Historic Memphis
Cobblestone Landing


No city in the U. S. A. has an authentic, usable riverfront cobblestone landing, except Memphis.  It's the last remaining complete stone-paved landing on any United States waterfront.  There were others - especially St. Louis and Cincinnati, but those have now been mostly destroyed. 

Once the shore of the Chickasaw Bluffs was paved with cobblestones in the 1800s, Memphis became a major center of commerce.  And because of that, Memphis has finally decided on the preservation of the cobblestones to "...full usability for boating and enjoyment of locals and visitors, because the landing symbolizes Memphis' history as a busy river port".  Indeed the cobblestones are perhaps the most significant historic site in the area. 


The Cobblestone Landing in Memphis is the nation's largest remaining, intact cobblestone landing.  It's located on Riverside Drive between Beale Street and Jefferson.  It was built between the late 1850s and 1890s by immigrant laborers who laid the stone from quarries from Illinois.  The landing was created because of the heavy commerce of incoming ships which exchanged their loads for cotton, lumber, and other products - making Memphis the world's largest cotton and hardwood markets.  These distinctions helped contribute to Memphis becoming the largest mule market because so many mules were used to unload the ships and take the products up the bluffs to the warehouses.  Memphis was also the major slave port in the mid-south.




More Cotton

        Major Cotton Market


The City originally hired paving contractor John Loudon to pave the wharf with limestone or granite between Adams and Beale,  and to cover a width of 100 feet and length of 3,300 feet.  The thickness of the paving was set at 12 inches.  The stone was quarried in Illinois.  Loudon began the work in 1859.  However work was halted soon after the outbreak of the Civil War.  He resumed the project in 1866 and completed it in 1881.  Analysis of the stones on the Landing, suggest that portions of each of London's paving projects remains in place today.  In 1979 the Cobblestone Landing was placed on the he National Register of Historic Places.


Major Mule Market

1911 - Busy Port


Busy Port 1906


Mississippi Riverboats calling at Memphis... Before 1859, the Memphis Landing and was quite different from the existing stone pavement one sees today.   Drawings from the 1840s show the Landing as an expanse of rough, eroded bluff terraces, divided by road cuts through the terraces to reach a narrow strip of land at the water's edge. The river's edge was subject to erosion by the currents of the River and proved to be an unreliable place for river traffic to land.  Falling water levels revealed drops in the slope of the embankment, caused by erosion.  The vertical movement of the Mississippi River sometimes exceeds 50 feet between periods of high and low water. During periods of low water, river passengers and laborers had to walk over 200 feet of the unstable bank before reaching compacted ground.  It was unusually difficult, and virtually impossible during rainy periods.   Once the Cobblestone Landing was completed, conditions were far more favorable to commerce, and Memphis became a MAJOR river port.


Memphis Landing 1870


2011... Today, the historic cobblestones have fallen into disrepair.  The result is unsafe walking conditions which can result in injuries or lawsuits.  Mud and weeds are claiming significant portions of the landing, and patches of unsightly asphalt cover gaps in the stone - testifying to a previous botched restoration.  There's been further deterioration as a result of erosion and settling.   All of these problems can be solved by restoring the landing and preventing further deterioration.  A 1996 survey estimated there were more than 800,000 of the original cobblestones left at the landing.


  Missing Cobblestones

Missing stones...

       Stretches of missing stones...

        Cement grout...





             Bad Asphalt Restoration


Controversy over restoration plans... Of course there's controversy.  Long-time Memphians will have no trouble believing that originally, the city actually thought about demolishing the Cobblestone Landing? Eventually the City proposed building a large dock at the foot of Beale Street, named "Beale Landing", and then restoring the existing cobblestones, adding a "foot" at the bottom so the stones wouldn't slip into the water.  The critics insist that Beale Landing is a waste of money, because Mud Island already has the dock built that could be used by ships for "day cruises".   In addition, the Beale Landing has nothing to do with history or the cobblestone landing.  In fact, it's a "dock" - not a landing.  They also say that if a footing is added to the bottom of the cobblestones, riverboats won't be able to come in as they always have - and that destroys the history part of the renovation.  Rip-rap footing is a layer of jagged ruble-stones and is used for erosion control, NOT for boat landings.  Any boater will tell you that you land on rip-rap at your own risk, because it can destroy the bottom of barges.  Rip-rap is also a trash-collector and this would be exposed 50% of the time, at low tide.



