Two new historic markers share some Memphis riverfront history and tell a family story to boot. Erected 2013 by the Shelby County Historical Commission, the Astor family of Memphis and the descendents of Charles Vincent Garavelli.
Yes, the Memphis Astors are kin to John Jacob Astor
, the New York financier and 1st U. S. multi-millionaire. He amassed his fortune by establishing a global fur trading empire, and therein lies his connection to the Mississippi River and our Bluff City.
In the early days of colonial America, the River served as a major route for exploration and commerce, and Astor established a trading post at the top of Memphis's bluff near Beale Street. By 1823 explorers and commerce had headed farther west, and the Astoria Fur Company had given their building and land, which extended to the river's edge, to the city. The land remained undeveloped and, according to newspaper reports, was gradually eroding. In the 1930s when Riverside Drive was being constructed, the eroded land, between Beale and Linden, was visible at low water. In 1938 the city created a park on the land at the foot of Beale and named it Astor Park in recognition of the original land gift. Later as landfill was added to create Tom Lee Park, Astor Park was encompassed in the larger park, and the name disappeared from maps.
Memphis Boat Supply -
Jump to the 1950s, and the Astor connection to River commerce was still intact. Charles Vincent Garavelli, who had married a Memphis Astor relative, owned and operated the Memphis Boat Supply. The floating store served river traffic and was moored at the foot of Beale.
Historian Vincent Astor, author of "Memphis Movie Theatres" who receives much credit for saving the Orpheum Theater, has been instrumental in documenting and sharing this piece of Memphis riverfront history. Thank you, Vincent!