Month: April 2016 (page 1 of 2)

RAMONA PARK: PADUCAH’S OTHER PARK ON NORTH 13TH STREET

Where Ramona Park Once Stood

Where Ramona Park Once Stood

Tuesday’s front page of the Paducah Sun spotlighted some of the plans for the new health-themed park to be constructed in the Fountain Avenue Neighborhood. The design includes a 4000-foot play area (with a rock wall), a spray pad, walking trail, open playing field, outdoor performance area, fitness equipment, and a community garden.

What many don’t know was that there was once another park on North 13th Street, one of Paducah’s first public parks, in fact. Local history buffs may have heard of some of our other bygone parks: Wallace Park, Barkley Park, and Hooks Field. But few may have heard of Ramona Park.

For us in the Local and Family History Department, Ramona Park remains a bit of mystery. Some of the details are vague, particularly why it was called Ramona Park.

But we do know that Ramona Park was established in the late 1800’s at the end of the People’s Street Railway Company’s line on North 13th close to what is now HC Mathis Drive (see the accompanying map of the area). This section of town was locally known as Rowlandtown, named after Reuben Rowland who constructed many of the properties in the neighborhood and helped build the streetcar line.

In those days, streetcar companies often established trolley parks, or suburban resorts, at the end of their lines. The parks were a clever strategy to get people to ride streetcars more often, particularly on weekends, and these parks featured theaters, amusement houses, dance pavilions, and sports fields, as well as traveling entertainers and fireworks displays.

A description of Ramona Park from an 1897 edition of the Street Railway Journal reads: “At this park the company has recently completed a theatre which will be called the Casino. Here will be given theatrical entertainments of a varied character, and during the summer, dramas and operas will be presented…The stage is about 35 ft. x 25 ft. The rest of the park is attractively laid out with a large number of lawns with trees and flowers. At night the park is illuminated by electric lights of all colors in glass lanterns, hung from trees.”

Ramona Park also featured Paducah’s first baseball field built for league play, a predecessor to the Kitty League field at Wallace Park. Home to Paducah’s Central League team, the Little Colonels, the field at Ramona Park was completed in April of 1897 and featured a 2500-seat grandstand.

Just three months after the completion of the ballfield, however, tragedy struck Ramona Park in the form of a massive fire, a “Disastrous Conflagration” as the newspaper headline stated. The blaze occurred on July 22, 1897 during a performance of a play called “The Streets of New York.”
***Ironically, the play had been promoted in the paper promising a “Grand Fire and Snow Scene.”

As the centerpiece of the fire scene in the final act, a large frame had been soaked with gasoline to render the effect more “lurid and realistic.” The flames from the frame rose too high and caught the tar paper roof of the theater on fire. Though no one died, the fire injured about a hundred folks, mostly with burns from dripping tar.

5The grounds and ballfield at Ramona Park suffered no lasting damage. The Casino Theater, however, paid the ultimate price. It burned to the ground.

Though the dates aren’t specifically known, it appears as if the Casino Theater had been in operation for less than a year before becoming ash. Without a theater, the popularity of Ramona Park was soon eclipsed by another trolley park established by a competing streetcar company…Wallace Park in Paducah’s West End. Wallace Park featured all the amenities that Ramona Park once had, plus a lake and a zoo.

By 1899, Ramona Park had also dropped its name. In the subsequent years, the grounds went under the names Rowlandtown Park, Eureka Park, and Forest Park. But while the theater was long gone, the lawns and ballfield continued to be an important gathering place for Paducah’s citizenry by playing host to many Eighth of August celebrations and several sporting events, including Paducah’s first organized African American baseball games.

So, there you have it….a brief history of one of our town’s nearly forgotten parks. Though the site of the new health park isn’t super close to the site of the old Ramona Park, it does feel like Paducah has come full circle by once again building a park on North 13th Street.

If anyone out there has more information about Ramona Park…particularly why it was called Ramona Park…please let us know.

And for more about disastrous conflagrations, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. Make sure to also “like” our Facebook page!

