Paducah's Past

Paducah, KY - Art, Rhythm & Rivers

In 1795, General George Rogers Clark, the famous hero of the American Revolutionary War, laid claim to the 37,000 acres at the mouth of the Tennessee River on the basis of a Virginia Treasury warrant. The same site was also claimed by the Porterfield family heirs on the basis of a Virginia Military warrant. This dispute delayed settlement and eventually went to U.S. Supreme Court. When General Clark died, his claim went to his younger brother William, of Lewis and Clark fame. The deed transfer was accomplished for a mere $5.

William Clark, in 1827, platted a town at this northernmost point of what is now the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway. Formerly the site of the village of Pekin, General Clark renamed this new town in honor of the Padouca Indians. In a letter to his son, Lewis, on April 27, 1827 he said, "I expect to go to the mouth of (the) Tennessee the 26th of next month and be absent about two weeks. I have laid out a town there and intend to sell some lots (in) it, the name is Pa-du-cah, once the largest Nation of Indians known in this Country, and now almost forgotten."

Local folklore speaks of the legendary Chief Paduke, a peaceful leader of a Chickasaw subtribe that hunted in this region. A statue of the Chief, sculpted by American artist Lorado Taft in 1909, presently stands on Jefferson boulevard at 19th Street. A twin of this statue is in a fountain in front of Union Station in Washington D.C. Paducah is the only major city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky with an Indian name.

Incorporated in 1830, Paducah's early growth was due to its strategic location at the confluence of the mighty Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. Paducah Marine Ways, a barge manufacturer founded in 1854, was the town's oldest industry. The crucial river industry is Paducah's third largest employer.

Incorporation, steamboats and railroads
Citizens Bank Building is the second tallest structure in Paducah.

Paducah was incorporated as a town in 1830, and because of the dynamics of the waterways, it offered valuable port facilities for the steam boats that traversed the river system. A factory for making red bricks, and a Foundry for making rail and locomotive components became the nucleus of a thriving River and Rail industrial economy.

After a period of nearly exponential growth, Paducah was chartered as a city in 1856. It became the site of dry dock facilities for steamboats and towboats and thus headquarters for many bargeline companies. Because of its proximity to coalfields further to the east in Kentucky and north in Illinois, Paducah also became an important railway hub for the Illinois Central Railroad, the primary north-south railway connecting Chicago and East St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico at Gulfport, Mississippi. The IC system also provided east-west links to Burlington Northern Railroad and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway lines (which later merged to become the BNSF Railway).

Discover more of Paducah's history while strolling along brick sidewalks past turn-of-the-century buildings where historic markers line the streets. Discover the dramatic history of Paducah, the only major city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky with an American Indian name. When General William Clark platted a town at the northernmost point of what is now the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway, he named it in honor of the Padouca Indians.

History Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, Whitehaven (circa 1860) is the only historic house in America that has been restored as an interstate tourist welcome center. The second floor at Whitehaven features memorabilia of Paducah native Alben W. Barkley, who served as Vice President under Harry Truman. To learn even more about Barkley, visit the Alben W. Barkley Museum in Lower Town. Housed within the historic 1852 mansion of Captain William Smedley, the Barkley Museum honors the life and career of Kentucky’s most influential citizen in national politics in the 20th century.

Visit the national Museum of the American Quilter's Society where a large array of unforgettably beautiful and artistically superior quilts are on display. A stay at the Duck Creek RV Park has all the comforts of home, the amenities of a first class RV park, and all of the best of western Kentucky at its doorstep.

Explore the museums and galleries within and around Market House Square, or browse the variety of antique and specialty shops throughout the community. Dine in one-of-a-kind restaurants unique to this community. Study Paducah's rich history captured on floodwall murals painted by renowned artist, Robert Dafford. Discover for yourself the charm, southern hospitality, and unforgettable history of this great river city called Paducah.

Muralist, Robert Dafford and other talented artists who work with him, have portrayed Paducah's exciting past on panels of the town's floodwall. Paducah, the hub of river activity in the inland waterways, has been the center of the river industry for decades. The river section of the murals span an entire city block, and tells the story of life on the rivers. Stroll along Paducah's riverfront and let the characters of the city's colorful concrete canvas tell stories from the past. Come see for yourself the beauty in each mural. Read more about Paducah Murals ...

Paducah's rich heritage is evident by it's diverse architecture. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, Whitehaven (circa 1860) is the only historic house in America that has been restored as an interstate tourist welcome center Paducah boasts more historic markers than any other city in Kentucky. Landmarks include the legendary Chief Paduke statue, 19th & Jefferson; Wacinton carved Indian statue, Noble Park; Steam Locomotive No.1518, downtown; and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. monument.

Paducah's Musical heritage is an important dimension, as well. Blues, Jazz, County, and Rock all have representation in the region's past and its present. There is no reason why this aspect can't be capitalized upon in the near future.

The new Four Rivers Center for the Performing Arts, is a potential building block for an expansive project along the lines of the Lowertown Arts District. This initiative would do for uppertown what the Artist Relocation Program did for lowertown.

The Uppertown Heritage Foundation is an excellent example of a community-building project that is well on its way to providing a base for new music in Paducah. The Purple Room is a small building in back of the Metropolitan Hotel where Blues legends once "jammed" and rehearsed during their stay at the hotel. This restoration project may be used as a catalyst for the Paducah2020 public awareness campaign. The idea is to provide a place for Paducah Blues musicians to record and showcase authentic Southern Blues and other music genres.

For more information about the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation visit: Lewis and Clark Trail

History of Paducah - The Video
Learn more about Paducah's past in this entertaining and educational video. Includes familiar landmarks, footage from the 1937 flood, with profiles of Alben Barkley, Irvin S. Cobb and the myth of Chief Paduke. Produced by S&W Productions of Paducah and hosted by Tom Butler, this 70+ minute video features artifacts from the Market House Museum, footage from the 1937 flood and much more.

Available at the Market House Museum, Hank Bros. True Value Hardware, Books on Broadway, Peppermills and Yeiser Art Center. Young and old alike will enjoy this fun and entertaining look at Paducah’s past. Loaded with pictures and stories about Paducah this video will make you say “I didn’t know that!” For more info visit:

Renowned artist Robert Dafford captures Paducah's rich history in paintings on this river city's floodwall overlooking the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. Read more about Museums.

Native Sons
Irvin S. Cobb (1876-1944)
Known as a writer, humorist, local colorist, reporter, autobiographer, actor, master of ceremonies, but probably his favorite title was simply "Duke of Paducah." Mr. Cobb said, "I’d rather be born in Paducah than be natural twins in any other city in the world."

Alben W. Barkley (1877-1956)
Kentucky’s most influential citizen in national politics in the twentieth century was the 35th Vice President, the “VEEP,” under Harry Truman. While speaking in Lexington, VA, he suffered a massive heart attack and died. His last words were, “I would rather be a servant in the house of the Lord than sit in the seats of the mighty.”
Visit Alben W. Barkley Museum at 533 Madison. Showcases memorabilia of Alben Barkley, 35th Vice President under Harry Truman. 270/534-8264
Whitehaven Welcome Center, I-24 Exit 7. Memorabilia of Alben Barkley on second floor. Tours every half hour from 1 - 4 PM. 270/554-2077.

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