Month: December 2014


gilbert-stuart-george-2Today in history, December 23, is the 231st anniversary of the day George Washington resigned as commander in chief of the Continental Army, following the Treaty of Paris. Washington’s resignation was especially significant in that Congress had given him so much power during the War of Independence that he likely could have continued to run the new nation by himself, much like a dictator or king. In truth, there were factions who argued for this to happen. Washington’s willingness to give up that power and return to civilian life, however, ultimately helped set the tone for the new nation and its presidency, an office to which he was unanimously elected five years later.

So that got us thinking here in the Local and Family History Department…does Paducah have a connection to George Washington? As Paducah seems to be the hub of the universe, of course it does.

The answer lies in the house at 1310 Broadway, and many thanks to owners Mike and Val Frederick for setting us on the path to discovering this connection. In 1902, Paducah hired a man named Lawrence Augustine Washington as its new city engineer, recruiting him from his home in Mississippi where he worked for the railroads. L.A. Washington settled with his wife Anna into their house at 1310 Broadway, and Washington spent the rest of his career in Paducah, planning our roads and sewers. He died in 1949 and is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery.

So how was Lawrence Augustine Washington connected to the Father of our Country? George Washington was his second great grand uncle.

For those of you who are interested, here is the particularly genealogy. L.A.’s father’s name was William Hawkes Washington, but that is not the side through which they are related. The path is on his maternal side, and to confuse matters, his mother’s maiden name as well as her married name was Washington. The path is as follows: Lawrence Augustine Washington was the son of Mary West (Washington) Washington who was the daughter of Captain William Augustine Washington who was the son of Augustine Washington Jr. who was the brother of President George Washington, thus making the second great grand uncle (or great great great uncle) of one of Paducah’s city engineers.

Clear as mud, right?

For more obscure genealogy, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.


According to the United States Postal Service, the top 10 most common place names (cities, towns, villages, etc.) in the United States are, in order of frequency: Washington, Greenville, Franklin, Bristol, Clinton, Springfield, Fairview, Salem, Madison, and Georgetown. Eight of the ten are found in Kentucky, excluding Bristol and Madison (though we do have a Madisonville).

Not surprisingly, Paducah didn’t make the list.

Heck, for about 150 years, Paducahans weren’t sure how their own city got its name. They bounced back and forth between a couple origin stories, with the namesake either being a seven-foot tall Chickasaw named Chief Paduke or an enterprising Irishman named Pat Dugan who established a woodyard on Owen’s Island. Further muddling the situation, native son, outspoken author, and Native American enthusiast, Irvin S. Cobb, was convinced that Paducah was a Chickasaw word meaning “where the wild grapes grow.” None of these theories were right, and it wasn’t until the 1990’s that a long lost letter was discovered that finally resolved the mystery. Written by William Clark, who platted our city, the 1827 letter explained that Paducah was named for the tribe of Native Americans who originally lived here, a people known as Padoucas.

However, despite the seeming uniqueness of our city’s name and our own longstanding ignorance to its origin, there are a few other places and things out in the wide, wide world also called Paducah…in a manner of speaking.



Paducah, TX Welcome Sign

Paducah, TX Welcome Sign

A Little City in Texas Called Paducah

This one is an exact match in both spelling and pronunciation to our own town. As many of you may already know, there is a little city just south of the panhandle in Texas called Paducah. It’s a smallish place with about 1.5 square miles of land inhabited by 1500 residents. What you may not know is that Paducah, Texas is actually named for Paducah, Kentucky. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the Lone Star town got its name from an early settler named R. Potts who had moved there in the mid 1800’s from Paducah, Kentucky. Mr. Potts gave future residents a parcel of free land in exchange for their vote to name the town after his hometown in the Ohio Valley. Another thing you may not have known, the high school mascot in Paducah, Texas is the Dragon, which makes one wonder…in an exhibition, which would prevail, a Blue Tornado or a Dragon?



Gas Lamp in Padukka

Gas Lamp in Padukka

A Little City in Sri Lanka Called Padukka

Obviously, it’s not spelled the same, and I’m certainly no expert in Sinhalese (the language spoken in much of Sri Lanka), but it sure does look like Paducah and Padukka have similar pronunciations. One thing I am sure of, however, is that Padukka, Sri Lanka most certainly did not get its name from an immigrant named R. Potts. Padukka is a combination of two Sinhalese words, “paha” meaning vanish and “dukka” meaning sadness. A place called “Vanish Sadness” sounds like an awfully nice spot to me. Dating back to the 16th century, the area was first thought to have been a campsite for Portuguese invaders. Now, it boasts of a population of about 8000 and lies about 20 miles east of Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. Surrounded by hills and marshlands, Padukka is rich in the rubber and graphite industries. In the center of town, called “Padukka Junction,” sits a monumental gas lamp which commemorates the treaty that ended World War 1. No word as to what the mascot of the Padukka Public Schools might be.