–Matt Jaeger

PADUCAHAN QUOTE OF THE WEEK #4

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PADUCAH’S FIRST U.F.O : The Mysterious Airship of April 19, 1897

Depiction of airship from The San Francisco Call, 1896.

Depiction of airship from The San Francisco Call, 1896.

119 years ago today, a party of Paducah’s prominent citizens stood outside the Palmer House Hotel at Fifth and Broadway to stare at a strange light in the northwestern sky. Reports say that the light “moved over a considerable space and not in a straight line,” so they were certain it was not a star (Paducah Daily Sun, 1897).

Of course, at this time in history, strange lights in the sky were difficult to explain. This sighting took place six years before the Wright Brothers’ first flight and three years before the first zeppelin lifted off the ground. Hot air balloons existed, but they primarily went up and down. Besides, if a hot air balloon had been anywhere in the vicinity of Paducah, the town would have known about it.

The folks who saw the floating light weren’t the type for tall tales. They included department store owner, Charles Weille; prominent businessman, George Langstaff; and postmaster general of Paducah, Frank Fisher.

Truly, they had seen an unidentified flying object, what they generically called an “airship.” Yet, no one freaked out. As strange an occurrence as this should have been, the group seemed to take the vision of the unearthly craft in stride. Likely they were cynical about the whole shebang, and the reason for their hesitation lay in the fact that they were hardly the first to see such an “airship.” In the previous six months, dozens of other cities throughout the United States also reported sightings.

The airship sightings began in California in late 1896, the first being over Sacramento on November 18. Witnesses reported a light moving over Sacramento at a height of 1000 feet. Some said they heard voices issuing commands from a dark shape that was attached below the light. In the next couple of days, airships were also reported in San Francisco, Stockton, and Oakland. More details were added, including the warbling sound the ships made and the presence of slender, 7 foot tall extraterrestrials. The attached drawings from an 1896 San Francisco newspaper depict the crafts reported by witnesses.

In the ensuing months, many more sightings occurred, slowly spreading westward from California, to Texas, Arkansas, Nebraska and many places in between. On April 10, just before reaching Paducah, the airship made an appearance in St. Louis where W.H. Hopkins reported seeing a 20 foot, three propeller craft being driven by three nude women and one nude, bearded man. Yikes!

On April 16, the craft was seen in Cairo, IL, followed by Metropolis, IL, and then finally….Paducah!

2As stated though, excitement over the airship seemed at a minimum. The Paducah Daily Sun concluded its initial article with the statement, “The great majority of people are still skeptical on the subject and are inclined to think that a gigantic hoax is being practiced.”

As it turned out, the “great majority” were right. Two days later, on the back page of the paper, it was reported that our town had been the butt of a practical joke at the design of two local, unnamed youths, who had attached a lantern to a giant kite. As the Sun stated, “This is the airship seen about Paducah at least.” Further, they had not just flown their kite in Paducah, but in the neighboring areas too, explaining the sightings in Metropolis and Cairo.

Like Paducah, many of the sightings throughout the country were subsequently proved to be pranks and frauds. But many of the airship sightings remain a mystery to this day, including the initial reports from California…and W.H. Hopkins’s naked pilots in St. Louis.

For more information about the otherworldly in Paducah, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this post, make sure to also “like” our Facebook page.

–Matt Jaeger

THE DEATH OF THE “BOY” WITH THE LONGEST NAME IN THE WORLD: This Week in Paducah History

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He answered to Arthur Hugh Chiles, but in truth, he had many, many, many more names. The son of local minister R.W. Chiles, Arthur had nineteen names in total, each name matching that of a preacher of some note.

Word of the young Mr. Chiles’s cumbrous name first reached the local papers in 1902 when he was sixteen. Described as a “youth well known on the streets,” Arthur shined shoes and was known for challenging his patrons to a unique contest. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, mister,” Arthur would say. “I’ll tell you my name, and if you can repeat it, I’ll black your shoes for free. If you fail, you pay.” When the customer inevitably agreed, Arthur would rattle off his nineteen names as fast as he could. As the Paducah Evening Sun stated, “He has never yet failed to get the money.”

