A LETTER FROM FLORENCE: An 1882 Message in a Bottle


In the 1979, the rock band The Police released their song “Message in a Bottle,” and in it, the lead singer, Sting, croons the lyrics:

I’ll send an SOS to the world
I’ll send an SOS to the world
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle

Walked out this morning
Don’t believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore
Seems I’m not alone at being alone
A hundred billion castaways
Looking for a home


The Police’s song was ultimately about loneliness, isolation, and the universally common need for human connection. The theme feels timeless. Not only did the lyrics ring true in 1979, similar sentiments have likely been true for as long as messages have been sent in bottles which means they were certainly true in August of 1882 when a message in bottle was found on the shores of the Tennessee at Paducah. The message read thusly:

July 26, 1882.

To the young gentleman who finds this: Please except [sic] my compliments. I am 5 feet 2 inches; weight, 121; light hair, blue eyes. Answer soon as found.

Florence Miles/Paducah, Ky.  


So, given only her words, what is your first impression of Miss Miles letter? Do you find them desperate? Forlorn? Or maybe you see them as playful, flirtatious, and hopeful? Perhaps her efforts can be viewed as bold since she threw caution to the currents. Or maybe they’re more apt to be passive as she left her love life up to fate.


The Paducah Daily News, the paper that reported the message, had their own take. Firstly, they doubted the truthfulness of the writer, stating, “Her size is captivating, but then the name; it is too suggestive of a tramp.” The word “tramp” in this sense is akin to hobo.


But if from a true source, the Daily News went on to further ridicule the sender for both her misuse of the word ‘except’ and for her forwardness. The paper said, “Secure yourself a ‘blue back’ speller and a book on discretion, Florence, and study both intently. It will do you good.”


It sounds as if the Daily News was not convinced there was a real Florence Miles, and in checking the 1881-1882 City Directory on our Local and Family History shelves, no one with the last name of Miles fits the description of the person in the message. But this doesn’t necessarily mean she didn’t exist. Perhaps she was staying with a relative who had a different last name. Or she was a student. Or she lived just outside the city limits so she wasn’t listed in the directory.


We may not ever know if Florence Miles was real or not. But does it really matter? The message was real, and that’s  good enough for me.


–Matt Jaeger


*The accompanying photo is from Wikimedia Commons. It is not the actual message in a bottle from 1882.




You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.


This book from our Local and Family History stacks, A Revision of the Ordinances and Municipal Laws of the City of Paducah, Kentucky (1904), may have a boring-looking cover and a boring-sounding title, but inside you’ll find a fascinating glimpse into how our city was run more than a century ago. And among all the rules and regulations, you’ll find a few curious laws…some outdated, some funny, and some just bizarre.

Ten of these laws are listed below, copied word for word from the original text, along with the fine for infractions.




The flying of kites in the streets of Paducah is hereby prohibited and any person guilty thereof shall be fined 50 cents.



For persons selling hot tamalas (sic) five dollars ($5.00) per annum. Fine for no license: $10-$50 per day.



It shall be unlawful for any person to clean, gut or skin fish on any market bench or elsewhere in said market. Fine $10-$25.



All butter sold at the market house shall be sold by the pound, and in no other manner. Fine: $5 for each offense.



That it shall be unlawful for any female to enter or in any manner to frequent any saloon within limits of the City of Paducah. Fine: $5-$20.



It shall be unlawful, for the owner of any goat to suffer the same to go or run at large upon any of the streets, alleys or unclosed lots or ground in the City of Paducah. Fine: $5-$20.



That it shall be unlawful for any person in the daytime to take off his clothes and expose his person and go in the river bathing or swimming in front of the city of Paducah. Fine: $5 for each offense.



It shall be unlawful for any two or more common prostitutes to walk or be in company together on any street, sidewalk, alley or other public thoroughfare in the city of Paducah, during the night-time. Fine: $5-$50 for each offense.



Every person keeping cows for the production of milk for sale shall cause them to be kept clean and wholesome at all times and shall cause the teats, and, if necessary, the udder, to be carefully cleaned by brushing, washing or wiping before milking. Fine: $20-$100.



It shall be unlawful for any person to throw or scatter what is commonly called Talcum Powder, flour, or similar product. Fine: $5-$10.

