Summertime Thoughts - McKellar Lake

With Memphis temperatures hitting the 100s, thoughts turn to McKellar Lake in its 1950s and '60s heyday.

The lake, on the western edge of Martin Luther King Riverside Park, was the result of a $17M Corps of Engineers project begun in 1948 to expand Memphis as an industrial port. President's Island was connected to the mainland by an earthen dam closing the TN Shute, a deep-water harbor (McKellar Lake) was dredged on the dam's down-river side, and a channel was cut to the Mississippi River on the south.Click map to enlarge.

Dignitaries, including Senator McKellar, were on-hand in 1955 for dedication festivities, as seen in this photo from the "Commercial Appeal" Mid-South Memories.

and, in its heyday, during the 1950s and '60s, McKellar Lake was filled with for motor boats, water skiing, parasailing, and even a sailing school.

Thanks, to Ask Vance, here are photos of Miss McKellar Lake contestants in 1964 and 1973:

No photos found, but in 1960 the Commercial Appeal reported,
Sailboats skimmed across Riverside Lake yesterday for the first time, hardly ruffling the feathers of the hordes of white ducks that have long held a monopoly on the lake’s surface. The occasion was the inauguration of a new Red Cross course for young Memphians with “skipper” aspirations. Sixteen young would-be yachtsmen marined the sleed, white-sailed, 11-foot boats. The class is limited to youngsters from 12 to 16 years old who have attained intermediate swimmer’s rank. Riverside Lake is in the south end of the park bearing the same name.

Neither MLK Riverside Park nor McKellar Lake are as popular today, perhaps because of the success of the industrial port and perhaps because the southern loop of I-240 made access to the beautiful park more difficult. Water quality issues have played a big role, too. The debris that stormwater run-off carries into Nonconnah Creek ends up in the lake.

The 379-acre MLK/Riverside Park was part of Memphis's first emerald necklace, our parkway system designed in 1902 by George Kessler.

The Memphis Port is the 4th largest inland port in the U. S. with 95% of the port's industries located on President's Island.