A brush with death, perhaps a portent to his ultimate fate, landed Arthur in the papers again just a couple years later. A known epileptic, Arthur had a seizure while walking down South Third Street and fell face first into a gutter filled with several inches of water. Luckily, the accident was witnessed and Arthur was rescued by Paducah’s new Meat and Milk Inspector, Dr. C.G. Warner.

But it was Arthur’s tragic death five years after that incident on April 17, 1909 that not only landed him in the local paper but garnered him nationwide attention…all because his obituary listed his full name.

While fishing alone at Perkins Creek in Paducah, Arthur fell overboard and drowned. The Paducah Evening Sun conjectured that he’d suffered another epileptic seizure, though the exact cause of his fall was unknown.

The obituary went on to state, “He was said to have the longest name of any boy in the world. His name in full was: Arthur Hugh Thomas T. DeWitt Talmage Hardin Eddy Lane Arland Linnie Marlon Branch Sam Jones Pigg Reuben Walker Chiles.”

Of course, word of the death of the “boy” with the longest name in the world spread like wildfire across the nation. Though the story was somewhat sensational, most of the newspapers treated Arthur’s death respectfully and printed the obituary as it had appeared in the Paducah Sun. A few, however, tried to make light, and their editorial comments seem very callous. Said a paper in Iron County, Missouri, “His name got water-soaked, and his efforts to swim were of no avail.” And the Salt Lake Herald in Utah cruelly commented, “It is not known how the Kentucky man happened to drown, but it is reasonable to suppose that he jumped into the river to get rid of the handicap imposed upon him by a fool father.”

Despite the jokes, not one paper (that we were able to find) contested the fact that Arthur Hugh Chiles possessed the world’s longest name at the time.

Arthur Hugh Chiles was about 23 at the time of his death. The Paducah Evening Sun reported the funeral was held at Mt. Pleasant Church with a burial at Bald Knob Cemetery.

For more about long names, visit us in the Geographically Insulated and Parentage/Progeny Archive for Bygone Research and Edification at the McCracken County Public Library. Or just see us in the Local and Family History Department. And if you like this post, make sure to “like” our Facebook page.

–Matt Jaeger

PADUCAHAN QUOTE OF THE WEEK #3

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TODAY IN PADUCAH HISTORY: Remembering Glenn T. Bristow, Vietnam Veteran

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On this day, April 11, 1967 the Paducah Sun reported the death of the first Paducahan in the Vietnam War. 21-year-old Glenn Truman Bristow lost his life on April 5 when the helicopter in which he had been riding was shot down over Quang Ngai in South Vietnam. A Navy Medical Corpsman assigned to 7th Marine Regiment, Bristow and the others in the helicopter had been in the midst of picking up other wounded soldiers when the aircraft went down. Bristow had been on active duty in Vietnam since January 10 of the same year.

Glenn T. Bristow attended Farley Elementary School, Farley Junior High, and Paducah Tilghman High School where he graduated in June of 1964. Pictured here is his senior photo from the 1964 Tilghman yearbook.

Pictured also is the memorial stone in Dolly McNutt Plaza that honors Bristow as well as the 45 others from the Purchase Area who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.

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TODAY IN RAINY DAY HISTORY: Strange School Slump

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On this day, April 10, in 1897 the Paducah Sun reported that school attendance had dropped dramatically during the week. On Wednesday the attendance at the city’s public school was 1783 students but the next day more than 500 students reported absent.

What was it that kept nearly a third of Paducah’s kids from going to school? Some disease? Earthquake?

Nope. The Paducah Sun reported the slump in attendance was on “account of the heavy rain.”

Those must have been some muddy streets!!

–Matt Jaeger

DIAMONDS ARE A TOWN’S BEST FRIEND: The Baseball Field at the Corner of Buckner and Lone Oak

Chiefs watermark copy

Baseball season is upon us!!

We Paducahans have extra cause to celebrate because 2016 marks the return of the Paducah Chiefs to Brooks Stadium.

In 1949, Brooks Stadium was built specifically to accommodate the Chiefs and their Kitty League games, but despite the new digs, the Chiefs only played there six years. The Kitty League disbanded in 1955, taking the Chiefs with it…until now.

