MRPP on mission to save nation's last river city cobblestone landing

By Published: February 27, 2019 6:14 PM CT

Utility poles photo-bomb any sunset photos taken along the historic Memphis Cobblestone Landing.

Holes, gaps and depressions mar the large field of light-colored stones that date to the 1880s.

The old stones gradually slide away and vanish into the Mississippi River.

Spots of concrete and asphalt used to repair the landing over the years corrupt its historic character.

And when tourists descend the steep bluff along Union Avenue to experience the last remaining cobblestone landing among all the nation’s river cities, there’s no viewing venue that befits the one-of-a-kind scene.

All those shortcomings should be remedied soon. The Memphis River Parks Partnership this week applied for a construction permit to start the long-delayed restoration of the Memphis Cobblestone Landing.

The document values construction at $6.3 million, but the total that includes other expenses will be a few million dollars more.

The project will restore the cobblestone field, stabilize the bank there, bury the utility poles, and provide an expanded overlook from Union Avenue.

The cobblestones, stretching along 600 yards of Downtown riverfront, are where cotton, other goods and passengers were loaded and unloaded from boats.

The site is on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Cotton Row District.

The project had already been delayed for years when it was stalled again a few years ago by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. 

The agency determined that the city must first improve railroad crossings above the cobblestones on Riverside Drive before it would release its share of the money for the cobblestone project.

The project’s to-do list includes expanding the sidewalk along Riverside Drive at Union to create an overlook, said George Abbott, spokesman for the Memphis River Parks Partnership.

Sightseers will enjoy “a more generous landing,” he said. “Union is such an important street … It’s a street a lot of tourists use to walk to the riverfront. Now, it’s not a great arrival. The idea is to enhance that sense of arrival and show off our great asset.”

Cleaning and repairing the cobblestone landing may not sound dramatic to some, but passersby will notice the difference, he said.

“I think it will look a lot better. Today, it looks like it’s deteriorating. There is something exciting about cleaning it up. It’s the only remaining, intact and usable cobblestone landing in the country,” Abbott said.

“They used to be all over the place. Over the years, they’ve been covered up or deteriorated and lost in time. The land in Memphis is so important. It’s where the city grew from. Without it, we’d never become such an important trading hub.

“The fact that one is left, it’s such a great asset that we’re really not maximizing,” Abbott said.

He was unsure about the construction timetable because the project still must be reviewed and approved for construction. A goal is to have the restoration project on the same timeline as the restoration of Tom Lee Park, “so we can minimize construction disruptions,” he said.

Memphis River Parks Partnership has proposed a $70 million redesign of Tom Lee Park, another nearby riverfront amenity.  Construction could start as early as June if fundraising progresses as planned and issues are worked out with the Memphis in May International Festival, which holds its annual marquee events on the grounds of Tom Lee.

But funding for the cobblestone restoration already has been nailed down.


Historic Preservation Tourism
Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey covers business news for The Daily Memphian. A Tupelo, Mississippi, native, he graduated from Mississippi State University. He's worked in journalism for 40 years and has lived in Midtown for 36 years.

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