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE: Paducah’s First Spots for Water – Well, Cistern, and Horse Drinking Fountain

The library's water refilling station.

The library’s water refilling station.

Carrying your own reusable water bottle around is the thing to do these days. Not only is it good for you, it’s good for the environment. Our nifty new water bottle refilling station at the library lets us know exactly how many plastic bottles have been saved because folks are filling their own bottles. Less than a month into its installation, and the counter tells us that we’ve helped eliminate waste from 2530 disposable plastic bottles.


And that’s at just this one station. Imagine how many bottles are being saved every year from fillers like this around the world.


But while this particular technology is relatively new, the concept behind it is not. Since becoming a town, Paducah has always looked for better, cleaner ways to deliver needed water to the public.


Of course, Paducah was founded because of water. The Ohio and Tennessee rivers not only provided industry and transportation, but a source of drinking water. Yet, even the early days, the riverfront at the foot of Broadway was not the best source for clean water. People used the river front for docking and launching boats, bathing, watering animals, and disposing of personal and commercial waste. So, despite the presence of a major, the city trustees looked to install a public well very early in Paducah’s history.


Paducah was platted in 1827, established as a town in 1830, and the first public well was constructed in 1833 on Broadway between First and Second streets across from the entrance to Maiden Alley. The well was a great convenience to the fledgling town and a boon for public health, yet it was not without controversy. The problem lie with the well bucket and the propensity for the citizenry to let it fall back down the well and break. With so many broken buckets, the trustees of Paducah passed an ordinance about a year after the well’s installation that made it illegal to let the bucket fall back down the well, carrying with it a fine of $4 per offense.


Drinking water wasn’t the only water-related concern in the early days of Paducah. Fire was also a big problem and with no piped-in water, a small blaze could quickly get out of control. Young Paducah experienced two major fires: one in 1835 that destroyed the Front Row buildings between Broadway and Jefferson, and one in 1851 that destroyed burned much of the southside of Paducah around Water Street, Market Street, and Kentucky Avenue. The answer to early firefighting was the strategic placement of large, in-ground water cisterns around town. Able to hold several thousand gallons of water, the cisterns were a quick source of water should a blaze break out. An article from a September 30, 1898 issue of the Paducah Daily Sun reported that the city’s oldest cistern had been filled in for becoming a safety hazard. That cistern, installed in 1850, was located in the vicinity of 128 N. 4th at the site of what was once an old city court room and calaboose (or holding cell). At the time it was filled in, the site was Paducah’s Central Fire Station.


Even as late as the early 1900’s, Paducah still maintained upwards of a dozen cisterns as insurance against fire. One, located in the middle of Broadway Street across from the entrance to the Market House held the equivalent of 500 barrels of water, or 15,750 gallons.


Of course, the public wells and cisterns are no longer around today. But one of Paducah’s watery firsts is still around…a public horse and dog drinking fountain.


The horse/dog drinking fountain as depicted on our flood wall.

The horse/dog drinking fountain as depicted on our flood wall.

The idea for a horse drinking fountain was first proposed for the city of Paducah by Frederick Tilghman, son of General Lloyd Tilghman, on September 18, 1907. Though born in Paducah, Frederick hadn’t visited the city since he was a boy, and was in town to make arrangements for an eight foot tall bronze statue of his father to be erected in Lang Park. Enamored of the city he’d left long ago, Tilghman proposed the procurement of a second monument: a drinking fountain that would provide clean water to horses, and dogs.  It was an issue close to Tilghman’s heart for he also happened to be vice president of the National Humane Alliance in New York, a precursor to the Humane Society.


Because Tilghman offered to foot the $1000 bill, the city accepted the proposed fountain and decided to place it at the intersection of 10th and Broadway


Details of the fountain reached the Paducah Evening Sun on October 11 of that year. Under the headline “Humane Society Fountain Will Be Shipped At Once,” the article stated, “The fountain will be six feet, six inches high from the ground to the top. The large bowl for the use of horses will be six feet in diameter and carved from a single piece of granite. At the base will be four cups or basins to contain water for dogs.”  One side of the fountain held a plaque in honor of the National Humane Alliance’s president, Herman Lee Ensign. The other three sides held large lion heads with streams of water flowing from their mouths into the bowl below.