Simple Paduka

Simple Paduka

Ancient Indian Footwear Called Paduka 

Again, not the same spelling, and who knows about the pronunciation, and this time it’s not even a place but a shoe…like a flip-flop with a peg. The Paduka is defined in many places on the internet as “the name of India’s oldest, most quintessential footwear. It is little more than a sole with a post and knob, which is engaged between the big and second toe.” So how old is it? Really, really old, in fact some sources state that the use of padukas may date back 5000 years which would make this style of footwear as old as Stonehenge in England and the hieroglyphs in Egypt. The word is derived from the Sanskrit words “pada” meaning foot and “ka” meaning small. Padukas have been made from a wide range of durable materials—wood, ivory, brass, and silver—though rarely from cow leather, as the cow is considered sacred in Hindu. Padukas can be flat and plain, or lavishly decorated, shaped like fish and hourglasses, and raised on stilts. Though once widely worn, the paduka has somewhat fallen out of fashion and these day is only seen on the feet of holy men (and sometimes brides during a traditional wedding ceremony).



One southern U.S. city, one southern Asia city, and a sandal…those are all the things I could find that resemble the name of our humble hometown, unless you also count the poker-like card game called “padooki.” To learn more about these things and other non-sequitur trivia, come on down to the Local & Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this article (or any of our others) be sure to also “like” our Facebook page.

–Matt Jaeger

Fancy Paduka

Fancy Paduka

SANTA CLAUS HAS BEEN COMING TO TOWN: The Beginnings of Paducah’s Christmas Parade

Rudy Ad from 1923

Rudy Ad from 1923

Paducah’s annual Christmas Parade will be on Saturday, December 6, beginning at 5 p.m., wending from 14th and Broadway to 2nd Street. Themed “Christmastime at the Movies,” this year’s parade is sure to be a festival of music and lights. And, as he faithfully does year after year, Santa Claus himself will appear at the end of the parade on his own special float. 

And, of course, that got us wondering here in the Local and Family History Department, when did the tradition of Christmas Parades start in Paducah?

On record, the longest running Christmas parade in the United States belongs to Peoria, Illinois which has been ongoing since 1887 (with Santa making his first appearance in their parade in 1888). Now of course, Santa Claus has been visiting children in Western Kentucky ever since there have been children nestled all snug in their beds, but it would take a few more years before Santa started making public, daytime visits in Paducah…and those visits were courtesy of Rudy’s Department Store.

From the 1880’s until the big flood in 1937, Rudy’s Department Store was a venerated Western Kentucky institution, and thanks to the photographs we now have as part of our Kate Rudy Emery Collection, we can truly see how vast and grand a store they were. Rudy’s occupied an entire half block between 3rd and 4th streets on Broadway, as well as a portion the City National Bank Building (now US Bank). With three floors of merchandise, including a Toyland on the top floor, Rudy’s was quite certainly the place to shop for all of Paducah’s Christmas needs.

Rudy’s was especially known for their window displays, going as far as to hire a designer from New York to arrange their windows for Christmas. It’s in one of these Rudy’s Christmas windows in which we find Santa making his first public, daytime appearance in Paducah. A 1903 ad for Rudy’s stated, “Santa Claus will pay us his annual visit this year, appearing in window every afternoon at 3:45 until Xmas. He cordially invites all the little ones to come down.”

While people may have paraded in front of the Rudy’s windows to see Santa, that does not make it a Christmas parade. Flash forward five years to December 14, 1908 and a report in the Paducah Sun informs us that Rudy’s Department Store made Santa a bit more mobile. Said the article, “Saturday afternoon was a big shopping day. Every store on Broadway reports a big day’s business. Rudy and Ogilve [another Paducah store] furnished excitement for probably a thousand children and grown people in the afternoon, Rudy with his visit from Santa, in an auto, and Ogilvie with the jolly old fellow in his airship.” (By “airship” we assume they meant Santa’s flying sleigh)

Though this 1908 article suggests that Santa held gone from his sedentary seat in the window to the moving seat of a car, we’re still hesitant to call this “a Christmas parade.” It’s not until 1923 that we find hard evidence, in print and photos, of a bonafide Christmas parade.

The attached Rudy’s ad from 1923 says outright, “Rudy’s has arranged for a wonderful decorated float and a big parade to meet him [Santa] and escort him in triumph to the store.” And if you follow the link below to the Rudy photo collection on our library website, you’ll be greeted with an absolutely stunning photo of this very float, complete with the advertised “jolly” clowns, Boy Scout escorts, and Santa Claus perched high on the float.

Take a few minutes to look through the rest of the collection as well. Not only are there more parade photos (one of which shows throngs of Paducahans on Broadway watching the parade), but also many pictures of Rudy’s brilliant window displays.

–Matt Jaeger