Month: September 2014

GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: The Joseph L. Friedman Settlement House

Friedman House

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 House

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

Friedman (2)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.


FriedmanThe Settlement House

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.


–Matt Jaeger

HISTORY REVEALED IN DEMOLITION: The Elixer and Granny Metcalfe

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The demolition of the Ethan Allen Carriage House building on North Third Street has shed unexpected light on some forgotten Paducah history. As the layers of brick and mortar have been removed, a painting has revealed itself, an advertisement which spans the outside wall of the building and features a string of bells and an old woman in a white cap. It turns out that in the early 1900’s the building at 126 N. 3rd was home to E. E. Sutherland Medicine Company famed for their elixir, Dr. Bell’s Pine Tar Honey.

The painting revealed on the building begs several questions. What was Dr. Bell’s Pine Tar Honey? Who was E. E. Sutherland? Who is the old woman? And just who was Dr. Bell?

dr bell 3What was Dr. Bell’s Pine Tar Honey? Dr. Bell’s Pine Tar Honey was a cough syrup if you will, with maybe, just maybe, a hint of snake oil included. Produced by the E. E. Sutherland Medicine Company of Paducah, “Dr. Bell’s” advertised itself as a safe, non-habit forming combination of pine tar, honey, glycerin, and various vegetable extracts which promised to cure everything from the croup to the flu to bronchitis. Their ads claimed the elixir “is successful because it seeks out and destroys the cause of the cold—the germs.”

Who was E. E. Sutherland?  The earliest reference we can find to Eli E. Sutherland setting up shop in Paducah is from an 1890 Paducah City Directory. The listing reads, “Sutherland, Eli E., Druggist and Pharmacist. Dealer in Drugs, Medicines, Chemicals, Toilet Goods, &c. 224 Broadway. Residence same.” We don’t know when exactly Sutherland first began production of Dr. Bell’s elixir or where he acquired the recipe, but we do know from a Paducah Daily Sun article in 1897 that Sutherland and the purported medicine had reached a familiarity and popularity beyond Western Kentucky. Said the Daily Sun, “One evidence of Paducah’s prosperity, industry and enterprise was the departure of a large carload of Dr. Bell’s remedies today, shipped to St. Louis for the retailers there.” The distribution of the elixir and the good name of Mr. Sutherland grew to the point that in 1902 Eli Sutherland left Paducah to work for E.C. Dewitt and Co., a large and prosperous medicine manufacturer in Chicago.

Despite Sutherland’s departure, Dr. Bell’s Pine Tar Honey continued to bear his moniker. In leaving Paducah, he sold not only the recipe to the elixir, but also his own name. In 1903, the E. E. Sutherland Medicine Company, now under the management of a Mr. R. Rudy, continued its manufacture of Dr. Bell’s Pine Tar Honey out of their new, larger building. And you guessed it, that’s the building at 126 North Third. Under Mr. Rudy’s direction the popularity of Dr. Bell’s Pine Tar Honey continued expanding. By 1908, Dr. Bell’s was distributed and advertised in every state in the Union, as well as Mexico. By 1911, an article in the Crittenden Record Press claimed that the E. E. Sutherland Medicine Company had outgrown its Third Street location and was looking to build a new plant at the intersection of Jefferson and the Illinois Central railroad lines, such that the plant could have its own private tracks.

dr bell 7Who is the old woman?  Perhaps some of the popularity of Dr. Bell’s Pine Tar Honey can be attributed to its effectiveness. And that’s a pretty vague attribution. More of its popularity is probably due to its advertising, particularly the face and name given its product. No, not of Mr. R. Rudy, and not of Mr. E. E. Sutherland, but of an old woman in the white cap who was not only featured on the side of the Third Street building but in almost every ad for Dr. Bell’s that ran around the country. Her face, just like the one in the painting on the building, was pictured in numerous ads often with a testimonial that said something like, “I am 87 years old, and have used about all of the cough and lung remedies that have been sold during my life: and for the benefit of suffering I will say that I have never used any remedy equal to Dr. Bell’s Pine Tar Honey.” The old woman in the ad was named “Granny Metcalfe,” and she was, in fact, a real person. Malvina Adeline Metcalfe was born in 1809 in Caseyville, KY. She married a Col. James Metcalfe who died during the Civil War and gave birth to ten children, though she outlived six of them. So, how exactly did she become associated with a nationally advertised product, her kind, trustworthy grandmotherly face plastered in hundreds of papers throughout the early 20th century? Truth is, we don’t know for sure. But it just so happens that at the age of 83 she moved to Paducah to be closer to a couple of her sons, Thomas and Frank, both of whom happened to work for the E. E. Sutherland Medicine Company. Despite dying in 1898, Granny Metcalfe’s name and testimonials continued to appear in newspapers well into the 1900’s.

So that leaves us with one question, which also happens to be the hardest to answer. This medicinal product was first bottled by Eli Sutherland, then Mr. R. Rudy, and featured Granny Malvina Metcalfe’s face, yet all this time it was marketed as Dr. Bell’s Pine Tar Honey. So who was Dr. Bell? The honest answer is, we don’t know. But, as always, we in Local and Family History don’t like to leave a stone unturned, so we do have a guess. As we said before Eli Sutherland’s name first appears in Paducah in the 1890 City Directory. In the same directory another pharmacist is listed with a store at 1383 Broadway…a Dr. W. A. Bell. By 1890, Dr. Bell had already been a long time resident of Paducah. His name first appeared as a druggist in Paducah in the 1860 McCracken County Census, making Dr. Bell a trusted name in the city for 30 years before E. E. Sutherland arrived on the scene. For a brief period though, perhaps a couple of years, Bell and Sutherland were druggists at the same time. Coincidentally, however, about the time that Dr. Bell’s Pine Tar Honey begins to become popular, Dr. W.A. Bell disappears from the Paducah directories, presumably because of death. We’re not claiming that the two Doctors Bell—the druggist and one of Pine Tar Honey fame– are the same person, but it is awfully curious.

So, there you have it….a bit of Paducah history (as best we can make of it,) hidden behind a wall of bricks and finally revealed by demolition. The painting has been gone from sight for nearly a century, but is readying to be gone for good. Make sure to wander down to Third Street and see it with your own eyes before it does.

Many thanks to J.D. Wilkes, musician and historian, for the great photo of the exposed painting.

And for more information about snake oil and hidden history, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger

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