Paducah is a city in and the county seat of McCracken County, Kentucky, United States, and the largest city in the Jackson Purchase region. It is located at the confluence of the Tennessee River and the Ohio River, halfway between the metropolitan areas of St. Louis, Missouri, to the west and Nashville, Tennessee, to the east. The population was 25,024 at the 2010 census. Twenty blocks of the city's downtown have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Paducah is also the hub for the Paducah Micropolitan Area and the western Kentucky region, the Paducah micropolitan area includes McCracken, Ballard, and Livingston counties in Kentucky and Massac County in Illinois.
Paducah and Chillicothe, Missouri, are the only two cities named in the world-famous song "Hooray for Hollywood", which opens the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards yearly (the Oscars). (Both cities' names were misspelled in the original published lyrics to the song.)
The story of Pekin (Paducah)
According to legend, Chief Paduke, most likely a Chickasaw, welcomed the people traveling down the Ohio and Tennessee on flatboats. His wigwam, located on a low bluff at the mouth of Island Creek, served as the council lodge for his village. The settlers, appreciative of his hospitality, and respectful of his ways, settled across the creek.
The two communities lived in harmony trading goods and services enjoying the novelty of each other's culture. The settlers had brought horses and mules which they used to pull the flatboats upstream to farms, logging camps, trading posts and other settlements along the waterways, establishing a primitive, but thriving economy.
This cultural interaction continued until William Clark, famed leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, arrived in 1827 with a title deed to the land upon which Pekin sat. Clark was then the superintendent of Native American affairs for the Mississippi-Missouri River region. He asked the Chief and the settlers to move along, which they did, offering little resistance, probably because the deed was issued by the United States Supreme Court. Though the deed had cost only $5.00 to process, it carried with it the full authority of the U.S. Government backed by the United States Army.
Clark surveyed his new property and laid out the grid for a new town which remains evident to this day. The Chief and his villagers moved to Mississippi, allowing Clark to continue with the building of the new city, which he then named Paducah in honor of the Chief. Upon completion of the plat, Clark sent envoys to Mississippi to invite Chief Paduke back to a ribbon-cutting ceremony, but he died of malaria in the boat while making the return trip. The settlers had been allowed to purchase tracts within the new grid but most of them moved on to less developed areas.
Incorporation, steamboats and railroads
Paducah was incorporated as a town in 1830, and because of the dynamics of the waterways, it offered valuable port facilities for the steam boats that traversed the river system. A factory for making red bricks, and a Foundry for making rail and locomotive components became the nucleus of a thriving River and Rail industrial economy.
After a period of nearly exponential growth, Paducah was chartered as a city in 1856. It became the site of dry dock facilities for steamboats and towboats and thus headquarters for many bargeline companies. Because of its proximity to coalfields further to the east in Kentucky and north in Illinois, Paducah also became an important railway hub for the Illinois Central Railroad, the primary north-south railway connecting Chicago and East St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico at Gulfport, Mississippi. The IC system also provided east-west links to Burlington Northern Railroad and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway lines (which later merged to become the BNSF Railway).
Paducah in the Civil War
During the American Civil War on September 6, 1861, forces under Union General Ulysses S. Grant captured Paducah, which gave the Union control of the mouth of the Tennessee River. Throughout most of the war, US Colonel Stephen G. Hicks was in charge of Paducah and massive Union supply depots and dock facilities for the gunboats and supply ships that supported Federal forces along the Ohio, Mississippi and Tennessee River systems.
On December 17, 1862, under the terms of General Order No. 11, thirty Jewish families, longtime residents all, were forced from their homes. Cesar Kaskel, a prominent local Jewish businessman, dispatched a telegram to President Lincoln, and met with him, eventually succeeding in getting the order revoked.
On March 25, 1864, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest raided Paducah as part of his campaign northward from Mississippi into Western Tennessee and Kentucky to re-supply the Confederate forces in the region with recruits, ammunition, medical supplies, horses and mules and to generally upset the Union domination of the regions south of the Ohio River. The raid was successful in terms of the re-supply effort and in intimidating the Union, but Forrest returned south.
Later, Forrest, having read in the newspapers that 140 fine horses had escaped the raid, sent Brigadier General Abraham Buford back to Paducah, to get the horses and to keep Union forces busy there while he attacked Fort Pillow.
On April 14, 1864, Buford's men found the horses hidden in a foundry as the newspapers reported. Buford rejoined Forrest with the spoils, leaving the Union in control of Paducah until the end of the War.
In 1937, the Ohio River at Paducah rose above its 50-foot flood stage on January 21, cresting at 60.8 feet on February 2 and receding again to 50-feet on February 15. For nearly three weeks, 27,000 residents were forced to flee to stay with friends and relatives in higher ground in McCracken County or in other counties. Some shelters were provided by the American Red Cross and local churches. Buildings in downtown Paducah still bear plaques that highlight the high water marks.
With 18 inches of rainfall in 16 days, along with sheets of swiftly moving ice the '37 flood was the worst natural disaster in Paducah's history. Because Paducah's earthen levee was ineffective against this flood, the United States Army Corps of Engineers was commissioned to build the flood wall that now protects the city from the ravages of flooding.
The Atomic City
In 1950, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission selected Paducah as the site for a new Uranium enrichment Plant. Construction began in 1951 and began operations in 1952. The plant, originally operated by Union Carbide, has changed hands several times to Martin Marrieta, its successor company Lockheed-Martin, and is now operated by the United States Enrichment Corporation. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), successor to the AEC, remains the owner.
Quilt City, USA
On April 25, 1991, The National Quilt Museum opened in downtown Paducah. The Museum is a cultural destination that brings a worldwide audience of over 40,000 quilters and art enthusiasts to the Paducah area on an annual basis. The Museum features professional quilt and fiber art exhibits that are rotated throughout the year. The National Quilt Museum is currently the largest tourist attraction in Paducah.