Drive on the loop on S. 3rd St. in Paducah and you might notice a gap in the landscape, a pile of wood and brick that wasn’t there before. The two-story, white brick house that sat on the corner of Third and George streets (by some accounts for 150 years) was recently razed. Perhaps you were familiar with the structure known by the lintel over the door as the Joseph L. Friedman Settlement House. Perhaps it was just one of those houses that blended into the side of the road as you sped by . Now that it’s gone, however, we offer a little history of the house and the person for whom it is named, so that, perhaps, their legacies aren’t wholly forgotten.
The date of construction and the original occupants are unclear, though historical architecture books available at the library claim that this house at 1405 S. Third was built around 1860, which would have made it, until last week, one of Paducah’s oldest buildings. With the rigors of the Civil War and the town besieged by natural disasters, few antebellum homes still exist in Paducah. The house was built in an area of Paducah then known as Jersey City, which was home to a lot of Paducah’s burgeoning industries and the people who worked in them. Through the late 1800’s and into the early 20th century, the house served as a private residence and boarding house. Accounts indicate that over the years the interior had been considerably redesigned but that the exterior remained relatively unchanged with a façade that featured Italianate-style brackets and lintels that featured a Greek-key motif.
Joseph L. Friedman
There are a few names that come up when talking about the history of Paducah that are instantly associated with the establishment and development of the city. As a founding father, Joseph L. Friedman certainly fits the bill. In facts, elements of his influence still exist in some of our street names – Friedman Avenue, Friedman Lane, Nahm Street (named after his brother in law), and even the area of town known as “The Pines.”
Friedman wasn’t a native Paducahan, though few at that time were. He was born in Louisville in 1857 and moved to Paducah as a young man with his parents. He clerked in many firms in the city before establishing the Southwestern Vinegar Works, which was known primarily for its unadulterated cider vinegar, but also for catsup, relishes, and Piqua Table Sauce which was a horseradish/mustard combination. His success in selling his vinegar products throughout the south led to further business ventures and led most notably to a partnership with John Keiler in 1891 as a distiller and wholesaler of whiskey with the firm Friedman, Keiler, and Company. The whiskey business was good, so the next 20 years saw Friedman involved and employed with several more major industries in Paducah, all of which seem, in retrospect, crucial to the town’s development. In that span he was employed as president of the Paducah Traction Company (the railway system in town), president of the Palmer House Hotel, vice president of City National Bank, and director of the Paducah Water Works. He even managed a poultry farm. While being known for his business acumen, one can hardly read a newspaper article about Friedman without also hearing of his benevolence and generosity, always, it seems, keeping an eye on and a donation for the needful in Paducah, whether they were fellow business owners or the impoverished. He headed up several civic and educational organizations, including the Commercial Club, Paducah Board of Trade, Parks Commission, the Elks, Shriners, and the Knights of Pythias.
While visiting his mother in Chicago in early July of 1913, Friedman unexpectedly passed away from Bright’s disease, an infliction of the kidneys. Evidenced by newspaper headlines, his death shocked and saddened the people of Paducah. His body was shipped back to Paducah, and so beloved was he that on the day of his funeral, July 8, 1913, all business in the city was called to a halt for the afternoon, except for the railway which expressly transported people to and from the funeral grounds. In an effort to pay homage, people in their cars and buggies lined the three-mile stretch from Friedman’s country home on the outskirts of town (a place he called The Pines) to Temple Israel Cemetery. According to Fred Neuman, author of The Story of Paducah, “The floral arrangements were legion, the greatest in Paducah’s history, covering an acre of ground.”
His notoriety and the sadness over his death extended beyond Paducah into other parts of Kentucky. The Bowling Green Messenger said of him, “There was no better citizen of Kentucky than Joe Friedman. He had risen to wealth by his own energy and enterprise. While climbing the ladder of success he never forgot those less fortunate, and there was ever a helping hand for a man in distress.”
At the time of his death, Friedman’s monetary worth was stated in the Paducah Sun as being close to a million dollars (about 25 million in today’s money). That, combined with his real estate holdings, which included the Pines and several buildings on Broadway, made him not only one of wealthiest men in Paducah, but also one of the wealthiest in the state. As charitable in death as he was in life, Friedman left many provisions for the citizens of Paducah.
According to Friedman’s will and wish to establish “a home for the aged and infirm,” his mother and his sisters purchased the house at 1405 S. Third Street, and named it the Joseph L. Friedman Settlement House. A settlement house, by definition, is an institution in an inner-city area providing educational, recreational, and other social services to the community. Funded by his estate, the house first served as a home for indigent families, and later, under the direction of the Paducah Women’s Club, the house continued to serve a variety of educational and social service functions. Until recently, the house went through many philanthropic and civic channels, providing space for scouting, health and mental health organizations, drug and alcohol counseling, and community development. Its last incarnation as a civic organization was in 2009 when the house became known as Abraham Hall, an emergency shelter for youth.
Despite being renamed Abraham Hall, the name Joseph L. Friedman always remained etched in stone above the door (evident in the provided Google photo from 2012). The name Joseph L. Friedman might have only had a century above a door, but his legacy to Paducahans will continue to live on and on.
For more about Paducah’s historic architecture and famous citizens, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.