The fountain was installed in 1908 but wasn’t hooked up to water lines until 1910. By that time, cars were beginning to overtake horses as the preferred mode of travel. Despite the fountain’s use becoming outdated nearly as soon as it was installed, it is still around today, a lasting reminder of Paducah’s water-filled history.

SOMETHING GOT YOUR GOAT? Paducah’s Goat Problem of 1898


Invasive species. Asian Carp, Killer Bees, Cane Toads, and Burmese Python…just to name a few. They can be a real problem, causing havoc and disrupting the natural order of things. An invasive species can be truly destructive.


However, one does not usually think of goats in this way because…well, they’re goats.


But an invasion of goats was exactly what Paducahans struggled with in 1898…or at least a seeming excess of them.

For instance, on one day the local Elks Club assembled for a meeting and found a goat inside the lodge gotten eating their altar cloth (January 18, 1898, Paducah Daily Sun). The Elks suggested it was a Masonic goat that had gotten into the wrong hall. But despite, the humorous take, the goat was indicative of a growing plague. It got so bad, in fact, that the city had to pass a new law to address the critters.


The problem lay in the fact that too many local owners let their goats roam free, allowing them to destroy property, cross breed, and become aggressive. Two areas of town saw the most problems: the south side of town around Mechanicsburg and the north side of town around 9th and Burnett.


The citizens of Mechanicsburg banded together to try to incite change. On March 8, 1898, the Paducah Daily Sun reported that “a petition was signed last night presented by 81 citizens requesting an ordinanc3e prohibiting their running at large.”


Further, the Sun ran an editorial regarding the goat problem on the north side of town: “The locality at the north end of Ninth Street, or near Ninth and Burnett streets, is a veritable hot bed for goats. They form the army of the occupation and the army of the invasion of that highly goat-odorous locality. They sleep neither day nor night. They are on dress parade all day and at night they surpass the Spaniards for picket duty, patrolling the entire locality every fifteen minutes, and splitting the very heavens with their unearthly shrieks.”


The local council heard the complaints and passed an ordinance on April 17, 1898 that said, “It shall be unlawful for the owner of any goat to suffer the same to go or run at large upon any of the streets, alleys or unclosed lots or ground in the City of Paducah.” Fines for infractions of the new law ran from $5-$20 per offence.


While the new ordinance curbed some of the goat issues, there was still one goat-related problem that irked the citizenry…Goat Carts.


In the late 1800’s, goat carts were all the rage among children. Like their fathers hitched horses to carts and drove them around town, children did the same with the family goat. Many adults in town saw the goat cart fad as menace and sought to be an end to it.


This cart represents the goat cart fad of the late 1800's, but is not a scene from Paducah.

This cart represents the goat cart fad of the late 1800′s, but is not a scene from Paducah.

But the new ordinance didn’t cover the issue of goat carts, and besides, the kids in town were prepared to fight to keep their carts on the streets. The following letter was printed in the Paducah Daily Sun on April 13, 1898:

“Deer sur and frend: I do not want Bily gotes kep offn the strets. I have a bily gote, and he never barks or gos mad. I uset to have a dog to driv my cart, but he wood not go like a horse or a got. When I wood hich him up, he wood not go unles I wood go ahed of him. I had to go ahed so much that my little brothr did all the riding, so I got me a gote. I think he is mity nice, all but his smell, and papa says that may wear off. Yors truly, George____”


For more about goats and such, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.


–Matt Jaeger


*The photos used are from Wikimedia Commons, and while representative, do not depict scenes from Paducah.




We drive by it all the time, but how many of us have stopped to take a look?


Found in the median of Jefferson Street around the 2900 block, the statue memorializing the 1937 Flood is not in a very convenient location for perusal. So if you’ve never taken a good look at the monument, and since this Monday (June 19, 2017) marks the 79th anniversary of its dedication, we thought we’d point out some of its features (even a hidden one).


* The statue was unveiled and dedicated on June 19, 1938, about a year and a half after the great flood.


* The inscription on the base reads “An expression of gratitude to all who gave aid during the flood of 1937.


* The location of the monument marks the western extent of the water’s reach at the height of the flood on February 2, 1937.


