BARNEY v. KEOKUK


94 U.S. 324 (1876)

BARNEY v. KEOKUK.

Supreme Court of United States.


Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. George W. McCrary for the plaintiff in error.

Mr. Robert G. Ingersoll for the defendants in error.


MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

We agree with the court below that the dedication of the streets of Keokuk was a dedication at common law, and not under the statute; and that, in making this dedication, the original proprietors of the tract reserved the title to the soil in the street, particularly in Water Street; and that this title went with the several lots fronting on the street, and extended to the Mississippi River. Whether, under the laws of Iowa, it also attached to the new ground formed by filling in upon the bed of the river is not so clear. It appears to be the settled law of that State that the title of the riparian proprietors on the banks of the Mississippi extends only to ordinary high-water mark, and that the shore between high and low water mark, as well as the bed of the river, belongs to the State. This is also the common law with regard to navigable waters; although, in England, no waters are deemed navigable except those in which the tide ebbs and flows. In this country, as a general thing, all waters are deemed navigable which are really so; and especially it is true with regard to the Mississippi and its principal branches. The question as to the extent of the riparian title was elaborately discussed in the case of McManus v. Carmichael, 3 Iowa, 1. The above conclusion was reached, and has always been adhered to in that State. Haight v. The City of Keokuk, 4 Iowa, 199; Tomlin v. Dubuque, &c. Railroad Co., 32 id. 106.

The peculiar origin of the title to the "Half-breed Sac and Fox reservation," in the peninsula lying between the rivers Mississippi and Des Moines, did not take it out of the general rule. This was so held in Haight v. The City of Keokuk, supra. That case was nearly identical with the present as respects the claim of the adjoining proprietor to the title of the land in Water Street and on the river bank. Haight contested the right of the city to control the wharf along said street, claiming, by virtue of his fee-simple title, the right to erect a private wharf and to receive the emoluments thereof. His claim was overruled, and on the question of title the court said: —

"According to the case of McManus v. Carmichael, then, Haight owns the soil to high water only. But here is interposed the argument, that this land is not held under the United States by the usual manner of grants, that is, by patent, after a survey, and described by section, town, and range. This is true; but yet it will not affect the extent of the complainant's right. The grant to the half-breeds was to them as persons and not as a political body. The political jurisdiction remained in the United States. Had the grant been to them as a political society, it would have been a question of boundary between nations or States, and then the line would have been the medium filum aquæ, as it is now between Iowa and Illinois... . The grant was to them as individuals, — as tenants in common, — and is to be construed as any other grant or sale to individuals."

The court then goes on to refer to various cases to show that the government cannot convey the land between high and low water on the public or navigable rivers, but that this space belongs to the State; citing Mayor of Mobile v. Eslava, 9 Port. 578; 16 Pet. 234; Pollard's Lessee v. Hagan, 3 How. 212.

It is generally conceded that the riparian title attaches to subsequent accretions to the land effected by the gradual and imperceptible operation of natural causes. But whether it attaches to land reclaimed by artificial means from the bed of the river, or to sudden accretions produced by unusual floods, is a question which each State decides for itself. By the common law, as before remarked, such additions to the land on navigable waters belong to the crown; but as the only waters recognized in England as navigable were tide-waters, the rule was often expressed as applicable to tide-waters only, although the reason of the rule would equally apply to navigable waters above the flow of the tide; that reason being, that the public authorities ought to have entire control of the great passage-ways of commerce and navigation, to be exercised for the public advantage and convenience. The confusion of navigable with tide water, found in the monuments of the common law, long prevailed in this country, notwithstanding the broad differences existing between the extent and topography of the British island and that of the American continent. It had the influence for two generations of excluding the admiralty jurisdiction from our great rivers and inland seas; and under the like influence it laid the foundation in many States of doctrines with regard to the ownership of the soil in navigable waters above tide-water at variance with sound principles of public policy. Whether, as rules of property, it would now be safe to change these doctrines where they have been applied, as before remarked, is for the several States themselves to determine. If they choose to resign to the riparian proprietor rights which properly belong to them in their sovereign capacity, it is not for others to raise objections. In our view of the subject the correct principles were laid down in Martin v. Waddell, 16 Pet. 367, Pollard's Lessee v. Hagan, 3 How. 212, and Goodtitle v. Kibbe, 9 id. 471. These cases related to tide-water, it is true; but they enunciate principles which are equally applicable to all navigable waters. And since this court, in the case of The Genesee Chief, 12 id. 443, has declared that the Great Lakes and other navigable waters of the country, above as well as below the flow of the tide, are, in the strictest sense, entitled to the denomination of navigable waters, and amenable to the admiralty jurisdiction, there seems to be no sound reason for adhering to the old rule as to the proprietorship of the beds and shores of such waters. It properly belongs to the States by their inherent sovereignty, and the United States has wisely abstained from extending (if it could extend) its survey and grants beyond the limits of high water. The cases in which this court has seemed to hold a contrary view depended, as most cases must depend, on the local laws of the States in which the lands were situated. In Iowa, as before stated, the more correct rule seems to have been adopted after a most elaborate investigation of the subject.

