting records, and a local singer named Elvis Presley became an international phenomenon.