* The statue was commissioned and paid for by the Jaycees.


* The eagle statue came from the top of the wall of the old post office (5th and Broadway) where it had resided for 55 years. The post office was razed following the 37 Flood, and when the citizenry found out that the eagle was to be demolished with the rest of the building, they banded together to make sure it was saved.


* The eagle statue alone weights four tons (8000 pounds), and cost $2000 in 1882.


* Hiding inside the base of the monument is a container which holds a clipping from the Sun-Democrat which tells of the razing of the post office and the history of the eagle, a photograph of the old post office, and the names of the Jaycees president and city officials.

The old post office. Eagle sits near the roof on the 5th Street side.

The old post office. Eagle sits near the roof on the 5th Street side.

–Matt Jaeger


The photo of the 1937 monument is from the website www.paducahky.gov

The photo of the old post office is from the library’s digital collection and shows the eagle at the top of the building.



Looking for a new hobby? A new sport? Ever considered frog hunting?

If you were a reader of the Paducah Sun 111 years ago, during the last week of May in 1906, you would have seen three separate articles on three separate days about the increasing popularity of frog hunting in the city.

Paducah, it seems, had amphibian gigging fever. Said the Sun on May 24, 1906, “Frog hunting is the latest sport which local sportsmen have adopted and several thousand frogs have been caught during the past two weeks in ponds, marshes and gravel pits in and about the city.”

The paper included tips on how to catch the frogs:

“The sport gained favor with among railroad shop employees and a patent hook was brought into use in the sport. The hooks work automatically. The frog is “shined” with a lantern and when the light has dazzled his eyes to such an extent that he cannot see the hooks, he is “pinched” and in captivity.”

Recipes for the legs:

“One of the most delicious ways of serving frogs’ legs is to fry them in butter and send them to the table in a Hollandaise sauce. Wash the legs and wipe them with a cloth. Trim of the bones of the claws with a pair of scissors…”

The perils of poaching:

“Poaching on the frog preserves of Dr. W.H. Sanders, of Arcadia, Mr. John Rehkopf and a prominent I.C. railroad shop foreman, had to face a Winchester shotgun, saw their buggy confiscated and were subjected to threatened arrest last night.”

And some tall tales:

“Mr. Bondurant returned to the city with wet clothes and a pair of wrecked frog hooks. He declared that the frog had torn the hooks to pieces, knocked him into the slough, and after accomplishing this had torn down a barbed wire fence, which ran the slough in making his get away. ‘It was the biggest frog I ever saw,’ the popular foreman declared, ‘and we are organizing a posse to go out after him.”

The frog was said to weigh 11 pounds!!


For more about gigging and shining, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

PADUCAH’S FIRST MURALIST?? The Story of John Banvard, Nearly Forgotten Millionaire Painter

Murals…Paducah has a long history with them. The timeline, working backwards, includes…


Current Day – Murals are popping up all over the place, like inside Mellow Mushroom and on the side of Make, as well as the upcoming Quilt City USA murals which will debut in September 2017.

Spring of 1996 – Robert Dafford and his team of artists began designing and painting our floodwall murals. To date, the floodwall showcases more than 50 life-size murals that tell a near comprehensive history of the city, from the pioneer days, to the transportation boom, to the Atomic Age and beyond.

Fall of 1961- A team of artists, organized by Admiral E.E. Paro, created twelve wooden panels to hang in the post office section of the Federal Building at the corner of 5th and Broadway. The murals, which relay the early history of Paducah, were painted with an egg tempura that took more than 1200 egg yolks to create. The murals still hang above the old post office windows. One is pictured below.

Fall of 1938-39 – As part of the New Deal and commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts under the U.S. Treasury Department, renowned New York artist John Folinsbee (and his son-in-law Peter Cook) painted a pair of 6.5 x 10.5 murals to hang in Paducah’s Federal Building at 5th and Broadway. Still visible today in the federal courtroom, one mural called “The River” depicts a river scene at the foot of Broadway with Owen’s Island visible in the background, and the other, called “Early Town,” depicts a street scene with two men (reportedly George Rogers Clark and Meriwether Lewis) chatting in front of Paducah’s old courthouse. Folinsbee’s work immediately met with controversy. Many Paducahans were upset (most notably Irvin Cobb and the Women’s Club of Paducah) that a Northerner had been sent down to evaluate and depict life in a Southern town. The controversy likely led to the citizens of Paducah creating their own mural in 1961. Pictured is Folinsbee’s work “Early Town.

