River Commission celebrating 125 years with open houses|[4/17/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 18, 2005

The Mississippi River Commission has guided work on the Mississippi River for the past 125 years and will celebrate that anniversary with two open houses Wednesday.

Both open houses will be from 1:30 until 5 p.m. with one at the MRC’s headquarters building at Walnut and Crawford streets in downtown Vicksburg. The second will be aboard the Motor Vessel Mississippi at City Front.

Visitors at both locations will receive short introductory briefings followed by tours that highlight the commission’s work in the Mississippi River Valley.

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The Mississippi River Commission was born of floods, and floods have contributed to its continued existence and to the expansion of its duties.

Floods on the Mississippi in 1849 and 1850 showed a national need and interest in controlling the river.

But it was not until the 1870s that a single agency to oversee flood control and navigation on the Mississippi and its tributaries was created.

Mississippi Sen. L.Q.C. Lamar and Rep. Randall Gibson of Louisiana were the congressional leaders who introduced the legislation in 1879 to create the Mississippi River Commission.

James A. Garfield, then a representative from Ohio and later president of the United States, described the Mississippi River as one of the nation’s greatest assets and said it and its problems were too vast for “any authority less than the nation to handle.”

The bill was signed into law on June 28, 1879, and specified the commission was to be made up of three officers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, one of whom would serve as president, an officer from the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and three civilians, two of whom must be engineers.

The only change in the makeup of the commission has been to change the Coast and Geodetic Survey to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The commission reported directly to the secretary of war. Its mission was multitasked and consisted of: