Tenn-Tom Waterway and Tombigbee River- November 2006

The Tenn-Tom Waterway (shown in blue on the map to the left) is a 234 mile man-made waterway which joins the Tennessee and Tombigbee rivers.  It starts on the Tennessee River just west of Florence Alabama and flows south where it joins the Tombigbee river near Demopolis. The Tombigbee (shown in red on the map) flows from Demopolis to Mobile where it drains into the Gulf of Mexico.  

The Tenn-Tom was first conceived in the early 1800's as a way to shorten the commercial waterway route from the Tennessee river to ports along the Gulf coast such as New Orleans, Louisiana and Mobile, Alabama. Cotton was a major export from Chattanooga, Tennessee to these Gulf coast ports, but to get it there the early steamboats had to travel down the Tennessee river to where it joins the Ohio river in Paducah, Kentucky. From there, they needed to go down the Ohio river to the Mississippi river which would eventually take them to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.  The Tenn-Tom waterway cuts the distance boats needed to travel by approximately 800 miles. 

Opened in January 1985, the waterway had a long and difficult birth  The first survey was completed in 1874 but it was not until 1938 that plans for the present waterway were developed.  The project was approved by Congress in 1946 as part of the Rivers and Harbors Act, but in 1951 they withdrew their authorization. Construction had begun on the Federal Interstate Highway system by then, and Congress felt that the waterway would no longer be  required. 

In 1958, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority was established with representatives from Alabama and Mississippi to perform a comprehensive economic study of the project. The Authority published it's report in 1961. Based on that report, Congress finally approved funding of $1 million to start construction of  the waterway in 1971.  President Richard Nixon turned the first spade of dirt in May 1971 at the ceremony to celebrate the initiation of the project, but construction of the waterway did not really begin until  December 1972 due to a lawsuit filed against the project by a group of environmentalists. This would be the first of two lawsuits to be filed against the project.  The federal courts ruled in favor of the waterway project in each case.  

Immediately after assuming office, President Jimmy Carter announced plans to terminate funding for 19 water resource projects and to study terminating 13 more, including the Tenn-Tom. Over 6500 waterway supporters attended a public hearing held in Columbus, Mississippi on March 29, 1977 as part of Carter's review of the waterway. This overwhelming outpouring of public support for the project led to the President withdrawing his opposition. Later the Carter Administration selected the Tenn-Tom waterway project as a national demonstration program of how large public works projects can favorably impact rural America.

Completed in December 1984, the Tenn-Tomm Waterway project was the largest civil works project ever undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project involved moving 307 million cubic yards of earth, pouring 2.2 million cubic yards of concrete and the placement of 33,000 tons of steel. The excavated material would make a road 16 feet wide by 3 inches deep from the Earth to the Moon.  If all of the steel that was used was made into 1/2 inch thick wire, it would stretch across the continental United States 8 times. Enough concrete was used to construct a 120-story building covering an entire football field. The project employed 75 prime contractors and 1,200 sub-contractors. At the peak of construction there were approximately 3,000 construction workers. Overall, the project required more than 25 million man- (and woman!) hours of labor to complete. So, you ask, how much did this feat of modern engineering end up costing??? The final price tag was $1.991 billion.   

We turned onto the Tenn-Tom after our stop at Florence on the Tennessee river. Traveling down the Tenn-Tom, we traversed 10 locks which lowered us a combined 341 feet from the Tennessee river down to sea level at the Gulf of Mexico. 

The river was peaceful and very beautiful this time of year with the leaves changing colors before our very eyes. We started to see more large waterfoul including this kingfisher at one of the locks. 

When the waterway was cut through, the Army Corps of Engineers cut down trees in the newly flooded area to provide needed depth for boats to travel through.  They still own the land under the water, and do not allow anyone else to cut trees along the river.  We saw lots of spots along the sides of the river with stumps of trees or dead tree trunks rising out of the water like those shown in the picture below.  A little reminder to stay in the channel!

We spent a couple of weeks at the Columbia marina in Columbia Mississippi waiting for the Bevel and Coffeeville locks to re-open. Both locks were closed for about a week for scheduled maintenance. I snapped this picture of the guys discussing world affairs one afternoon on the dock. 

