Paducah, originally called Pekin, offers a history and culture as deep as the rivers that surround it, and is as beautiful and culturally diverse as ever. Located at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio rivers, Pekin was a mixed community of Native Americans and European settlers. This cultural interaction continued until William Clark, famed leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition, arrived in 1827 with a title deed to the land. He named the land Paducah and set out to design the historic city you see today. Paducah was formally established as a town in 1830 and incorporated as a city by the state legislature in 1838.
Paducah has a long history of resumption and rebuilding by its dedicated citizens that reflects even today the commitment of its citizens to its success. This legacy began shortly after the Civil War due to a raid on the city on March 25, 1864, by Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Known as the Battle of Paducah, the raid was successful in terms of a re-supply effort of ammunition, fuel and goods and in intimidating the Union. Much of the fighting took place around Fort Anderson on the city's west side, in the present-day Lower Town neighborhood. Most of the pre-Antebellum homes in the neighborhood were demolished soon after the battle in order to deny any future raids on the Fort or the advantage of surprise that they had enjoyed during the battle.
Efforts began immediately after the war to rebuild the city and by 1867, the city of Paducah was Kentucky’s fifth largest manufacturer of industrial goods with a rapidly growing population of over 2,428 citizens. New businesses such as the tobacco industry, lumber,distilleries and bottling companies, iron foundries and daily commodity suppliers provided a thriving economic base and attracted newcomers to the city. After the Civil War, industrial development was escalated by the City’s efforts to expand its railway connections, linking it to national trade routes. The City’s success is attributed to its strategic location between the convergence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, the development of the New Orleans and Ohio Railroad, and the visionary town leaders who focused development efforts on the city’s river port and shipping capabilities, which attracted new manufacturing interests to the area. By 1902, Paducah had received the status of a second-class city, with the total population increasing to 20,000 residents. Concurrently, the city’s industrial and manufacturing base had continued to increase boasting 105 locally-owned factories, mills and wholesalers.
In 1937, the "Super" flood hit the city of Paducah. The Ohio River rose to 60.8 feet which is 17.8 feet over flood stage. The entire business district was devastated, fires consumed many of the buildings and over 20,000 people had to be evacuated by the military due to the threat of possible gasoline tank explosions. Once again Paducah survived this tragic event and the city rebuilt its spirit and many of its architectural treasures. In 1939, construction of Paducah flood wall began and continued through 1949. It not only provides a barrier of protection from the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers but has become a continuous canvas of murals that capture important moments in Paducah's history. The murals were designed & painted by Robert Dafford and the Dafford Muralists of Lafayette, Louisiana. The project began in 1996 with the last panel completed in 2007. Each mural panel has an interpretative plaque with a short history lesson on the scene depicted in the panel. Each panel also has its own spotlight making the mural walk an enjoyable evening stroll and tourist attraction.
Other Fun Facts-
- Irvin S. Cobb, well-known columnist, writer, radio show host, and the first Duke of Paducah, was born here. Cobb once said, “I would rather be born a homeless orphan in Paducah than duly certified twins anywhere else on earth.” His tombstone in Paducah’s Oak Grove Cemetery reads “back home.”
- Native son Alben W. Barkley served in several political offices before becoming vice president during the Harry S. Truman administration