The exhaustive examination of this question by the Supreme Court of Iowa in 1856, in the case of McManus v. Carmichael, 3 Iowa, 1, really leaves nothing to be said. The precise point was directly before the court, — namely, whether the title of the riparian proprietor extends below high water, in the Mississippi River; and it was decided that it does not. This decision has been followed by subsequent cases, especially the cases of Haight v. The City of Keokuk, 4 id. 199; and Tomlin v. Dubuque Railroad Co., 32 id. 106.

But whatever may be the true rule on this vexed question, and whether we rightly comprehend the Iowa decisions or not, we have no doubt that the city authorities of Keokuk, representing the public, had the right to widen and improve Water Street to any extent on the river side, by filling in below high water, and building wharves and levees for the public accommodation. By the charter of the city, passed Dec. 13, 1848, it was provided, —

"SECT. 14. That the city council shall have power ... to establish and constitute landing-places, wharves, docks, and basins in said city, at or on any of the city property, and fix the rates of landing, wharfage, and dockage of all steamboats, boats, rafts, and other water-crafts, and of all goods, wares, merchandise, produce, and other articles that may be moored at, landed on, or taken from any landing, wharf, dock, or basin belonging to said city."

"SECT. 16. That the city council shall have power ... to license and establish ferries across the Mississippi River from said city to the opposite shore, to fix the rates of the same." ...

"SECT. 22. The city council shall have exclusive power to establish and regulate the grade of wharves, streets, and banks along the Mississippi River, within the corporate limits of said city."

And by a supplement, passed Jan. 22, 1853, it was provided, —

"SECT. 7. The said city of Keokuk shall have the power to establish and regulate wharf or wharves in said city, and more particularly to use the whole of Water Street for said purpose."...

Although it should be conceded that the title of the plaintiff attached to the ground reclaimed and filled in by the city outside of the original high water, it was a bare legal title, subject to the public easement and use, not only for street purposes, but for the purposes of wharves, landings, and levees. A street bordering on the river, as this did, according to the plan of the town adopted by the decree of partition, must be regarded as intended to be used for the purposes of access to the river, and the usual accommodations of navigation in such a connection. This subject is discussed in Haight's ease, where the court said, —

"One further thought, presented by the petitioner, should be noticed. It is, that if this ground is dedicated to the public, it is as a street only; and that if his rights are subject to the public uses, they are so subject to the use of it only as a street or highway, and not as a wharf, and that it is named and called a street and not a wharf. He claims that the object of a street is for passage, for travelling over, and not to land or deposit goods upon. This is taking a very narrow and close view. The streets of a town are fairly subject to many purposes to which a highway in the country would not be. More regard should be paid to the object and purpose than to the name. The ways of a town would be of comparatively little use if the citizens and traders could not deposit their goods in them temporarily, in their transit to the storehouse; and so of other things, and so it is of the wharf. If goods cannot be deposited upon it in preparation for shipping them, or unladen upon it from boats and vessels, why is a town located near the river upon land which, in other respects, is inconvenient, and is expensive to grade, to bring into form and order, and to keep in repair, instead of upon an even prairie, requiring no such trouble and outlay?"

