“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Memphis in Shelby County, Tennessee — The American South (East South Central)

Tennessee River/Cumberland River

Tennessee River/Cumberland River Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Sandra Hughes, May 18, 2010
1. Tennessee River/Cumberland River Marker
Tennessee River
Originally one of the wildest rivers east of the Mississippi, the Tennessee has become a major waterway in the southeastern United States.

From headwaters above Knoxville, Tennessee the Tennessee first flows south on a U-shaped journey to its mouth on the Ohio River, 652 miles away. Past Chattanooga, Tennessee, it turns west through the Cumberland Plateau, once the site of the Narrows, a 20-mile gauntlet of hazards with names like “the Boiling Pot” and “the Suck”. Muscle Shoals in northwest Alabama was the river’s worst obstacle, resisting the hardiest boatmen. Northbound to its mouth at Paducah, Kentucky, the river was calmer, and Union forces used it as an invasion route during the Civil War.

Congress created the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933 to solve the river’s problems and produce electrical power. Today, 50 TVA dams regulate the Tennessee basin flow, producing the bulk of the electricity used in the seven states of the Tennessee Valley. Nine dams on the main river submerge the old perils, and barge traffic now runs freely the length of the river.

Tennessee River/Cumberland River Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Sandra Hughes, May 18, 2010
2. Tennessee River/Cumberland River Marker
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The Cumberland’s 693-miles crescent begins as a small mountain stream rising from headwaters in the coal country of Harlan County in southern Kentucky. It was an early route west for pioneers in the 1700s. French Lick, now Nashville, Tennessee, became the first major settlement on the Cumberland in 1708. After a 68-foot plunge down the Cumberland Falls, today’s river reaches Wolf Creek Dam, the first of 10 dams that ensure a navigable channel on the river’s lower two-thirds.

The Cumberland River’s Lake Barkley and the Tennessee River’s Kentucky Lake run parallel a few miles apart from northern Tennessee into southern Kentucky. Here, the lower river passes the site of Fort Donelson, where Union naval forces scored their first major victory in the Civil War. The Land Between the Lakes, a 40 mile strip between them, has been transformed by TVA into a model recreational and educational preserve.

The rivers take separate routes north, and the Cumberland empties into the Ohio River 12 miles east of the mouth of Tennessee.
Erected by Mud Island River Park.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Settlements & SettlersWar, US CivilWaterways & Vessels.
Location. 35° 8.968′ N, 90° 3.504′ 
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W. Marker is in Memphis, Tennessee, in Shelby County. Marker can be reached from Island Drive, 0.8 miles south of West A.W. Willis Avenue when traveling south. Located in Mud Island River Park. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 125 N Front Street, Memphis TN 38103, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Reelfoot Lake (here, next to this marker); Palmetto Bend/Jackson Point/St. Catherine’s Creek/Ellis Cliffs (here, next to this marker); Grand Gulf, Mississippi / Yucatan Cutoff / Big Black River (here, next to this marker); Rodney Cutoff/Bayou Pierre (here, next to this marker); Davis Island, Mississippi/Kents Island (here, next to this marker); Vicksburg (here, next to this marker); Young’s Point / Milliken’s Bend / Omega Landing (here, next to this marker); Commercial Barge Traffic (here, next to this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Memphis.
Credits. This page was last revised on March 8, 2018. It was originally submitted on March 8, 2018, by Sandra Hughes Tidwell of Killen, Alabama, USA. This page has been viewed 215 times since then and 16 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on March 8, 2018, by Sandra Hughes Tidwell of Killen, Alabama, USA. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.

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Mar. 28, 2023