Month: August 2015

WHERE MY BEACHES AT: Paducah’s Lost Shore


Vibrant. Gorgeous. Gaze-worthy…three adjectives which certainly describe me, but perhaps more accurately describe our floodwall murals.

Do you have a favorite? I’m partial to the Frozen River of 1938, the Strawberry Festival, and of course, the rendering of the old Carnegie Library. Yet, there’s another mural which never fails to pique my interest, the one at the Kentucky Avenue entrance to the river which depicts a group of swimmers coming out of the Ohio (see the attached photo).

There are a couple curiosities in the painting, namely the hot air balloons and the parachutist. But one thing strikes me more than the rest….people actually swam in the Ohio. Really?

I’m approaching my 30th year in Paducah, having moved here when I was in middle school, and I’m not sure I’ve ever really seen anyone swimming in the river (other than the heavily monitored yearly Cross River Swim). The current, the undertow, often seems too strong and the barge traffic too heavy. There’s ever-present trepidation as to what might lurk just below the surface: gar, rusted metal, petrified bodies (i.e. Speedy). While the Ohio is the source of our drinking water, untreated it seems a little too dirty to actually submerge oneself in.

Swimming in the Ohio is not an amusement one thinks about anymore. The whole process seems, at the least, daunting, particularly with sun-drenched lakes and crystalline pools so close by.

As evidenced by the floodwall mural, however, swimming in the Ohio used to be a very common recreational activity, so much so that Paducah essentially had its own beach that went by varying names over the years…a significant sandbar across from the foot of Broadway on the Illinois side of the river as wide as an island and nearly half a mile long!

The first reference found for this specific sandbar dates back to a March 15, 1897 issue of the Paducah Daily Sun. Cheekily called the “East End Addition,” the paper speculated as to the future of the sandbar because of recent flooding. “Year after year,” the article stated, “a change is perceptible in the ‘East End Addition,’ and after the present rise old river men would not be surprised to find the bar almost down as far as Brooklyn.” (Brooklyn, by the way, is the original name of Brookport.)

A year later, though, the sandbar was still around, and while The Sun reported that it had extended itself downstream somewhat, the sandbar still “raised its towering head above the placid Ohio” since the river had subsided.

In the early 1900s, the papers not only touted the continued existence of the sandbar, but also of its increased use for recreational purposes.
* September 23, 1902 – This morning a queer sight was witnessed. There was a horse on the sandbar opposite the city grazing on the grass that has grown on the bar.
*June 14, 1903 – A very delightful rowing party was given on Thursday evening in honor of Miss Inez Vertrees of Vine Grove, who is the attractive guest of Miss Odie Puryear. After several hours on the water, a delicious luncheon was served on the sandbar opposite the city.
*June 27, 1903 – The sandbar is beginning to show up and will soon spread over the river for many hundred yards if the fall continues with the present speed. The bar has not washed down as far as was expected.

Closer to 1910, the sandbar adopted a new name…the Cottonwood Bar.
*August 11, 1908 – Before sunrise yesterday morning, the following party went to Cottonwood Bar in the river opposite Paducah where bathing was enjoyed for several hours and breakfast was served.
*November 7, 1910 – The river is getting thin here and the sandbar abreast the wharfboat resembles an island. For the first time the bar was used as a playground yesterday by boys who pulled over in a skiff.

Jump forward another decade and the sandbar is bequeathed yet another name– Sunset Beach—and by all accounts it appears as if the number of people using the sandbar for swimming purpose increased so much that changing rooms were put up across the river and daily ferry service from the Paducah side was offered. Two Paducah historians, Fred Neuman and Baron White, both recall Sunset Beach as it was in the 1920s and 30s.

In “The Story of Paducah,” Neuman says, “Sunset Beach, a natural sandbar on the Illinois shore opposite the city, furnishes an opportunity for natatorial sport and is widely popular. While the sandbar had been in the process of forming for nearly a score of years, it was not until 1921 that suitable lockers and other conveniences were provided. “

Barron White, in “My Paducah,” says, “The first time we went swimming, Dad took the family on the ferry over to the sandy beach right across the river from the foot of Broadway. A wooden change-house had been erected over the shallow water and wooden barriers were placed out at the limit of the shallow part with a sign warning swimmers not go beyond the markers. The small ten-passenger ferryboat made trips back and forth every hour all day long until dusk.”

