Tag: Historical Markers

PLAQUE BUILD UP

Do you know where this curious historical marker is?

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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.

  1. The one story house with the two story porch made famous by Charles Dickens. Corner of Fourth and Jefferson.
  2. Residence of Captain Jack Lawson who ran first steam locomotive in America. Northeast corner of Seventh Street and Broadway.
  3. First Submarine Cable Laid by Captain Jack Sleeth across the Ohio River.
  4. Prison of General Lloyd Tilghman. Frame Building. Frame building at 419 Broadway.
  5. Fort Paducah – Site of Riverside Hospital
  6. Reading of the Proclamation to the South by General Grant. First Street and Broadway.
  7. Grave of Chief Paduke for whom the city was named—site of Lack Singletree Company.
  8. 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.

A LOOK AT PADUCAH’S HISTORICAL MARKERS: WHO WAS ANNA I. BAKER?

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The historical marker honoring Anna I. Baker holds a prominent place on Kentucky Avenue, right across the street from the Carson Center. Even still, a lot of Paducahans may not recognize the name.

So, who was Anna I. Baker?

She was…
• A prominent Paducah businesswoman in the early 20th century
• The founder and first president of the Paducah Business and Professional Women’s Club
• The first president of the Kentucky State Federation of Business and Professional Women

Baker was born in Abilene, Kansas in 1873. In 1899, after earning her degree at Baird College in Clinton, MO, she moved to Paducah to work alongside her father, Captain Henry Baker, in the transportation department of the Ayer-Lord Tie Company. After her father’s death in 1916, Anna Baker took over the management of the transportation department of Ayer-Lord, coordinating the massive effort to ship railroad ties by rail and barge all over the United States. Such was the respect for Baker’s leadership and business acumen, that the Marine Ways named one of its towboats after her (pictured above).

Anna BakerIn July 15, 1919, Baker attended the founding meeting of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women in St. Louis. Bringing the ideas from the St. Louis meeting back to Paducah, Baker established Paducah’s Business and Professional Women’s Club. The first meeting was held on September 23, 1920, making it the oldest BPW in the state of Kentucky. Baker served as its president for three years.

In 1921, along with six other professional women across the state, Baker helped organize the Kentucky State Federation of Business and Professional Women and served as its president for its first two years.

Besides her business and professional leadership, Baker was also well-known for her generous contributions to charities and welfare institutions throughout the city of Paducah, in addition to her “boundless charities, privately conducted.”

Upon her death in July 1931, the Paducah Sun Democrat stated in her front page obituary: “Miss Baker, an able leader, was prominently identified with every constructive movement in the life of Paducah. She was a woman of impressive mental attainments and recognized as one of marked business ability. She was highly efficient in the office she filled with the Ayer-Lord Tie Company and at all times was thoroughly conversant with and keenly interested in the river industry and its business development. Her efficiency won her the respect of business associates and a place of high rank among business women of the United States.”

 

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For more about Anna I. Baker or any other people featured on our historical markers, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger

A PLACE FIT FOR A VISION: One of Kentucky’s Fascinating Historical Markers

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The plaque is easy to miss. It stands on the corner of a busy intersection, right in front of Fourth Street Live in downtown Louisville. With all the people, traffic, flashing lights and noise, one might not even see the small bronze sign much less take the time to stop and read it. But if you did, you’d find that plaque commemorates an event that is pretty strange for a hectic, city intersection…it marks the spot of a moment of particular peace, a moment of clarity and quiet.

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On March 18, 1958, Thomas Merton, a monk from the Gethsemni Monastery in Bardstown, was in Louisville running some errands when he was suddenly overtaken by a vision. In his book “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,” Merton wrote: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness.”
That vision, that mystical experience, set Merton on a new path, prompting him toward a new understanding of his vocation as a monk and his role within the world. He went further into explaining his revelation by stating: “I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

 
It’s the job of a historical marker to draw attention to significant locations and people, but it must be a pretty rare thing for a marker to memorialize a vision. But the commemoration doesn’t stop there. Not only was a historical marker erected, but the street names were changed as well. Where Merton had his vision at Fourth and Walnut streets is now the intersection of Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Thomas Merton Square.
For more about the fascinating life of Thomas Merton, join us for the Evening Upstairs program at the McCracken County Public Library on Thursday, August 18, at 7:00 p.m.

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–Matt Jaeger