Cruising the river, you’ll enjoy big cities and small river towns. Some you’ve heard of and others are a new adventure. In our Destination Spotlight series, we’ll help you get acquainted with these new destinations to prepare you for your cruise. Today we’re highlighting the river town of Paducah, Kentucky.
Originally founded by European Americans as Pekin in 1821, William Clark laid out the design of the town in 1827, renaming it Paducah – based on a Spanish transliteration of the name of the Comanche people, despite the local tribe being Chickasaw. Paducah was incorporated as a city in 1838, with steam boats using the port for trade and transportation. Paducah built dry dock facilities for steamboats, and became a railway hub for the Illinois Central Railroad.
During the Civil War, transportation along the western front was pivotal to both sides. Although Kentucky initially attempted to be neutral, Union forces occupied Paducah after Confederate forces took Columbus. Access to and control of the Ohio, Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers was vital to the war effort. The Battle of Paducah in 1864 consisted of a confederate raid to steal supplies and ammunition.
In the early 20th century, the railroad became the biggest employer in Paducah after the Illinois Central Railroad built the nation’s largest locomotive workshop in 1924. In the mid 20th century, the workshop was converted to repair diesel locomotives.
The worst natural disaster in Paducah and the Ohio Valley was the 1937 flood. The driving rain and melting winter ice saw the Ohio River cresting over 60 feet, above Paducah’s 50-foot flood stage. Afterwards, the Army Corps of Engineers built the flood wall that still exists to protect the city.
Paducah named Creative City
Paducah was designated a UNESCO Creative City in 2013, the 7th in the world to be given the designation in the field of Crafts & Folk Art. The city is only one of two American cities recognized in this field, with Santa Fe. One of the top criteria for Paducah gaining this honor is its National Quilt Museum.
In 1991, the National Quilt Museum opened in Paducah. Their mission is to support the art of quilting by displaying quilt and fiber art exhibits, as well as providing education and workshops that promote the skill and art of quilting. When the museum opened, they displayed 85 quilts. Today the museum’s collection holds more than 600 art pieces. The museum is visited by over 115,000 visitors a year. With three galleries changing exhibits several times a year, there’s always something new to see and enjoy.
When Your River Cruise Stops in Paducah
Paducah has been welcoming river cruisers for a long time. There are many fun things for cruisers visiting for the day, including craft beer and wine, shopping, restaurants and trails to walk. Paducah even has a cell phone walking tour – just dial and listen to the history as you walk the town.
A popular stop for cruisers is the Lloyd Tilghman House and Civil War Museum. Robert Woolfolk built the house in 1852 for the family of Lloyd Tilghman, a West Point graduate who got a job with New Orleans and Ohio Railroad as a civil engineer. As a member of the Kentucky State Guard, Tilghman was supposed to defend Kentucky’s neutrality in the Civil War. The family stayed in the house until 1861. Lloyd Tilghman became a general in the Confederate forces and was killed in 1863. The family of Robert Woolfolk moved into the house in 1861, following Tilghman’s departure. The Union headquarters was established directly across the street. Woolfolk, being a Confederate supporter, caused a riot when he flew the Confederate flag above the house. In 1864, Woolfolk and his family were banished to Canada. Today, the house has been turned into a Civil War Museum, focused on the role of Western Kentucky in the war.
Paducah’s history has been captured in life-sized paintings on the floodwall. Tripadvisor’s most popular tourist attraction in Kentucky in 2014, the floodwall murals were created by Robert Dafford, and are available for public viewing at all hours.
The Four-Rivers Region refers to the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. To celebrate the region, Paducah began pursuing the idea of a museum. The River Heritage Museum held its grand opening in 2003 with an exhibit gallery. In 2008, it was renamed the River Discovery Center, and opened new river industry exhibits, as well as a boat simulator. New programs have continued to expand the museum, including the Paducah Dragon Boat Festival and educational programs. You’ll find exhibits and artifacts about the rivers’ history, the lives that have been lived on the rivers, as well as the marine life that inhabits the rivers.
The Freight House was built by the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway in 1925. In 1996, it was converted into the Paducah Railroad Museum. Railroad is so important to the history of the town, and this is the place to learn about it. Also, you’ll enjoy the train models and memorabilia on display.
What goes better together than Kentucky and moonshine? Learn about the history and enjoy the flavors at the Moonshine Company in downtown Paducah! The building is over a century old, adding to your experience as you take the guided museum tour. See the historic stills used by the family that bootlegged more than 80 years ago, and sample the moonshine distilled on-site.