Following the 1930s, though, we start to lose sight of the sandbar and of regular swimming in the Ohio. The first municipal pool went in Noble Park in the late 1930s. Kentucky Lake was formed in the mid-1940s. And a series of locks were established up and down the Ohio River that deepened the river and made the sandbar finally disappear for good.

As they feared in 1897, Paducah’s shore has probably washed downstream. Never fear, though, the word on the banks is that there are still significant sandbars to be found in the area…one close to Owen’s Island and another just upstream around a bend in the Ohio. I’ve even heard tell that the latter sandbar is still known by some as “Sunset Beach.”

Do have memories of Paducah’s beach? Perhaps a picture? We’d love to see more; feel free to share them with us in the comments section below.

And as always, for all your natatorial history needs, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger



Last week we shared a story about the history and deterioration of 432 Broadway, and today the Paducah Sun reprinted a portion of that same story on page 2 of the paper. Tonight, we’re also able to share with you a couple historic photos of the building, to show what the structure and the block used to look like.

These high-quality photos of the intersection of 5th and Broadway are part of our Curtis & Mays Collection, which we are currently cataloging and hope to soon have available on our website as part of our Digital Collection. The photos date from the early to the mid-1950′s. In addition to the Walgreens (which is 432 Broadway), other businesses visible include Glen-More Clothes: Suit’s the Men, Business Men’s Assurance Company, Gleaves Furniture, Henneburger Insurance Agency, Dentist Frank Erskine, John Green Stores, and Watkins Department Store.

If you’re able, zoom in on the photos and take a look at some of fancy brickwork toward the top of the building. And besides the building there are many other interesting things to note, including:
- A large box of Fab Detergent was a nickel off its regular price.
- The curious placement of “No Left Turn” signs.
- The Ex-Lax Thermometer
- The two girls standing outside the Walgreens are either both crying or both shielding their eyes from the sun.
- Broadway had parking meters!
- The boy sitting on the fire hydrant is probably selling the Paducah Sun.
- Walgreens sold “Toiletries of Distinction.”
- The apostrophe in “Suit’s.” Why?

These photos are the property of McCracken County Public Library, are watermarked as such, and may not be reprinted or repurposed without the library’s permission.

For more about Paducah’s historic architecture, please visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this post, please also “like” our Facebook Page.

–Matt Jaeger



The Paducah Sun reported today on the disheartening news about the likely demolition of the building at 432 Broadway, a building which has been a public hazard for nearly 3 years and in steady decline for even longer. Though disappointing, the building’s leveling seems inevitable, so we in the Local and Family History Department wanted to relay a tidbit of the building’s earliest history before it’s all forgotten.

There are many long term Paducah residents who still remember that building as a Walgreens. In fact, 432 Broadway was originally constructed to be a drugstore, and that’s the way it served most of its existence. The building was erected in 1892/1893 by former mayor, The Honorable D.A. Yeiser, along with his partner V.P. Wells. As evidenced by the attached drawing from an 1894 book about Paducah, the building originally featured a conical spire at its high point. Mayor Yeiser had already been a druggist for years with a store at Third and Jackson streets, a business which many predicted would fail because it was far from the city center. Yeiser proved them wrong, however, and was so successful that he not only built the grand, new building at 432 Broadway, he became mayor of Paducah.

11693850_421067931414311_3342805682889489428_nIt also appears that the building not only served Yeiser’s druggist business but also his political career. The directories from the mid 1890’s state that Mayor Yeiser didn’t keep his office in City Hall alongside other city officials, but rather at 432 Broadway above the drug store.