But who was Paducah’s first muralist? Of course, we can’t ever really know for sure. There have likely been painters as long as there have been residents. But one of the earliest, and potentially the most famous in his time, was a man named John Banvard (1815-1891).

Never heard of him? Not surprising. Today, Banvard has nearly been forgotten. But in the mid-19thcentury, John Banvard was among the most recognized artists in the world. He’s credited with being our nation’s first artist millionaire, and he traveled the globe to showcase his work, commanding huge, and sometimes royal, audiences.

Banvard was a painter of panoramas, the most famous of which was his “Three Mile Painting” of the Mississippi River, a painting on a rolling scroll (comprised of three “square” miles of canvas) which depicted the life and scenery up and down the entire length of the mighty river. Though not originally from Paducah, the brief time he did spend here prompted the panoramic work that would make him his fortune.

Born in New York in 1815, Banvard left his home and family at the age of 15 to seek his own path in life. He traveled the rivers, finding work on showboats as an entertainer and teaching himself to paint and draw at the time.

Malarial sickness aboard one of the boats landed Banvard in Paducah around 1834/35. Reduced to near bones and left begging on the street, Banvard was taken in by a Paducah resident named John Betts. Betts was the head of Paducah’s board of health, ironically charged with keeping sick people out of Paducah. But Betts was also a fledging theater owner (his theater somewhere between First and Second Street in Paducah), and so in exchange for room and board, Banvard painted agreed to paint the sets and scenery at the Betts’ theater.

Banvard honed his painting skills at Betts’ theater, and while still in Paducah, developed his idea for his scrolling panoramas, first painting scenes of Venice and Jerusalem. Stretched on rollers, the long canvas scrolled by, giving audiences a glimpse of exotic scenery and locales they wouldn’t otherwise have been privy to in those days. In essence, his work was a predecessor to motion pictures.

Banvard left Paducah in the late 1930s and headed to Louisville where he painted a panorama of Dante’s Inferno, and then ultimately returned to rivers to paint his crowning achievement, the entire 3000 mile length of Mississippi River. Ever the showman, Banvard perfected a lecture that accompanied his scrolling painting of the Mississippi. In 1946, he took his act on the road and was met with near immediate success. In the subsequent years, he performed across the U.S. and throughout Europe, which included an audience of Queen Victoria. In eight years, he amassed such a fortune that he is considered America’s (and quite possibly the world’s) first millionaire artist.

Partly due to P.T. Barnum, Banvard would ultimately lose his fortune and die virtually destitute in South Dakota. Nearly all of his work has been lost. If interested in learning more, you can read a whole lot more about his rise and fall at http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/foer-files-banvard-s-folly.

But for our purposes, we’ll simply remember John Banvard on his way up…a brilliant muralist who developed his skill and artistic talent right here in Paducah.

EXODUS AND THE TNT PLANT: Today in McCracken County History

April 20, 1942 was the deadline for many western McCracken County families to vacate their homes and properties in order to make way for the soon-to-be-formed Kentucky Ordnance Works trinitrotoluene (TNT) production facility. Today, 75 years later, we remember those families, the plant, and the effects that are still visible.

The announcement of the plant was made in the Paducah Sun-Democrat. February 27, 1942, with headlines reading, “$30,000,000 Arms Plant to be Built in M’Cracken County. Barkley Says.” The article went on to note that the exact location was a secret. It wasn’t until early April that residents of West McCracken County found out the exact location. Some 250 families would be affected. Seen here is a copy of a Notice to Vacate issued on April 3, 1942.

is this a caption

The April 5th edition of the Sun-Democrat revealed that, “The 16,100-acre site is bounded on the south by the Woodville road, on the west by the New Liberty church road, on the north by the Ohio River, and on the east by the back-lines of farms fronting the Metropolis Lake road. The eastern boundary is irregular, ranging from a quarter-mile to three quarters of a mile west of the Metropolis Lake road.” The residents were given until April 20 to leave their homes. The article indicates that a suit under the War Purposes Act, had been filed in Federal Court giving the government the right to require the residents to evacuate.