      Beale Landing*

Garrow Report ** The Rip-Rap footing The concrete walkways

Objections to the Restoration Plans... The main objection to the restoration plan seems to be the stone rip-rap or the "foot" at the bottom, designed to keep the stones from slipping into the water.  Critics say this will prevent River Boats from being able to come up to the landing, and make it impossible for small boats.  In addition it will "inhibit access to the river", and at low tide, would be exposed 50% of the time - showing unsightly trash that has been collected.  A secondary objection is the concrete walkway extending down the landing and destroying the historic appearance.  Critics say that walking on cobblestones requires your attention.  Europe wouldn't think about discontinuing their cobblestones.  Why should Memphis?  And you wouldn't expect to see concrete walkways over a sandy beach to make it easier to get to the water - so why add them over a cobblestone landing?  The rallying cry is "Restoration, not alteration". 



Once-Busy River Port... It's not easy to establish exactly when the Memphis Landing slipped in commercial importance and prestige.  Some say that when the Frisco Bridge was built, the decline started.  Others say it had to do with the agricultural depression that began in the 1910s.  But everyone agrees that one factor was the isolation of the Memphis Landing from the main channel of the River by the growth of Mud Island.  The growth of the Island is narrowing the main channel.


     Map with  Mud Island    1915 Illustration

1895 Postcard



1911 Postcard


With the Renaissance of downtown Memphis, and the development of the Beale Street Historical District, the city has become a major tourist destination.  It's not much of a stretch to realize that the port landing will become part of this Renaissance, because River Cruises are a major draw for today's travelers.  Thus, proper restoration, with attention to "HISTORY" should be a top priority for the City when the Cobblestone Landing is restored.   After 150 years of continuous and thriving use, if the city continues with the current "Rip-Rap" footing plan for the landing, Memphians and tourists will never again see those grand riverboats tied up at the foot of the Cobblestones, like in the numerous photos on this web page. 


<>  Vintage Riverboat Photos and Memorabilia <>


      1875 Ticket

    Gambler    .      Invoice 1880

The "Hard Cash"

      A "Hard Cash"  1881 Bill


The "Jewel" A "Jewel" 1911 Bill Vintage Ad 1870 Ticket


The "James Lee" A "Lee Line" 1894 Pass A "Lee Line" Room Key Vintage Ad

The "Senator Cordill"

"Cordill" Lounge

"Cordill" Dining

      The "Stackler Lee"


The "Hollywood Showboat"

"Showboat" 1933 Ad

1859 Ad              Vintage Roulette

 "Georgia Lee" 1906

The "Belle of Bends"  "James Lee" 1910

"Lee""Lee""St.Joe" 1900

 Cobblestones 1905 "Kate Adams" "Kate Adams" Lounge 1903

"Crescent City" Dining 1900


Riverfront Sign

Lee Line Post Card 1909 Lee Line Tokens 1865-1929

BiPlane - Cobblestones 1919

"Oleander" 1920 Alton Menu 1907 Cobblestones 1920s             Floor Refugees 1927
"Belle Memphis" 1895 "Island Queen" 1939 "Alice Dean" 1867              Cobblestones - 1906
 "Idlewild" 1920 Sells Family-1915 "Idlewild" Sells Family-1915 "Idlewild"  

"John Iverton" c 1893

Before Cobblestones

"Oakland" c 1893


             "Princess", 1924      


ShowBoat - 1900s

Safety Instructions

Dining Room

James Lee Salon

Robt E. Lee Salon       


1924 Parking on Cobblestones "James Lee" 1910 "J. B. Smith" Cobblestones c.1910

Cobblestone Workers Beales on Cobblestones Lee Line Serving Dish Lee Line Spoons

White River Ticket 1885        

Presentation Anchor



Memphis-Ark Pass 1897



    Memphis Cotton Boat Cobblestones 1930 Lumber arrives                   Cobblestoens 1927

