News Release Manager

Corps of Engineers prepares to celebrate 135th anniversary in Memphis

Published Aug. 28, 2017
MEMPHIS, Tenn., Aug. 24, 2017 – A milestone is fast approaching for the Memphis District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as it prepares to celebrate its 135th anniversary on Aug. 30.

A year-long schedule of events and activities are planned that will highlight the agency’s mission and the value it brings to this region.

“We are honored to be a part of this great community of Memphis and the Mid-South and look forward to helping the people we serve learn more about our rich history and what we do today,” Col. Mike Ellicott, the Memphis District commander said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers first came to this part of the United States in 1820 when the U.S. Congress appropriated $5,000 for a survey of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. That task fell to the Corps of Engineers.

When a major flood on the lower Mississippi River devastated local levee systems in 1882 and created hundreds of crevasses totaling 56 miles in length, the then newly-formed Mississippi River Commission (MRC) gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responsible for implementing their flood control plans. 

Part of those plans was the establishment of four administrative districts from Cairo, Ill., to New Orleans, each headed by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officer. The Second District had its headquarters in Memphis. Consolidated with the Cairo office in 1890, it eventually became the Memphis District.

Flood control was the primary mission assigned to the districts in those early years, but in 1891 representatives from several large steamboat companies asked the MRC to improve navigation during low water conditions on the river. In response to this, the Corps constructed the first experimental hydraulic dredge – the ALPHA. It proved to be a great success and by 1901, nine Corps dredges were operating on the river.

Flooding remained the greatest concern however, and enormous floods struck the region in 1897, 1912, 1916 and 1922. Then in 1927 the most destructive flood in U.S. history took the lives of as many as 500 people along the Mississippi River, destroyed 25,000 commercial buildings and homes, and property damage exceeded $236 million (equivalent to more than $3.3 billion today).

More floods came in 1937, 1950, 1973, 1975, 1979, several in the 1990s and the most recent major event in 2011. But with each successive event the people of the Mid-South have seen less and less damage, and more savings from damages prevented by the ongoing work of the Corps of Engineers.

Today, the 450 men and women of the Memphis District work from offices in the Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building in downtown Memphis, at the Corps’ Ensley Engineer Yard on McKellar Lake in south Memphis, from field offices in Wynne, Ark., Carlisle, Ark., and Caruthersville, Mo., and aboard a wide variety of vessels operating on the Mississippi River. Year in and year out, they deliver their mission of flood risk reduction, dependable navigation, environmental stewardship, emergency operations, other authorized civil works and work for others to benefit this region and the Nation.

Memphis District by the numbers:

25,000: Area in square miles encompassed by Memphis District.
1,200: Number of miles of levees within Memphis District (640 miles on Mississippi River).
741: Number of miles of navigable river channel within Memphis District.
90: Number of flood control structures within Memphis District.
11: Number of major river basins with portions in the Memphis District including the Mississippi, Ohio, White and St. Francis rivers.
6: Portions of six states (Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee) encompassed by Memphis District.
4: Number of pumping plants in the Memphis District.


Jim Pogue

Release no. 17-014