Not long after that, however, Yeiser & Wells sold the building to Oehlschlaeger & Walker, who were also druggists. The name Oehlschlaeger is still attached to the profession today (their name is the “O” in G&O Pharmacy). In that time period and beyond 1910, Walker Drug Store (as it was called) not only served the pharmaceutical needs of the community but also provided much need meeting space. Several local organizations held meetings on the second floor of 432 Broadway, including Retail Grocers’ Association, the Knight and Ladies of Honor, the Odd Fellows, the Ancient Order of United Workmen (an offshoot of the Masons), and the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, which boasted a membership of 183 members and a permanent library on the second floor of 432.

We realize this is only a brief account of a small portion of an old building’s storied history, but hopefully it provides you with little more appreciation for the structure before it’s gone.

Do you have any memories of the building? If so, please share them in the comments section.

And as always to learn more about tales of old Paducah, be sure to visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger

ALL IN A NAME: Irvin Cobb Golf Championships Spin Their Own Yarn

By Dusty Luthy


Here at the McCracken County Public Library, we like all things Irvin Cobb. For us, nothing says Local History like the image of those jowls and a cigar.

In fact, consider us the bastion of all things Cobb.

So it’s no wonder that we’re big fans of the annual golf tournament going on at Paxton Park Golf Course this weekend. Starting Friday with a Pro-Am, the 79th annual Pepsi/Paducah Bank Irvin Cobb Championships continue with competitive professional, amateur and junior events on Saturday and Sunday.

Without a doubt, it’s one of the most historic and prestigious golf tournaments in the state, and certainly the feather in Western Kentucky’s jaunty golf cap. The tournament, which kicked off in 1937, bears the name of Paducah’s famous son.

What makes the tournament special? Even without Cobb’s generous silhouette gracing the logo of the tournament, the talent and skill that invades Paducah each July is the kind of stuff that breeds legends.

In 79 years of the tournament’s history, the stories abound – just try hanging out under the trees at the 15th hole this weekend with your ears open. A little digging into The Paducah Sun Democrat archives housed here at the library and a discussion with former Sun sports editor Steve Millizer had us chasing hard facts and not glorified fables.

Such as how did such an event become associated with the former journalist and humorist?

What we learned is the tournament hasn’t always been called the Irvin Cobb Championships. Its first moniker was the Tri-State Championship, which was deemed after only four years of use to be too common. Sam Livingston, Sun-Democrat sports editor in 1941, offered a contest for naming rights to the quickly growing event. Winner would claim a free week’s worth of play at Paxton Park.

While Livingston didn’t divulge the originator of the name, he declared in his daily column “Down Sports Avenue” on May 11, 1941 that the terms Paducah and Irvin Cobb were synonymous and that Cobb would be notified of the honor.

On June 11, 1941, Livingston printed Cobb’s response, which arrived via airmail from Santa Monica, Calif.:

“My Dear Sam:
I am flattered that your interstate golf tournament has been named after me and I am especially grateful to you since shrewdly I suspect you had a good deal to do with the re-christening. Naturally I extend my best wishes for the success of the event and I bestow my pious blessings on the losers. The winners can bless themselves.

I ought to add that if you were really determined to preserve the verities in this matter you would confer my name upon the deepest tanglewood in the gloomiest sand-trap along the course. In my days as a golfer (God save the mark and He did because finally He gave me sense enough to quit the foolishness) that’s where I was generally to be found.

Hunting for hooked and sliced and otherwise mistreated balls, I’ve been where Daniel Boone would have hesitated to go. But I did enhance by (sic) collection of prehistoric Indian relics.
With sincere personal regards,

Yours cordially,

No gloomy sand-traps were ever named in Cobb’s honor, but the tournament still proudly boasts his name now for 74 years with stories and tales about winners, losers and all men in between that even Cobb would appreciate.

