Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Closer Look at the Chas. H. Organ Docking Near Memphis

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The Chas. H. Organ Landing at Mound City
Copyright Dec. 31, 1910, Library of Congress

I was recently exploring the Library of Congress Digital Photography Collection and came across a great photo of a ferry landing in Mound City, Ark., right across from Memphis, sometime before 1910.

Also referred to as a "river packet," ferryboats like this shipped cotton grown in the south to northern industrial towns and also ferried residents up and down the river.

The Chas. H. Organ was built in 1897 for the Corps of Engineers and was later owned by the West Memphis Packet Company.

A case argued before the Tennessee Supreme Court, Foppiano v. Speed, in 1905 included a few details about this particular boat.

Companies selling beer or liquor in Memphis were required to pay a tax to Shelby County. James Foppiano leased the bar on the Chas. H. Organ but did not pay taxes because he claimed he was "engaged in interstate commerce and not subject to be taxed by the state." Details in the arguments of this case included:
"For more than four years last past the West Memphis Packet Company had used and employed the steamboat Chas. H. Organ as its regular ferryboat in carrying on the ferry aforesaid...operating a ferry across the Mississippi river from Hopefield Point, in Crittenden county, Arkansas, and other points adjacent thereto in the state of Arkansas...had been making landings regularly, at its dock, at the wharf in the city of Memphis on the Mississippi river and there receiving and discharging freight and passengers transported or to be transported by means of such ferry along and across the Mississippi River."
The book, "Standard History of Memphis, Tennessee," written in 1912 by Judge J. P. Young also includes a reference to this ferry.
"The West Memphis Packet Company at the foot of Court Avenue, runs the steamer Charles H. Organ several times daily to Hopefield, Mound City, President's Island and Wyanoke. This boat is much patronized by excursionists and pleasure seekers." p. 394 
The copyright for this photo was entered in the copyright office on Dec. 31, 1910 by the Detroit Publishing Company. Started by publisher William A. Livingstone and photographer Edwin H. Husher in the late 19th-century, they took thousands of photos which were used for the production of postcards.

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What makes this photo really interesting is the incredible high-resolution and clarity of events taking place in the background as the Chas. H. Organ was sitting at the dock.

When you first see the digital photo, which was made from an 8 x 10 dry plate negative, all you see is a white horse standing in front of a boat. But when you zoom in the background, you can make out much of the action in surprising detail.
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From the upper-class passengers up top, whose attention is directed at the nervous mule creating a raucous on the dock below, to the working-class African American workers who were only a generation away from slavery, the activity captured in the photo is mesmerizing.

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These three passengers appear to be casually checking out the action taking place behind the dock. They seem bored with it all and have the same look people today have when riding a city bus.

I wonder if that's some of Foppiano's adult beverages in the barrel behind them?

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Slavery had ended only about 50 years prior to this photo so this older lady in the apron could have been a slave as a young girl. She and the lady next to her appear to have some sort of service job at the dock. Perhaps they are cooks? It seems as though she had just finished some chore, wiped her hands on her apron and stepped outside to check out all the action.

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She and the man standing on a pile of lumber are the only two who seem interested in what the photographer was doing. He turned and looked right at the moment the photo was taken.

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Many of those waiting on the dock appear to be dressed for a pleasure trip rather than for work and a lot of them are holding baskets that I assume hold food.

In 1918, the Patton-Tully Transportation Company purchased the Chas. H. Organ from the West Memphis Packet Company and renamed it the Dan Quinn. Their website states it was used to barge logs around Memphis. 

The Dan Quinn was dismantled in 1933 and the hull was converted to a barge. The Detroit Publishing Company declared bankruptcy in 1924 and was liquidated in 1932.

Fortunately, most of the existing negatives and prints are now housed by the Library of Congress so through them, we can get a small glimpse into the past.

For more blog entries, visit my Blog Home Page or to check out the genealogy research about my specific family lines, go to my Haywood County Line Genealogy Website.


  1. Amazing clarity. Love the different vignettes you were able to isolate.

  2. Both my Father and Grandfather were named for Charles Organ, so this is a true treat for me. Thank you so very much!