While we were at Columbus, a replica of the Nina came by the marina.  It was complete a few years ago and now transits the waterway and the east coast of the US as a floating museum. 

We saw this cute little turtle when we were out walking one day. 

We rented a car for a couple of days while we were in town. They gave us a mini-van, so we loaded up all of our friends and went out to see the town.  We had lunch at 'Fleets Eats', which is a diner at someone's house where they set out an assortment of crock pots and trays filled with many wonderful things.  We had lunch out on their back porch.  From left to right, that's Diana, Roy, Leslie, Jeremy and Sam.  

Columbus Mississippi is the home town of Tennessee Williams. The first picture below is of his home, which is also now a museum as well as the town welcome center. The second picture is of the town hall and the Confederate Soldiers Monument out front.  Every town in the south has a monument to the CSA (Confederate States of America) soldiers. 

We drove down to the Tom Bevill Dam and visitor center.  We were interested in seeing the visitor center since we'd heard that it had an excellent museum of the history of the Tenn-Tom as well as a scale model of the waterway.  The museum is inside a building built to look like an antebellum house. The museum also has an old snagboat outside. The snagboats were used to clear large debris from the waterway including trees, stumps and branches which can be hazards to navigation.  We missed the turnoff for the visitor's center and ended up on the wrong side of the river, where I took this picture. You can see the museum and snagboat across the river.

Once we got over to the right side of the river, we were disappointed to learn that the visitor center was closed. It is currently only open Mon-Fri - not on the weekends. It used to be open on the weekends (and the website still shows that), so we were surprised to find it closed.  We were able to walk around the outside of the building as well as around the snagboat 'Montgomery'.  

The Montgomery was built in 1926 and worked on the waterways collecting snags and performing dredging operations until 1982 when she was retired from service.  At the time she was retired, she was the last stern-wheel working on any southern river in the US. She was also one of the last two steam powered snagboats working in the United States. 

The next day, we headed off on our own to do an 'Elvis' tour.  Elvis was born in and grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi . He later moved to Memphis, Tennessee where he lived in the famous Graceland estate.  We visited his birthplace and childhood home in Tupelo, shown in the first picture below. The second picture is of the Presley family car.

The were several stories of Elvis's childhood engraved on plaques around the site, including one recounted by Mr. F. L. Bobo of how Elvis got his first guitar.  It was on his 11th birthday in 1946. Elvis really wanted either a .22 rifle or a bicycle for his birthday.  His mother, Gladys, took Elvis to the Tupelo Hardware store where Mr. Bobo was a salesman to buy his birthday present. After questioning the salesman about the dangers of a gun, she would not buy it. She was also afraid that Elvis would get hurt on the bicycle. According to Mr. Bobo, Elvis was so disappointed that he cried and said he didn't want anything else.  Mr. Bobo suggested that they look at a guitar.  Elvis didn't want a guitar - he really wanted the rifle, or at least the bicycle.  The salesman took down the guitar and convinced Elvis to look at it.  He picked at it a little to humor his mother, who was getting a little impatient with his behavior.  She told him he'd better behave or he was going to get into trouble.  When it became apparent that the guitar was his only choice, he decided to take it.  

The site in Tupelo also had a statue of  Elvis Presley at 13 years old as well as the Elvis Presley chapel. 

From Tupelo, we drove up to Memphis Tennessee to see Graceland. Elvis loved cars and collected many which were on display at Graceland, including his blue caddy convertible and his famous pink Cadillac.

We took a tour of Elvis's Graceland house. The house was called Graceland when Elvis bought the house.  The previous owner's wife was named Grace and he named the house in her honor. Elvis liked the name so he kept it after he bought the house. 

Inside the house... Living room and front door entry.  Note the stained glass 'P' over the front door.

Dining room and kitchen. The tour of the house included an taped description of the various rooms.  Lisa Marie said that the kitchen was the center of activity in the house - similar to most homes. 

The 'Jungle room' was one of the most unusual rooms in the house - toward the back of the house on the main level.  The pictures don't show it that well, but the room had green shag carpet on the floors as well as the ceiling.  The hallway leading to the Jungle room also had green shag carpet on the walls. 

