It had been nearly six years since downtown Paducah had a skating rink, but as of this past weekend, ice skating has returned! The 60 x 120 foot ice rink is located in the Expo Center, and since it’s indoors, it can remain open despite the weather, through rain, sleet, or even the return of 80 degree days.
But over 100 years ago, in November of 1907, a whole different kind of indoor skating rink opened in downtown Paducah. Not an ice rink (the widespread use of indoor ice rinks was still decades away at that point), but a roller skating rink.
Roller skating was all the rage in the United States around the turn of the 20th century. Paducahans were right in step with the four-wheeled fad and regularly sought out places in town to strap on their skates. Some of the meeting lodges in town, like the Elks and Odd Fellows, put down temporary floors in their spaces for skaters, and reported that they were glad to provide “some amusement for our young men and ladies besides going to dances all the time” (Paducah Evening Sun, 12/16/1898). In early 1907, Paducahans, both young and old, also used the court house yard for skating as the new concrete walks afforded “an excellent place for the sport” (Paducah Evening Sun, 1/23/1907).
But skaters were outgrowing the lodges and sidewalks, so by mid-1907, construction began on a brand new facility solely dedicated to roller skating…Auditorium Rink! The rink itself was 60 x 200 feet long, designed to accommodate 600 skaters at one time. Seating was installed around the edges of the rink which could accommodate another 800 bodies. The lobby, separated from the rink by a partition, housed refreshment stands and could hold yet another 300 people. The facility also boasted a second floor men’s smoking room and a women’s waiting room which was advertised as being “absolutely private.”
Perhaps the coolest feature of the new rink, however, was the installation of a 40-piece orchestrion, a large mechanical instrument that ran like a giant music box with pinned cylinders and was designed to sound like a military band complete with organ pipes, wind instruments and percussion. The orchestrion could be programmed to play all manner of popular and classical songs—two steps, marches, and waltzes. (The accompanying photo from a 1908 Billboard Magazine shows both the type of organ that Auditorium Rink might have had, as well as the sort of skates used.)
Auditorium Rink opened to the public on November 11, 1907 (see the included advertisement). So many people lined up outside that it took over an hour to admit them when the doors opened at 7 PM. The Paducah Evening Sun said that counting the number of skaters who “spun about the big rink would be impossible,” but they did say it was over 1000. Councilman Van Meter stood out in the large crowd and was said to handle himself on skates “in such a manner that many a younger skater looked on with envy.”
Though most everyone had a wonderful time, opening night was not without incident. One woman fainted while in the crush at the door. Another young women, Miss Irene Curd, fell on her head and was rendered unconscious for a short time. Complaints were made about daredevils who skated too fast (a practice called scorching) and about ne’er-do-wells who snuck alcohol into bathrooms.
While Paducah embraced its new rink, there were some in the area who deemed the practice of skating as undesirable, perhaps even scandalous. The Carlisle News reported in 1908: “We sincerely trust that the people of Bardwell will put their stamp of disapproval upon any attempt to establish a skating rink here….It will be an amusement that we will largely regret and the damages that will finally result from it will largely outweigh the good received.”
Auditorium Rink continued to show great promise in its early months, so much so that there was talk of adding a swimming pool to the property. But even as soon as the autumn of 1908, the popularity of skating in Paducah began to wane. Attendance was so low, that the owners had to think outside the rink and repurpose the space to keep the doors open. They rented out the rink for religious revivals and political rallies. They held Greased Pig Contests and St. Patrick’s Day Dances. One summer they converted the rink into an indoor “Summer Garden,” which by the description, sounds an awful lot like a flea market.
But it was all to no avail. Eventually, the enthusiasm for skating completely ran its course and no manner of promotion could keep it open. By 1912, Auditorium Rink closed its doors for good, and the lot was used for a tobacco warehouse.
Though Auditorium Rink’s tenure was short lived, skating, in all its various forms, never totally went away. And today, no matter how you like to skate—whether on quad-skates, roller blades, skateboards, or ice skates—Paducah has a place for you to go!!
For more about this or any number of fascinating topics, visit us in Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.