1819: A gift to the public

The bank of the Mississippi River rises abruptly in four places in Tennessee. On the fourth and most southern of these Bluffs, three Tennesseans saw the potential for a great river city with open civic spaces. That city would be called Memphis.

Usually safe from flooding and strategically important for control of the river, the Bluff had been the home of early Woodland Indians, the hunting ground of the Chickasaw, a port for traders, and the location for French, Spanish, and early America forts.

In 1819, Andrew Jackson (7th president of the U. S.), John Overton, and James Winchester owned 5000 acres on the Bluff at the point where the Wolf River flowed into the Mississippi. As real estate speculators, they envisioned an important city and commissioned surveyor William Lawrence to lay the groundwork. Lawrence drew a map of the new town designating lots, public squares, a Public Landing, and a Public Promenade.

The city's founders saw the importance and value of a public common space along the riverfront, and set aside the land along the river as "public ground" to be used and enjoyed by all Memphians in perpetuity.

Memphis was incorporated in 1826, and in 1828 the city's founders or their successors executed a document putting to rest any doubt what their intentions were as to the public use of the property along the riverfront.
Thirdly: In relation to the piece of ground laid off and called the Promenade, said Proprietors say that it was their original intention, is now, and forever will be, that the same should be public ground for use only as the word imports, ....

Jno. Overton (seal)
Jno. McLemore (seal)
George Winchester (seal)
William Winchester (seal)

Office of the Register of Shelby County, Tennessee