For many Memphians, the Wolf River is remembered as a nasty cesspool in North Memphis — a catch-all for all kinds of chemicals and sewage from the many industries in that area. But in recent years, the river has indeed been cleaned up, and it’s become a popular place for people exploring it by canoe and kayak. If you know your way around, you can venture all the way to Moscow and beyond, where it becomes known as the “Ghost River” because it’s so easy to get lost in its many forks and tributaries.
But still, in the portions of the Wolf inside the city limits, not many people bring their families to swim there, or to bath on its sandy beaches, or have picnics on its sandbars.
And yet, that’s exactly what Memphians did in the early 1900s. The Wolf River “bathing beach,” as it became known, located close to the Jackson Avenue bridge in the Raleigh area, was an idyllic spot, as you can see in the photo above. It was so nice and pleasant, in fact, that the publishers of a series of books called The Art Work of Memphis — with full-page plates mainly devoted to our city’s lovely parks and impressive homes and buildings — included it in their 1926 edition.
All too often, those tranquil waters proved dangerous, however. More than one child drowned in the swiftly flowing stream, and in the 1950s, when yet another child — a young boy named Ronnie Jones — died there, city leaders decided enough was enough. Funds were raised to build a public swimming pool in Gaisman Park, so the children in North Memphis could have a safer place to play. Even today, a memorial to Ronnie Jones stands next to the pool, which is crowded with kids in the hot summertime.