Mud Island: A History 1
Downtown Memphis is separated from the Mighty Mississippi by a spit of land known as Mud Island. This photograph shows the southern tip of the island with the Hernando de Soto Bridge and Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid in the background. The Mississippi River flows on the left, or west, side of Mud Island with the Wolf River Harbor on the right. Downtown is just out of frame to the right. This post, the first of three, will take a look at the history of this little island that started off as nothing more than a sandbar.The southern end of Mud Island is part park, part history museum, part music venue. This map from the 1923 Plan put together by Harland Bartholomew and Associates for the Planning Commission shows not only future roadway alignments, but also future parks. Most of Mud Island was indicated on this map as a future "large park." In 1910, Park Commission Chairman Col. Robert Galloway proposed that Mud Island be a public park for the city's African-Americans since at the time they could not enjoy city parks. The proposal was thwarted by Mayor E.H. Crump, who wanted such a park outside of the city limits. In 1913, the Parks Commission opened Douglass Park to black patrons just east of the Hollywood neighborhood, which was still outside of the city ten years later when this map was made (it is not shown on this map).
The idea of placing more active recreational and entertainment activities on the island was first envisioned in the 1955 Plan for Memphis, authored for the Planning Commission by Harland Bartholomew and Associates. Click on the image to make it larger: a harbor would be placed where the mouth of the river was and still is, but much of the current Wolf River harbor would be filled in for parks, fields and an expressway. Just south of the I-40 bridge would be a sports stadium.
But the 1955 plan was audacious considering the history of Mud Island. This old property ownership map from 1884, courtesy of the Shelby County Register of Deeds, shows an unnamed peninsula now known as Mud Island near the mouth of both the Wolf and Loosahatchie Rivers. Clearly with so many rivers coming together, Mud Island was just a muddy, mucky marsh.
Fast forward 30 years to 1914 and we find that the rivers in and around Mud Island hadn't changed much: the Loosahatchie still met the Wolf just north of downtown. The southern point of the island was marked on this map as nothing more than "accretion," with "accretions subject to overflow" just to the north. Both areas are identified on the map as falling under the high water line of 1895. Within this area of accretion are several city blocks bounded by Dock and Fulton Streets and Market and Poplar Avenues. Further to to the north, there is a Henning and Central Avenue, accessed from North Second Street (then called New Randolph Road, as it presumably could take a traveler all the way to the old river town that was once one of Memphis' major economic competitors, Randolph, Tenn.). Henning Avenue had a railroad line within its rights-of-way, likely meaning it was very industrial in nature. Map © Wilbur C. Paul.
This map from ca. 1942 shows that Henning and Central have become Streets (east-west thoroughfares had been universalized as avenues and north-south thoroughfares as streets early in the 20th century, although Beale Street was allowed to remain an east-west street). Both are presumably accessible across a bridge on Hall Ave. Fulton Street runs right along the Wolf River, but Dock Street had presumably been inundated by the time this map was made. Note also this is the first time Mud Island is given a name: "City Island." Map © C.A. Davis Printing Co., Inc.
By 1949, we have the Wolf River in roughly the position it is today and the Hall/Central/Henning streets on the island have been removed and Fulton Street to their south has been lost among railroad lines. Also nowhere to be seen: the Loosahatchie River, whose mouth was moved about 5 miles upriver from the southern tip of Mud Island, the result of significant channelization efforts by the Corps of Engineers resulting from the devastating 1927 Mississippi River floods. And look at the name of Mud Island: this is the first map that actually calls it "Mud Island!" Map © J. Foster Ashburn.
This 1958 map reflects that only the southern portion of Mud Island was Mud Island; its northern area was called Frames Island. The city limits criss-crossed the peninsula mid-way. Map © H.M. Goushá Company.
