Do you know where this curious historical marker is?
If you don’t, who can really blame you? We’ve got so many historical markers in this town that it can be hard to keep track of them all. Turns out that Paducah has always been crazy for historical markers.
With regards to the current proliferation of plaques, the Kentucky Historical Society began installing the familiar, standardized green and gold plaques in 1949, and to date, McCracken County has 76 of them…the third most of any county in the state.
To put that number in perspective, here are the five counties/cities in Kentucky with the most historical markers:
Jefferson County/Louisville — 116
Fayette County/Lexington – 84
McCracken County/Paducah – 76
Franklin County/Frankfort – 52
Kenton County/Covington – 37
It’s no surprise that Louisville has the most. But it is a little amazing that McCracken/Paducah has so many with only 8 fewer than Lexington, 24 more than the capital city, and at least 39 more than any of the other 116 counties in the state of Kentucky. The information on our 76 plaques has covered a wealth of history, chronicling famous events, sites, buildings, and people. The earliest plaques that were put up (most of them along the river) primarily highlighted events related to Paducah’s founding and the Civil War. The two latest plaques, installed just last year, relay the histories and contributions of Boy Scout Troop 1 and Dr. William Stuart Nelson.
But even before the KHS’s standardized plaque program began in 1949, Paducah was a town full of historical markers, and a great many of them, like the one pictured above, were placed directly in the sidewalks.
It appears as if the movement to fill Paducah with historical plaques has its beginnings in 1909. The city’s Parks Commission was charged with choosing and researching the first of historical markers to be installed in order that the locations of these events “may not be lost to future generations, and it may be easy for sightseers to find the sites of historical interest” (Paducah Evening Sun, 5/2/1910). The Parks Commission identified the following eight sites as the first places in Paducah to receive plaques.
- The one story house with the two story porch made famous by Charles Dickens. Corner of Fourth and Jefferson.
- Residence of Captain Jack Lawson who ran first steam locomotive in America. Northeast corner of Seventh Street and Broadway.
- First Submarine Cable Laid by Captain Jack Sleeth across the Ohio River.
- Prison of General Lloyd Tilghman. Frame Building. Frame building at 419 Broadway.
- Fort Paducah – Site of Riverside Hospital
- Reading of the Proclamation to the South by General Grant. First Street and Broadway.
- Grave of Chief Paduke for whom the city was named—site of Lack Singletree Company.
- Colonel Thompson Killed During Battle. Trimble Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets.
The original design for the 1910 plaques called for them to be “neat tablets placed at an angle on low posts similar to the ones in United States cemeteries” (Paducah Evening Sun, 5/2/1910). But for the most part, the Parks Commission didn’t stick to this design. Instead, the plaques were implanted in the sidewalks…just like the one pictured above.
These embedded markers became a unique feature for visitors to Paducah. A 1921 article in the Dearborn Independent, “Under American Shingles: Irv Cobb’s Home,” described the experience of looking at them. “Eyes scanning the sidewalks appears to be the habitual attitude of Paducah’s flappers. They’re not more demure than elsewhere. Chances are they are students, locating historic shrines as a part of their lessons…few markers of historic shrines in Paducah are plates on the ends of posts, as they are in other places. Practically all of the markers in Paducah are embedded in concrete sidewalks—which is also to say that Paducah is well sidewalked. When you start out to find the place, you’re likely to walk over the telltale of it, and never know where you are.”
It is not known exactly how many embedded markers there were in Paducah, but evidence of them still exists. A handful are still around: in front of the Katterjohn Building, across the street from Etcetera in Lowertown, on the corner by Rose Garden Florist on Broadway.
And, of course, the one pictured above, which was placed in the sidewalk in front of the home of the colorful local judge and Irvin Cobb inspiration, William S. Bishop…at 929 Broadway.
Bishop’s house may be long gone, but the marker is still there, thus ensuring that the site hasn’t been “lost to future generations.”
For more information about our historical markers and the histories they contain, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.