The Mid-South’s best kept industrial and economic secret is The International Port of Memphis.
The Presidents Island concept was conceived out of the transportation boom created by World War I and World War II. Prior to that time, Memphis, like many other river cities, conducted its commerce on the riverfront closest to the downtown business area. With the advent of large capacity modes of transportation such as barges and tractor trailer trucks and the need for mass production and movement of that material caused by wars, it quickly became evident that a cobblestone riverfront was not sufficient to handle the quantity of material to be moved.
Therefore, in 1946, the city and county governments joined forces to develop a concept and find a location to fulfill the concept. The concept was to develop a flood free industrial area with access to the river that was isolated from downtown but not too distant. The area also needed to be separated from residential properties if at all possible. With the concept in mind, a location was looked for and found south of downtown Memphis on Presidents Island.
Presidents Island was then the largest island on the Mississippi River system at over 7,500 acres. Critical portions of the Island properties were purchased by both the City of Memphis and Shelby County. However, the island was still in the flood plain. To solve this problem, the local authorities, with the help of Senator McKeller, enlisted the help of the United States Government with the assistance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Therefore, in 1947, the Tennessee Harbor chute project officially began.
The solution to the problem was to dredge a closure dam from the shore to the island while dredging an 8-mile long industrial harbor on the now slack waterside of the island. The material from the harbor dredging was placed on the island to create a 1,000-acre water fronted industrial park raised to a flood free elevation. The industrial area was subsequently completed in 1951.