Elvis had a TV room and a pool room downstairs.  The TV room had 3 TVs - tuned to each of the major networks of the day - NBC, CBS and ABC. The pool room was covered in 230 yards of paisley fabric.  The walls, curtains, ceiling and all of the chairs were covered in the same fabric. 

The racketball court in the back of the house has been converted into a trophy room - complete with some, but not all, of Elvis's gold records as well as some of his costumes.

The garden includes a 'reflection garden' off to one side of the house.  Elvis, together with his parents and his twin brother who was stillborn are buried here. There is an eternal flame burning over Elvis's gravesite. 


Elvis had two airplanes - a small JetStar corporate jet as well as the much larger Lisa Marie.  The Lisa Marie was a Convair 880 (close in size to a Boeing 707) and had the radio code name of  'Hound Dog 1.' She was a Delta Airlines passenger jet until Elvis purchased her and gutted the plane to fit her out for his needs. The Lisa Marie was customized with a conference table, a lounge area, two lavatories, a well-stocked galley and bar, and a large bedroom towards the back of the plane.  The Lisa Marie also sports Elvis's logo of TCB with a lightening strike on the tail fin.  TCB stands for 'Taking Care of Business.'  

Leaving Columbus, we traveled with Sam and Diana on Niagara Myst as we made our way down the Tenn-Tom towards Mobile, Alabama. 

Thanksgiving Day dinner aboard the 'Niagara Myst' with Sam and Diana. Jeremy took it the picture with the self-timer on our camera. That's him in the dark beside me in the picture. Diana made chicken with stuffing (small boat ovens are a little too small to do a turkey), sweet butter squash, and fresh baked dinner rolls.  I made homemade cranberry sauce, cranberry nut bread, grilled tomatoes, and brought over a bottle of wine.  Feast fit for a king - or 4 hungry boaters. 

Traveling down the Tenn-Tom waterway on a quiet, sunny day.

We came across these stunning white cliffs along the banks of the Tombigbee river along the way. 

More fall foliage along the river. We seemed to have timed our trip down the rivers in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama to follow the beautiful fall changing of the colors on the trees as we traveled south. 

Niagara Myst in the Tom Bevell lock.  The locks on the Tennesse and Tenn-Tom waterway were nice in that they contained floating bollards that you tied to mid-ships as you were lowered in down to the next level of the river. Tying to a floating bollard is much easier than dealing with lines from the top of the lock.  The only problem is that sometimes a bollard can jam.  This never happened to us (knock wood) - but we always were ready to cast off our lines if it did. If the bollard sticks and you can't get your lines off quickly, you can end up with your boat hanging on the stuck bollard halfway down the lock wall - not a pretty sight!

We saw this 'fixer-upper' along the banks of the Tombigbee river.

We met our friends on Peacekeeper (a beautiful Endeavour Trawlercat 44) along the way at Bobby's Fish Camp.  They hooked up with Niagara Myst and us for the remaining trip down to Mobile, Alabama.  The three of us found a lovely anchorage along the way in an area called the 3 Rivers Lake.  The anchorage was mentioned in our Skipper Bob cruising guide. Skipper Bob has published guides for most of the Great Circle Route - and we have learned to rely on them for information on anchorages and good marinas along the way.  (Sad note - we learned while we were traveling on in Florida a few weeks later that Skipper Bob had passed away.  He will be sorely missed by the boating community and especially those of us doing the Great Loop trip.)

We knew we were at the right place, but when we pulled in to the cut off the waterway, we didn't see the lake. Unfortunately, our paper charts didn't provide a lot of information on the lake, and our electronic charts didn't even cover the area, so we all decided to just anchor in the cut.  Lucky for us, a small fishing boat happened by, and said that if we just kept going a bit farther, we would find a wonderful lake just around the bend.  Et voila! - there we were.  One of the best anchorages along the river we'd found so far.

Cindy on board Peacekeeper breaking out some beers for the afternoon 'happy hour'.  Sam, unfortunately, had to do a bit of diving before his happy hour.  They had noticed a vibration on the boat that tad just started - so over the side he went to investigate.  