Deckhand badge Souvenir Lee Fork Mirror Lee Salon

Coovert Photo 1906     


     Tugboat Mamie Coyle

Mamie Coyle 1914

1899 Kate Adams

Landing 1902


1862 Memphis Landing Steamer Red Cloud 1874 Fireworks - 1919

1891 Memphis Skyline


1880s The Thompson Dean

1900 Brochure

1880 Lee Pass

1887 Memphis Levee


1883 Ticket

1892 Landing

1931 Cobblestones

Vintage Memphis Landing-Skyline


    Kate Adams 1927 1906 Steamboat 1905 Landing

1880s Thomas Dean


l880s Bingham-Hilliard photo     Mississippi Ice 1917


Vintage Ships

c. 1800s Unloading


Kittie Hegler 1800s

* The Beale Street Landing

Memphis is at the widest point along the Mississippi River.  Over 50 stops are made by major boats each year - not including local excursion boats.  The city felt that a modern docking facility was needed along the waterfront and the natural place for it would be where the Cobblestone Landing meets Tom Lee Park - at the foot of Beale Street. 

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 could be stopped by the Army Corps of Engineers, the City workers had already destroyed a large section of the cobblestone landing and had carted away two acres of the historic cobblestones, and unearthed artifacts from the beginnings of the City's history.  And...they hadn't even secured the necessary permits and approvals for this project.  After a major delay, including a revised plan to make the Beale Landing blend in with the Cobblestone Landing, the work continued.  In addition to the large floating dock, it will include a building for a restaurant and a park.  In August of 2011, the Beale Landing is behind schedule and is plagued by rising costs.


** The Garrow Report

The City of Memphis recognized that the surface of the Landing should be improved.  They 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.

Garrow Report greatly condensed:  "...prepare a preservation plan for the total remaining cobblestone area north of the Tom Lee Monument relocation project area. The preservation plan shall include, but not be limited to: 1) Additional archival research 2) Mapping and photo-documentation of the cobblestones 3) Geologic study of the cobblestone area that includes distribution, size, texture, pattern, and lithology of the entire cobblestone area 4) Plan for future renovation programs including repair methods 5) Plan for future potential economic developments and long-tenn maintenance in the area (restaurants, boat docks, general accessibility, etc.) 6) Plans for interpretive booklets and exhibits. To these ends, Garrow Associates presented a proposal to the City outlining a multidisciplinary approach to the problems of preservation, maintenance, and future development of the Memphis Landing".


Garrow Report, Part 1: Cultural Resource Assessment

Garrow Report, Part 2: Preservation Plan


Vintage Postcards of Memphis Cobblestone Landing



















Delta Queen

Katie Robbins 1908









    Snagboat Wright 1905








James Lee


The New Wagon...           

1906 1908 Government Fleet

Stacker Lee - 1906


At the Wharf

1912 1909




French Card Vintage Riverbluff




1913 T. P. Leathers



Vintage Wharf           

Busy Port SS. Brown

       Ready for Shipment


1906 Watching Steamboats

1905 Stacker Lee


1914 Memphis Levee

1880s M'Lellan Schedules    1852 Gladiator 1911 On the Levee 1935

Snow on Cobblestones Record Load Stacker Lee






Memphis Boat Club 1907


Thanks  to the Memphis Public Library and the University of Memphis Library for many of the  photos on this page

Email ...


"...The cobblestones brought back some memories to me. In the summer of 1951 I worked as a driver unloading mostly Chrysler automobiles, a few GM cars, and some Army vehicles. They would call us to let us know a barge was coming in and we would go to work day or night. We would unload the cars and sometimes park them on the cobblestones and sometimes drive them to a designated lot. We would drive a car off the barge, park it and walk the cobblestones back to drive another car. I remember the only shoes I had to wear were some leather moccasins and this was hard on my feet. (This was the summer before I was to start going to Memphis State where I saw Joyce Sides and we started dating (1949). I had previously met her when I was dating another Tech girl).  They decided we had to have chauffeur's licenses so the barge company apparently made a deal for us to go by the Tennessee Highway Patrol office on front and exchange our licenses for chauffeur's licenses". - Winford Baker, Memphis

"...I too drove cars off the boats, only I was a year or so early when the French Renaults came to the U.S. and at that time we weren't even required to have a driver's license, as we only drove them from the barge to the cobblestones and parked them and then came back for more to unload.    Great memories...!"   - Bob Harris, Pensacola Beach FL




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