According to “The Coming of the Plant,” by Linda Thompson Hawn that appeared in McCracken County, Kentucky History (Turner Publishing, 1988), many of the families had lived and farmed on the land for years. Not having a great amount of time to move, families left behind some items. “In actual land acquisition, a list of everything on the farmland had to be made: the number of acres devoted to each crop, the number of rows of strawberries and raspberries and acreage in orchards and timber. Everything was appraised separately, most people felt that they were not given a fair price for their land and were unhappy that the appraisers were from Tennessee.” She goes on to note that, “The government tore down some of the houses and sold what they could not use as salvage. Other houses were sold intact and were moved to new locations.”

Construction began immediately and the plant would open for operation by the end of the year. The plant was run by the Atlas Powder Company and, according to the US Army Cop of Engineers, produced some 196,490 tons of TNT during its operations from December of 1942 through August of 1945.

Hawn also writes that the plant had had a cafeteria, water and sewer system, steam plant, railroad line, hospital, laundry, and box factory. Legend tells the KOW was the largest of its kind in the world. As one can imagine, the process for making TNT was pretty extensive and called for buildings on stilts with lead floors, the mixing of acid and toluene gas. After production, the TNT was boxed and sent to storage in magazines. These buildings, also called igloos, were built with four foot thick concrete walls which were tapered to 18 inches at the top with a bolted on wood roof. This was in hopes to direct any accidental explosions upward instead of toward the other machines.

As a longtime resident of Heath, I have heard many stories of the plant. My grandfather, Wilford Cathey worked at the KOW site. As a child, I was told that he was turned away from the draft due to the amount of gunpowder in his bloodstream, as if he would have exploded if shot. While in high school, a number of my fellow students told of a map that they found at the library which marked a number of tanks that were buried near the KOW site. They took to shovels, and while they never discovered any tanks, they did get a nice case of poison ivy. These “tanks” that they were searching for were actually storage tanks and not military tanks like they had conjured. Folklore or truth, tales like this have long shrouded the plant’s history.

Today, the majority of the structures and facility are gone. A large portion of the original acreage is now home to what is left of the uranium enrichment plant that was built in the early ‘50s. Many of the families who had to move resettled around the boundaries of the plant property. They and their ancestors still live there today.

–Nathan Lynn

SLIDING INTO SUMMER: Paducah’s First Public Playground


The weather is nice and warm. Time to get outside and one of our city’s beautiful parks. If you’ve got kids, there’s nothing they want to do more at the park than play on the playground.

Public parks have been a part of Paducah’s landscape since the city’s earliest days. One of the first, if not the first, was Fisher Gardens in the mid-1800s, located where Blackburn Park is now. But public playgrounds, with playground equipment, didn’t arrive until after the turn of the 20th century.

Opening on June 11, 1914, Kolb Park at Sixth and Broad Streets was Paducah’s first public playground…and it’s still a playground today.

Louis C. Kolb, the founder of the park, emigrated to Paducah in 1860 at the age of 18 from Hellbronn, Germany. He came to town with fifty cents in his pocket and established himself as a butcher. In 1864 he married his wife, Elizabeth Kroop, and also witnessed the occupation of Paducah by General U.S. Grant, watching him lead his troops up Broadway to take possession of the telegraph office. Throughout the second half of the 19th century, Kolb’s success and local prominence grew. He was an original stockholder in the city’s first bank, as well as an investor in the Palmer House Hotel and West End Improvement Company. Throughout town he became known as “Grandpa Kolb.”

Kolb built a grand house at 1810, and it is the property directly across the street that he ultimately donated to the city for the purposes of a playground.

The opening ceremonies for the playground were a grand affair, complete with a speech by Mayor Hazelip, a children’s chorus, a performance by the Paducah Band conducted by A.J. Bamberg, and the raising of the flag on the newly erected 60-foot flagpole, by Miss Elizabeth Rhodes, daughter of the park commissioner.

And finally, after all that folderol was over, the kids got to play on their new playground equipment which consisted of six swings, horizontal bars, flying rings, seesaws, slides, a tennis court, a large sand pile, and a giant stride.

