William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame, would not recognize the riverfront area of Paducah, Ky., if he saw it today. History tells us that in 1795 his older brother George Rogers Clark, a general during the Revolutionary War, claimed the 37,000 acres the city now occupies. After the general died, the claim went to William and the deed transferred for only $5. The town was named in honor of the Padouca Indians, whom Lewis and Clark became acquainted with during their travels. The spelling was changed sometime in the city’s history.
Because of Paducah’s location at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, the city thrived. Paducah is situated on the southern side of the Ohio River, about 50 miles from the Mississippi and 20 miles from the Cumberland. That makes Paducah very accessible by way of water.
There are many attractions and things to do, especially at the developing riverfront area. A new Holiday Inn is under construction, and a dock for transient boaters is complete. With the new dock, the riverfront will become very welcoming and convenient to boaters. The City of Paducah Docks takes reservations for the new transient amenity (270-444-8508; VHF 9 and 16). There are several spaces with electrical, water and sewer hookups. Fuel will also be available, which is another plus for the dock and for boaters traveling the four rivers.
History in Art
The most prominent feature of the riverfront is the 14-foot floodwall. And not just a plain floodwall, but one enhanced with more than 50 life-sized murals covering three city blocks. The murals are the work of a group of artists led by Robert Dafford and are called “Portraits of Paducah’s Past.” They tell the history of Paducah.
The floodwall became necessary after the Flood of 1937. During that winter, the Ohio rose above its 50-foot flood stage. The city’s earthen levee was not effective, and over 90 percent of the city was flooded. So, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was commissioned to build the floodwall, which was constructed between August 1939 and July 1949. It was tested again in April of 2011, when the Ohio was predicted to raise more than it had in 61 years, but the floodwall held and minimized damage within the riverfront area.
In the first row of buildings next to the floodwall is the River Discovery Center, formerly known as the River Heritage Museum. It is housed in the downtown area’s oldest standing structure, which, according to E.J. Abell, the director of education at the museum, was previously a bank, a hotel, a store called Petter’s Supply that catered to steamboats, and the site of the first Episcopal church in Paducah.
The museum contains state-of-the-art interactive exhibits that tell the story of the four rivers region. Included are models of steamboats and flat boats, and exhibits displaying how a lock and dam works, why flooding occurs and what dredging does. One of the most popular exhibits of the center is the boat simulator, where visitors can pilot a variety of boats in different situations. Another exhibit explains the inland waterway system, which covers 25,000 miles throughout the central U.S. It provides visitors with a greater perspective of getting around the many different waterways that make up the system.
Mark Your Calendar
Paducah has many annual events, including a couple film festivals, a beer festival, a barbecue festival, a county fair, a dragon boat festival and an Oktoberfest. It’s an artsy destination, also. There is the annual Lower Town Arts and Music Festival in May, the Fall Fiber Festival this September 22-23 and a fall American Quilters Society Quilt Week this September 13-16. There is also a spring Quilt Week in April.
The Quilt Weeks are held at the National Quilt Museum, which is not a showcase for your grandmother’s homemade quilts — not that those are not pretty and functional. The quilts displayed at the museum are works of art that take the artists many, many hours to make. According to Frank Bennett, CEO of the museum, “We are a global destination art museum and get visitors from all over the world. Our visitorship is made up of a combination of folks that go to art museums and folks that are actually active quilters.”
The museum has more than 500 quilts in its permanent collection, but rotates them periodically. There are also two traveling exhibits on display. “There are nineteen quilt museums in the U.S., but we are by far the largest one,” said Bennett. “What we show represents the top one percent of what is being done in quilting.”
Great American Eclipse
Coming up in mid-August of this year is a total solar eclipse that can best be seen along a diagonal line across the U. S. from Oregon to South Carolina. It so happens that Paducah is within that line. A solar eclipse happens as the moon completely passes in front of and blocks the sun. Daytime becomes twilight.
Paducah will be in “totality” (darkness) for 2 minutes and 19 seconds. The city is planning a weekend of cultural events and activities culminating with the eclipse on Monday, August 21. Official viewing areas will be designated in the historic downtown along the riverfront and celebrations will be staged throughout town. The National Quilt Museum will take part and have a focus on arts and crafts. The River Discovery Center will celebrate with barbecue and music, and a farmer’s market will have local vendors selling their goods.
There are plenty of year-round activities at Paducah’s riverfront without the eclipse. So, do not wait until 2024, when the next solar eclipse will occur. The wide variety of restaurants and accommodations along the riverfront make it a great place for boaters and non-boaters alike to visit at any time.
IF YOU GO
Paducah Visitors Bureau
City of Paducah Docks
River Discovery Museum
The National Quilt Museum