Rhodes Ferry Landing was the dropping off point for the 2,300 Native Americans that were forcibly removed through Decatur. The landing was essential to the steamboats that traversed the Tennessee because it was the last stop before the Muscle Shoals, whose low water levels created class 3 & 4 rapids, and decreased in elevation approximately 130 feet over the 35 mile stretch of river.
The landing bears the name of the original community that existed before the town of Decatur, Rhodes Ferry, and was operated by Dr. Henry Rhodes who was also a wealthy land owner and businessman in, what would later become, Decatur. Rhodes would later serve as a board member of the Tuscumbia, Courtland, and Decatur Railroad that was utilized to move the Cherokees being moved around the Muscle Shoals safely.
The landing was a connecting point for the two towns of Decatur and Tuscumbia because cargo could be loaded from barges onto trains at either location, and then shipped to where deeper water resumed. However, during the Trail of Tears, the landing moved human cargo in the form of 2,300 Cherokee who were removed through the Ridge, Deas, and Whiteley parties by way of the Tuscumbia, Courtland, and Decatur Railroad from 1837-1838. The Ridge party (approx. 466) were the first to journey on the TC & D RR from Decatur, and they arrived in Decatur on March 7th, 1837 by river on the steamboat Knoxville.
The journey from Ross’s landing, near Chattanooga, to Decatur had been five days of difficult travel due to the cramped flatboats in which the Cherokee were ushered into for their river journey. Firsthand accounts state that the Ridge party arrived in Decatur around six-thirty in the evening, amidst a pouring rain that kept the party from disembarking from the flatboats until after seven.
After disembarking from the flatboats, the Cherokee were ushered up Bank Street from Rhodes Ferry Landing, past the train depot, and into the federal warehouses where they would spend the night until the trains arrived to take them to Tuscumbia.
Like the Ridge party, the Deas and Whiteley parties arrived in the summer of 1838 on steamboats from Eastern Tennessee. Due to the low water levels of the Tennessee River, these parties were routed by the TC & D RR around the Muscle Shoals, but little is known of their time in Decatur.
Lt. Edward Deas’s detachment reached Decatur on June 9thto find out that the train cars that were supposed to take them to Tuscumbia would not be ready until the next morning.
The Deas party slept in the Federal warehouses near the depot and left for Tuscumbia on June 10th, but no known personal accounts from the party exist. The railroad ran on schedule for the Whiteley party, and allowed them to travel to Tuscumbia on June 21st, the same day as they arrived.