And while the local legends like Kenny Perry, Russ Cochran, Jimmy Brown, Rick Cochran III and others are still fresh in our memories, here are a few notes from the tournament’s earliest years:

- The tournament wasn’t always at Paxton Park. The tournament began in 1937 as the Tri-State Amateur Tournament held at Lake View Golf Course, a 9-hole course. Lake View later became Rolling Hills Country Club and expanded to 18 holes.
- The tournament’s first winner, Cliff McKelvey of Evansville, shot a 74-79=153. He received a trophy and also split a dozen golf balls with Paducah’s O.H. Shelton for low score over 18 holes.
- Competing for valuable headline space that week in the 1937 Sun-Democrat was a Soap Box Derby.
- Shelton won the tournament’s second running, but it was Don McAllister who stole the show. McAllister was heading into the fall football season as the head coach at Norwich University in Vermont, but had previously held the same position at the University of South Carolina. He had just won the Southern Illinois tournament and showed up without warning to play in the Tri-State. His opening round score of 69 was more notable, perhaps, than his three-season record of 13-20-1 with the Gamecocks.
- 1940 was a big year for the tournament, moving from Lake View to Paxton Park in its inaugural season. Paxton Park was already enjoying such popularity that first season the sports pages were pleading with boys to show up as caddies even for daily use.
- 1940’s winners included Herschel Spears in the amateur division at the young age of 16. Chick Yarbrough won the first professional division prize – a cool $25 (with inflation, that comes out to about $420 in today’s cash).
- In the first tournament hosted at Paxton Park, it was noted the front nine holes played quite easier than the back, boasting 83 birdies to the back 9’s 40.

For more information regarding Irvin Cobb, sand traps, bogeys, and all things local, visit us at the Local and Family History Department of the McCracken County Public Library.

A QUIXOTIC NAME: What was Owen’s Island Called Before It Was Called Owen’s Island?


This year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the second part of Cervantes’ novel, “Don Quixote,” thus marking the completion of his masterwork, and thus also making way for some obscure Paducah history.

The first half of Cervantes’ tome came out in 1605, and the public immediately clamored for more from The Man of La Mancha. Cervantes set to work, though it would take him an additional ten years to finish the next section. Published in 1615, the second half of “Don Quixote” met with equal acclaim and the two volumes started being published as a single work in 1617.

From the get go, “Don Quixote” was a roaring success, not only in Spain and the rest of Europe, but in the New World as well. Spanish translations made their way with explorers to South America during the 17th century, while English translations trickled throughout colonial America in the 18th century.

Evidently, fans of the novel also made their way into what was one day to become western Kentucky, and namely, for our purposes, that fan was George Rogers Clark (for whom Clark Elementary is named). In his book titled “The Conquest of Illinois,” Clark chronicled his military exploits of the Illinois Campaign of the 1770s, and wrote in the second chapter of the book: “Intending to leave the Ohio at Fort Massac, three leagues below the mouth of the Tennessee, I landed on Barataria, a small island in the mouth of that river, to make preparations for our march.”

The island that Clark refers to as Barataria bears a striking geographical similarity to the island we call Owen’s Island. Bartaria is also happens to be the name of an island from Don Quixote, an imaginary place that Don Quixote bequests to his sidekick, Sancho Panza.

It’s no accident, no coincidence, that the two islands share a name. Cervantes made up the word for his novel (it does not exist anywhere else). But the novel was so widely popular that it’s quite reasonable that Clark (or whoever named the island) would have referenced Don Quixote.

Captain Valentine Owen, farmer and river pilot, ultimately lent his name to the little island visible from the foot of Broadway, but for a while it seems, the island owed a little of its heritage to that knight errant, that tilter of windmills, Don Quixote.

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

–Matt Jaeger


1955 Ad

1955 Ad

A couple months ago, the fine folks at Harned’s Drive-In visited the Local and Family History Department in search of their very first advertisement for their Grand Opening in 1955. If possible, they wanted to use the image from that announcement in an advertisement for their 60th anniversary celebration (which will be celebrated on June 27, 2015). Luckily, the old ad was found, and you can compare the two by clicking the images below.

Harned’s Drive-In is a true Paducah institution. Thanks for 60 years of fine BBQ, hoagies, and the PADUCAH DOG! Here’s to another 60 from your friends at the McCracken County Public Library.

2015 Ad

2015 Ad