(In case you’re like me and didn’t know what a giant stride was, a picture of one from a New York City playground is posted below. Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division ca. 1910-1915.)



Do you know where this curious historical marker is?



If you don’t, who can really blame you? We’ve got so many historical markers in this town that it can be hard to keep track of them all.  Turns out that Paducah has always been crazy for historical markers.


With regards to the current proliferation of plaques, the Kentucky Historical Society began installing the familiar, standardized green and gold plaques in 1949, and to date, McCracken County has 76 of them…the third most of any county in the state.


To put that number in perspective, here are the five counties/cities in Kentucky with the most historical markers:

Jefferson County/Louisville — 116

Fayette County/Lexington – 84

McCracken County/Paducah – 76

Franklin County/Frankfort – 52

Kenton County/Covington – 37


It’s no surprise that Louisville has the most. But it is a little amazing that McCracken/Paducah has so many with only 8 fewer than Lexington, 24 more than the capital city, and at least 39 more than any of the other 116 counties in the state of Kentucky. The information on our 76 plaques has covered a wealth of history, chronicling famous events, sites, buildings, and people. The earliest plaques that were put up (most of them along the river) primarily highlighted events related to Paducah’s founding and the Civil War. The two latest plaques, installed just last year, relay the histories and contributions of Boy Scout Troop 1 and Dr. William Stuart Nelson.


But even before the KHS’s standardized plaque program began in 1949, Paducah was a town full of historical markers, and a great many of them, like the one pictured above, were placed directly in the sidewalks.


It appears as if the movement to fill Paducah with historical plaques has its beginnings in 1909. The city’s Parks Commission was charged with choosing and researching the first of historical markers to be installed in order that the locations of these events “may not be lost to future generations, and it may be easy for sightseers to find the sites of historical interest” (Paducah Evening Sun, 5/2/1910). The Parks Commission identified the following eight sites as the first places in Paducah to receive plaques.

  1. The one story house with the two story porch made famous by Charles Dickens. Corner of Fourth and Jefferson.
  2. Residence of Captain Jack Lawson who ran first steam locomotive in America. Northeast corner of Seventh Street and Broadway.
  3. First Submarine Cable Laid by Captain Jack Sleeth across the Ohio River.
  4. Prison of General Lloyd Tilghman. Frame Building. Frame building at 419 Broadway.
  5. Fort Paducah – Site of Riverside Hospital
  6. Reading of the Proclamation to the South by General Grant. First Street and Broadway.
  7. Grave of Chief Paduke for whom the city was named—site of Lack Singletree Company.
  8. Colonel Thompson Killed During Battle. Trimble Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets.


The original design for the 1910 plaques called for them to be “neat tablets placed at an angle on low posts similar to the ones in United States cemeteries” (Paducah Evening Sun, 5/2/1910). But for the most part, the Parks Commission didn’t stick to this design. Instead, the plaques were implanted in the sidewalks…just like the one pictured above.


These embedded markers became a unique feature for visitors to Paducah. A 1921 article in the Dearborn Independent, “Under American Shingles: Irv Cobb’s Home,” described the experience of looking at them. “Eyes scanning the sidewalks appears to be the habitual attitude of Paducah’s flappers. They’re not more demure than elsewhere. Chances are they are students, locating historic shrines as a part of their lessons…few markers of historic shrines in Paducah are plates on the ends of posts, as they are in other places. Practically all of the markers in Paducah are embedded in concrete sidewalks—which is also to say that Paducah is well sidewalked. When you start out to find the place, you’re likely to walk over the telltale of it, and never know where you are.”


It is not known exactly how many embedded markers there were in Paducah, but evidence of them still exists. A handful are still around: in front of the Katterjohn Building, across the street from Etcetera in Lowertown, on the corner by Rose Garden Florist on Broadway.


And, of course, the one pictured above, which was placed in the sidewalk in front of the home of the colorful local judge and Irvin Cobb inspiration, William S. Bishop…at 929 Broadway.


Bishop’s house may be long gone, but the marker is still there, thus ensuring that the site hasn’t been “lost to future generations.”


For more information about our historical markers and the histories they contain, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

« Older posts