(In case you didn’t know, the Kitty League was the nickname of the K-I-T League, which stood for Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee.)

baseball1However, Brooks Stadium wasn’t the first ball field built to accommodate the Paducah Chiefs. That recognition dates back to the founding of the Kitty League in 1903 and a ball field that was built that year on a spot that most of today’s Paducahans unknowingly drive past on a weekly, if not daily, basis. At the northwest corner of Buckner Lane and Lone Oak Road (cattycorner to the Coke Plant where Oasis Christian Center stands) there was once a baseball stadium that held 3500+ spectators. By comparison, Brooks Stadium seats about 1500 people.

The accompanying two maps show the exact location of where the ballfield once was and what stands in its place today. The hand drawn map dates to 1906 (Buckner was still Broadway at that time, and Lone Oak was called LaBelle). The contemporary map from Google Earth shows the area is still shaped like a baseball diamond!

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, it was a custom in many towns for streetcar companies to build “amusement” parks at the end of their line. Established by Paducah Street Railway, Wallace Park in Paducah began to take shape in the late 1800’s in the neighborhood currently bordered by Buckner Lane, Sycamore Drive, Lone Oak Road, and Alben Barkley Dr. The park featured a natural lake for boating and swimming, as well as a summer theater called The Casino, a dance pavilion, tennis courts, an amusement house called the Third Degree, and a “zoo” featuring alligators and prairie dogs.

When the Paducah Baseball Association needed a new field for the newly forming Kitty League, the Paducah Street Railway saw the opportunity to expand Wallace Park to include baseball. Known locally as the Wallace Park Field or League Park, the diamond saw its first game on May 21, 1903. The 1903 Kitty League included seven teams besides the Paducah Chiefs: the Cairo Egyptians, Hopkinsville Browns, Vincennes Alices, Jackson Railroaders, Henderson Blue Birds, Clarksville Villagers, and Owensboro Distillers.

12967453_502497356604701_868258046515904124_oFire would destroy the stands and dugouts a year later, but the whole thing was rebuilt in 1905 to include a “mammoth and modern grandstand” that seated more than 2400 people, plus an additional 1200 bleacher seats.

After that initial season, the Paducah Chiefs went through a few name changes and were called everything from the Indians, Paddys, and Padookeys to the Red Birds and Pole Cats. But the team started as the Chiefs in Wallace Park in 1903, ended as the Chiefs at Brooks Stadium in 1955, and now is returning as the Chiefs again in 2016.

It’s good to have baseball back in Paducah!

If you’re interested in learning more about Paducah baseball, check out Randy Morgan’s incredible book “Paducah’s Native Baseball Team” available at your McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this post, make sure to also “like” our Facebook page.

‪#‎kittyleague‬ ‪#‎baseball‬ ‪#‎paducahchiefs‬ ‪#‎brookstadium‬
–Matt Jaeger

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APRIL 7 IS NATIONAL BEER DAY: The Paducah Brewing Company

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The Bluegrass Brewing Company in Louisville has trademarked the slogan “Beer is Food” for their fine beverages, but as you can see, the Paducah Brewing Company was of the same frame of mind way back in 1908. Not only did the Paducah Brewing Company advertise that “Beer Is Food,” they went a step further and claimed it was “Tonic.”

Barley is food, Hops a tonic…who can argue with that logic?

The Paducah Brewing Company opened its doors on April 18, 1901. Just two days later, PBC beers were available in restaurants and saloons throughout Paducah. The first brew to carry a branded name was “Belvedere,” which looked to have been a sort of light-colored lager or pilsner. Other flavors followed: a seasonal Christmas pilsner, a bock, and “Paduka” beer which was advertised to be “as nutritious as it is delicious and easily the pure food drink.”

Besides catchy slogans, the Paducah Brewing Company also employed one other brilliant marketing strategy…home delivery!! Two dozen pints at $1.40 a case!!!

Happy National Beer Day to all our city’s brewers…past and present.

For more about historic Paducah beverages, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this post, be sure to “like” our Facebook page as well.

–Matt Jaeger

PADUCAHAN QUOTE OF THE WEEK #2

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