While cataloging the vast collection of Tennessee Supreme Court records, members of our staff frequently come across some interesting finds. One such case is from 1917 and comes out of Shelby County.
The Memphis Power Boat Club was “a corporation organized for the purposes of affording sport and recreation to its members.” The individual members owned “pleasure boats of various sizes and capacities.” The boat club maintained a boat house on the east bank of the Wolf River, immediately north of Keel Street in the city of Memphis and maintained a collection of pontoons in the river. Members of the club moored their smaller crafts to the pontoons. Patton-Tully claimed that, even though they employed “none but skilled river pilots,” the leisure boats obstructed the waterway and made it difficult for them to navigate the river without running into one of the smaller vessels and damaging them.
The case detailed Section 1814, Shannons Code, that stated “it is made a misdemeanor for any person to obstruct the main channel of any navigable stream or river by building mills, erecting dams, or locks in or across same (unless authorized by law) or by any other means whatever.” This crime was punishable by a “penalty of $250.00, one half to the use of the person who sues for it and the other one half to the use of the State.”
The proceedings also detailed that Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act (as approved on March 3, 1899) made it a crime to obstruct any U.S. waterway without authorization from Congress. The litigation stated that not only did the Memphis Power Boat Club not have approval from Congress to block the river; but also Major M. J. McDonough of the Army Corps of Engineers sent the club a cease and desist letter. The letter, dated September 16, 1916, read as follows:
The Tennessee Hoop Company and certain other local interests claim that the mouth of the Wolf River is chocked up with motor boats; that this collection of small crafts very greatly interferes with their right to navigate Wolf River in the prosecution of their industry. I have investigated the locality and find the motor boats are tied up four, five and six deep against the bank, and this collection of boats effectually prevents the industrial use of the stream. It is requested that you will take measures to string out these boats so as not to block the channel. Any damages received from collisions of boats under the present circumstances will fall wholly upon the owners of the small craft who occupy undue portion of the stream contrary to law. I shall be glad if you will use your influence to abate the present condition. Will you kindly reply at your earliest convenience?
The Tennessee Supreme Court materials contain several photographs and a blueprint depicting the obstruction. The blueprint shows the width of the Wolf River and the Hatchie Chute as well as how much of that width is being taken up by the Memphis Power Boat Club. The photographs illustrate how difficult it is for a tow boat pulling a barge with logs to come off the Hatchie Chute and make the turn into the Wolf River without hitting any of the smaller vessels.
Patton-Tully sought a temporary injunction requiring the Memphis Power Boat Club to remove the obstruction they created in the river and to prohibit club members from “tying up or anchoring” pleasure crafts to the pontoon boats. The plaintiffs also requested that the leisure boating group be enjoined from “maintaining pontoons permanently anchored in the channel of the Wolf River,” from maintaining “its pontoons in front of the ferry landing on Keel Street,” and that they pay the $250 penalty as established in Section 1814 of Shannons Code.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that the pleasure boats could continue to use the river, albeit with some restrictions.
Among the vast amount of information available at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), Tennessee Supreme Court records make up by far the largest single collection. The volume of cases is extraordinary, with well over 10,000 boxes of material in storage. Chronologically, the cases encompass the period from about 1809 to approximately 1950. With individual case files that sometimes include hundreds of pages and stretch over several generations, the entire collection takes up most of an entire floor of TSLA's building. For more information about Tennessee Supreme Court Cases at TSLA, please visit: http://tnsos.org/tsla/SupremeCourtCases/.
|Photograph from the Tennessee Supreme Court case files, Patton-Tully Transportation Company et al. v. Memphis Power Boat Club. "Taken from the top of bank south of Keel St. looking North West."|
Tennessee State Library and Archives
|Photograph of a loaded barge from the Tennessee Supreme Court case files, Patton-Tully Transportation Company et al. v. Memphis Power Boat Club. |
Tennessee State Library and Archives
The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.