Here's an aerial from 1959, courtesy of the Register of Deeds, showing the last photograph of the Wolf River before it was channelized connecting its mouth at the north end of Mud Island.This 1963 map, © H.M. Goushá Co., features several downtown landmarks near Mud Island heretofore now shown: the Memphis Downtown Airport, a ferry to the airport, the Memphis Yacht Club and the Mississippi Excursion Boat. Below is an advertisement from the Oct. 2, 1959, Commercial Appeal, announcing the grand opening of the downtown airport.This map from 1964 shows the new Wolf River Channel, which resulted in the Wolf River Harbor to the south of the channel since it was disconnected by the rest of the river by a land bridge. Map © General Drafting Co., Inc.The Corps of Engineers assembled this property ownership map in 1964 in anticipation of channeling the Wolf River to the Mississippi.
This aerial from 1965, courtesy of the Register of Deeds, is the first to show the Memphis Downtown Airport, which opened in 1959 and would eventually serve up to 30 planes a day.
In 1971, construction had begun on the Hernando de Soto Bridge and Interstate 40. The Memphis Downtown Airport was forced to close in 1970 due to the interstate's construction. It was replaced by the General DeWitt Spain Airport, located about 3 miles up Second Street.
This 2013 aerial from the Register shows Mud Island as it is today, with the Mud Island River Park at the southern tip (below I-40) with housing development to the north. Mud Island Park opened to the public in 1982 with private development following shortly thereafter. I will cover the first few development proposals on the island on the next Mud Island post.
BAYSIDE WAREHOUSE V MEMPHIS
As the maps above indicate, most of Mud Island was not within the city limits until the 1960s. In fact, the northern portion of Mud Island was annexed at the same time as western Frayser in 1965.
When the City of Memphis annexed northern Mud Island and western Frayser, it not only rezoned the annexation area, but also the southern tip of Mud Island that had been inside the city limits for several decades. This map shows the zoning districts proposed for the annexation area, as well as the southern portion of Mud Island. Note how far the mouths of the Loosahatchie and Wolf Rivers had shifted to the north from this historic location near the south end of Mud Island.
Zooming in on the middle portion of Mud Island, we find the property of Bayside Warehouse Co. Although Bayside's property had long been within inside the city limits, its property was part of the rezoning that occurred with the annexation ordinance. The western portion of Bayside's property, the area along the Mississippi River, would be zoned Agricultural and the eastern portion would be zoned C-3 Commercial. The purpose of this zoning was to foster the redevelopment of Mud Island into a mixed-use community with apartments buildings and shops. All of the company's property was also within the Flood Zone, so no development could occur until that was addressed by the Corps of Engineers (today, FEMA processes requests for removal from the floodplain).Bayside was not satisfied with the City's proposed rezoning of its property. Here is the City of Memphis zoning map from 1954, showing all of Mud Island north of the Downtown Airport zoned M-2, Light Industrial. After the approval by the City Council of the rezoning, which for Bayside was really a downzoning, Bayside sued.
The vote by the City Council to rezone the previously industrial-zoned properties to commercial was not unanimous. Here is an excerpt from the City Council hearing on the matter from September 10, 1968, where Councilman Wyeth Chandler (who would later serve as the Mayor of Memphis from 1972-1982 and then as Shelby County Circuit Court judge) warned against downzoning a person's property without compensation. He called such a downzoning a "deep freeze" for future use.
Under the seminal US Supreme Court's Euclid v Ambler (272 US 365) decision from 1926, downzoning is not prima facie evidence of a Fifth Amendment taking; in other words, a municipal zoning authority may indeed devalue an owner's real property without compensation through a downzoning. However, in 1928, the Court ruled in a much less-publicized case, Nectow v Cambridge (277 US 183), that a municipality could not downzone to the point where, practically speaking, all beneficial uses of the property would be eliminated.
In Bayside v Memphis (63 Tenn.App. 268, 1971), the Tennessee Court of Appeals took the Nectow approach to the downzoning of Bayside's property. While the Court, like Councilman Chandler, found the City's goal in creating a mixed-use community on Mud Island a worthy goal, doing so at the expense of property owners was unlawful. In fact, the Court heavily quoted Mr. Chandler and said the "City cannot by zoning 'freeze' land for future use in such a manner as to deny the owner the beneficial use." What the Court found most compelling is that Bayside's property was only accessible by boat, thereby making industrial zoning the only zoning that made the property developable.
On the next post, we will see some of the early development plans proposed on Mud Island, all of which were contingent upon a vehicular bridge being built to access the island from downtown.