On the general question as to the rights of the public in a city street, we cannot see any material difference in principle with regard to the extent of those rights, whether the fee is in the public or in the adjacent land-owner, or in some third person. In either case, the street is legally open and free for the public passage, and for such other public uses as are necessary in a city, and do not prevent its use as a thoroughfare, such as the laying of water-pipes, gas-pipes, and the like; and, according to the laws of Iowa (which must be taken to govern the case), it may be occupied by those improved iron ways for public passage which modern skill has devised, and which the advance of general improvement requires. It cannot be denied that horse-railroads have contributed immensely to the public convenience in furnishing a rapid, cheap, and convenient means of communication between different parts of large towns, and have greatly promoted their increase and growth in wealth and population. By the accommodation which they afford, the citizen can reside miles from his shop or place of business. Though attended with some inconveniences, they have greatly added to the efficiency of the public thoroughfares, and have more than doubled their capacity for travel and transportation.

So other railways coming to cities add greatly to their population and wealth, and furnish greatly increased facilities of communication with other portions of the country.

In Iowa, by the act called the "Right of Way Act," found in the Code of 1851, sect. 735, it is declared that, —

"The county court may also grant licenses for the construction of any canal or railroad, or any macadamized or plank-road, or any other improvement of a similar character, or any telegraph line, to keep the same up for a period not exceeding fifty years, and to use for this purpose any portion of the public highway or other property, public or private, if necessary: Provided, such use shall not obstruct the highway." Iowa Revision of 1860, p. 206.

By the construction given to this act by the Supreme Court of the State, railroads, especially when located and constructed under municipal regulation and control, are not regarded as obstructions to a highway in the legal sense, nor as creating, when laid thereon, any injury to the proprietors of the adjacent lands, for which they are entitled to compensation. The cases referred to by the Circuit Court (which are given below) abundantly demonstrate this conclusion, and no elaborate discussion of the subject is required from us. See Milburn v. Cedar Rapids, 12 Iowa, 249-260; Clinton v. Cedar Rapids & Mo. Railroad Co., 24 id. 455; Tomlin v. Dubuque Railroad Co., 32 id. 106; Chicago, Newton, & S.W. Railroad Co., 36 id. 299; Cook v. City of Burlington, id. 357; Clinton v. Clinton & Lyon Railroad Co., 37 id. 61; Ingraham et al. v. Chicago, Dubuque, & Minn. Railroad Co., 38 id. 669.

The cases cited, it is true, are generally those in which the fee of the streets was in the cities respectively, as is commonly the case in Iowa. But in Haight's case, in 4 Iowa, the very street now in question was under consideration, and the plaintiff had the same title as that of the plaintiff in the present case; and the principles laid down in all the later cases apply as well where the title of the soil is in the adjacent proprietor as where it is in the city or a third party. And, as before remarked, we can perceive no well-founded difference in principle between the one and the other as to the rights of the public.

The Circuit Court is clearly correct, however, in holding that the construction of a permanent freight depot in Water Street was an unauthorized and improper occupation of that street. It was a total obstruction of the passage; and this, as we have said, cannot be created or allowed. It is subversive of, and totally repugnant to, the dedication of the street, as well as to the rights of the public.

We also concur in the view taken by the Circuit Court as to the reasonableness of the erection of the packet depot in the place where it is located. It is a necessary adjunct to the steamboat landing, and the use of the wharf and levee for the purposes of navigation, and does not occupy any portion of the original street. It is a public use of the river bank, which is absolutely necessary to the use of the river as a navigable water. The erection of levees, wharves, and other accommodations on the very ground appropriated to such purposes by the original plot of the town, or, stronger still, on ground made and reclaimed from the bed of the river adjoining the street thus appropriated, and in enlargement thereof, is clearly within the powers of the city authorities as laid down in the cases referred to.

Judgment affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE MILLER did not sit in the case, nor take any part in deciding it.


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