Status: Preserved; renovation in progress
Location: East side of Wolf River Harbor between Court and Beale Streets, in Memphis
Built: 1838, 1859-61, 1866-68, 1880, with later innovations and repairs
Architectural Style: Cobblestone Landing
Original Function/Purpose: Transportation
History: The Memphis Landing is a nationally significant inland-river port associated with the unacknowledged but vast economic contributions of Black producers of pre-mechanized cotton in the United States. Established in 1838, the landing was later improved with cobblestones during several phases before and after the Civil War. The paving project began in 1859-61 and resumed following the Civil War in 1866-68, with another new phase being completed in 1880-81. The landing still features the diverse types of paving stones laid down in the nineteenth century, steamboat mooring rings, drainages, culverts, and an historic river gauge once used to keep track of the Mississippi River level for cotton shippers. It has not been used in connection with commercial shipping for decades, although it served during some of those decades as a free parking lot and as a riverboat tour embarkation site. Yet even in its neglected state, the Memphis Landing was the most-intact cobblestone landing on the major inland waterways of the United States, and continued to be a tourist destination. From time to time the City of Memphis or the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC, the landing’s manager since 2000) funded another study of what to do with it. The latest such effort was undertaken in 2017 by Studio Gang. The RDC’s successor, Memphis River Parks Partnership, continues to manage the landing today, and in early 2019 filed a $6.3 million permit to restore it. In March 2020 it was announced that renovation would begin later that summer, now updated to a cost of about $7.1 million. The project would include, among other features, removal of asphalt, concrete, sediment and vegetation covering parts of the 2,000-foot long landing, burial of utilities underground, the resetting of six blocks of cobblestones by hand, new signalization of the railroad and Riverside Drive, and addition of overlooks, walkways to the river’s edge, handicap accessibility and new signage. The historic river gauge would be retained, along with more than 100 large cast-iron rings once used to tether ships. After early bids came in over budget, funding of the restoration was finally approved in February 2021 at more than $10 million, with groundbreaking set for March or April. In late 2021 workers were surprised to discover “buried treasure,” some 5,300 square feet of cobblestone landing hidden under so much sediment that no one knew it was there. The discovery means that some redesigning of the project will be necessary.
Outline of the property (outlined in red) used in its National Register nomination.
City Council District: 6
Super District: 8
County Commission District: 8