With its abundance of artists, galleries and museums, Paducah is widely considered one of Kentucky’s most creative communities.
From the earliest explorations by European settlers, the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers brought people to the riverfront and the city grew from its banks. “We are at the heart of America’s inland waterways, the original highways of America,” says Laura Schaumburg, marketing director for the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau.
George Rogers Clark was here in 1778 and noted that the mouth of the Tennessee River would be an ideal location for a town, said Fowler Black, sales director for the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Fifty years later his brother William Clark founded Paducah,” says Black.
The city’s creative energy has been fueled by its status as a transportation hub for barge and rail traffic. Its population doubled in the mid-20th century after the area became home to one of the country’s few uranium enrichment plants. (The facility no longer operates in that capacity.)
Paducah lavishes time and money on the arts. Its nationally known artist relocation program revitalized the city’s oldest residential neighborhood. “It led close to 70 artists to relocate from places around the country to the city of Paducah,” says Paul Aho, dean of the Paducah School of Art.
Known worldwide for quilting, the city is home to the National Quilt Museum. “When people come here they’re going to see three galleries of between 150 and 200 artworks,” all made of some form of fabric, says Frank Bennett, CEO of the quilt museum.
Fiber artists around the country come here each April for the American Quilter’s Society Annual Quilt Show and Contest. More art is also showcased at the Yeiser Art Center and at more than a dozen artist studios. With so much to offer in the world of visual arts, the town sought and received a UNESCO designation as a City of Crafts and Folk Art.
The city has a number of music and performance venues, including Maiden Alley Cinema and the Carson Center, as well as a thriving symphony orchestra.
Downtown Paducah boasts a variety of specialty shops and locally owned restaurants. Western Kentucky barbeque “at its finest” can be found at Starnes Bar-B-Q. Among the popular restaurants is Kirchhoff’s Bakery and Deli, family owned for five generations. The national ice cream chain Dippin’ Dots has its world headquarters here as well.
Paducah keeps its history alive at the River Discovery Center where a state of the art boat simulator gives visitors a hands-on feel for navigating the rivers.
The community’s artistry is readily visible with its floodwall murals on the Ohio River. More than 50 murals, which cover three city blocks, tell the story of Paducah from its founding to the present day.
“You’re able not only to see a visual image that really has great impact, in a quick walk, you’re able to discover the essence of Paducah,” says Schaumburg.
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2013. Watch the full episode.