Next morning, we left our lovely little anchorage and started down the waterway again only to encounter fog - lots of fog.  It started light and seemed to grow thicker and heavier by the minute. It got so bad at one point that we couldn't see the sides of the river, the markers on the river, or each other for that matter.  Frank had enough visibility to find us a spot off on one side of the river, behind a red buoy, where we were all able to tuck away and drop the hook until it lifted.  While we were anchored, I took this picture of Niagara Myst in the mist.

This bridge across the Tombigbee river is nick-named the Dolly Parton bridge.  Any idea why???

We finally made it down to Mobile, Alabama and docked at the Dog River Marina, just south of Mobile.  The marina was a little crowded -  boats were starting to stack up due to the rough waters out on Mobile Bay - so we were wedged in between a couple of sailboats.  No problem, but it was a little weird to have this gargoyle peering over us from the bowsprit on the sailboat behind us while we were there.  

We ended up spending three days in Mobile waiting on the weather.  The marina had a courtesy car, so we got together with Frank and Cindy on Peacekeeper one afternoon and went exploring.  We headed out to see the battleship U.S.S. Alabama which is moored in Mobile.  While we were there got to see the A-12 jet, which is faster and flies higher than the SR-71. 

Later that evening, we headed over to Bellingrath Gardens to see the Christmas lights there.  Bellingrath Gardens was the home of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath.  Walter was the founder of the Coca Cola bottling company in Mobile, Alabama. He purchased the 65 acre estate in 1917 as a dilapidated fishing camp along the Fowl River.  His wife was an avid gardener and she soon recognized the potential for turning the large fishing camp into a beautiful garden.  Mrs. Bellingrath’s love of gardens was well known and the couple’s South Ann Street home was admired for its extensive gardens. Since there were no landscape architects available at the time, they hired the prominent Mobile architect, George B. Rogers to design the garden. Rogers took meandering paths and added a back drop of tall camellias and azaleas, which he and Mrs. Bellingrath collected from across the Deep South.  Water features of fountains and waterfalls were installed and framed with English flagstone walkways.  The stone had been obtained from old city sidewalks in Mobile where they had been in place since arriving as ballast in English sailing vessels collecting loads of cotton for the mills at Manchester. 

During the spring of 1932, a national garden club meeting was being held in Mobile.  On Sunday, April 7, 1932, the Bellingraths issued a general invitation to the public to view the Gardens between one and five that afternoon.  Over 5,000 Mobilians jammed the roads to see what the Bellingraths called “Belle Camp,” currently in the height of its azalea season.  Mobile’s police force was needed to direct traffic.  Overwhelmed by the response, the Bellingraths soon opened the gardens to the public for spring appreciation and named the former fishing camp Bellingrath Gardens.  Two years later in 1934, the couple decided to open the gardens year-round.

Each year during the holidays, the gardens are decked out in millions of tiny lights turning the gardens into a lovely Christmas fantasyland. We arrived just at sunset and spent a couple of hours wandering around the lit gardens.  

Frank and Cindy peering out from a fantasy house and a large hummingbird feeding on a flower.

A rainbow and unicorn and Frank riding a gentle Lion in one of the many courtyards.

Toy train reflected in the pond below it and daffodils seeming to sway in the breeze to the music.

Cajun Christmas and Japanese Pagoda. 

The Dog River has one of the many Christmas boat parades this time of year.  We saw this sailboat all decked out for the season at one of the neighboring marinas. 

Talkin' Southern 2

If you think something is true, you say 'I reckon'. If you are pretty sure it is true, you say 'Shoot, I reckon', and if you are positive something is true, you say 'Shu-nuff'.

If you are talking to a group of folks, you use the term 'Y'all'. If you are referring to EVERYONE in the group - you say 'All Y'all'. 

If someone tells you they're from LA - they mean Lower Alabama, not Los Angeles. 

If you order fish for dinner in a restaurant - you'll get catfish. Fried catfish. 

Every southern restaurant will automatically include hush puppies with your meal. No need to ask for them separately. 

Updated December 24, 2006

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