Paducah is located in northwestern Kentucky where the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers meet. It is a scenic city with a population of 25,000 people. It is a city filled with history from its Native American heritage, its position during America’s Civil War and its importance as a major American shipping and railroad hub. The city, located halfway between Nashville, Tennessee and St. Louis, Missouri, pays homage to its past through historic landmarks, historic buildings and museums. Known as the City of Crafts and Art, Paducah is well known for its art galleries, educational centers, National Quilt Museum and “Wall to Wall” Mural Exhibit. The land that now includes 20 square miles that is Paducah, Kentucky was settled by James and William Pore, brothers and European American settlers in 1821. In 1827 William Clark (half of the American explorer duo Lewis and Clark) surveyed the land and named it Paducah in honor of Chief Paduke, chief of the Chickasaw tribe that lived and hunted in the area before the Jackson Purchase.
Paducah was officially established in 1830. The city grew during the nineteenth century because of its location at the joining of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. It became a major steamboat port as dry docks were built and barge companies established it as their headquarters. The town also became a major railroad hub of the Illinois Central Railroad with its north to south railway between Chicago and New Orleans and its east west railway connecting to Topeka and Santa Fe railways. In 1924 the largest locomotive workshop in the United States was built in Paducah. It included 23 buildings and employed more than a thousand workers through the Great Depression. With the growth of diesel locomotives during the twentieth century, the Paducah rail yards transitioned to accommodate. Paducah continued to transition throughout the twentieth century.
Unfortunately the town and other Ohio River Valley towns were hard hit by severe flooding in 1937 which led to a series of dams being built along the rivers. Along with its railroad industry Paducah was selected to house a uranium enrichment plant during the 1950’s. The city would develop itself as a center for arts and crafts during the later twentieth century. Today Paducah is in the UNESCO Creative Arts Network. Paducah attracts many visitors each year particularly those interest in its history, arts and folk crafts and its scenic location along the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. Here are the 20 best things to do in Paducah, Kentucky for first timers.
20. Whitehaven Welcome Center
A good place to start when visiting Paducah for the first time is the Whitehaven Welcome Center. Located at 1845 Lone Oak Road, the Welcome Center is housed in a home originally built in 1865 by tobacco dealer Edward L. Anderson. Originally a 2 story brick farmhouse, the home was remodeled in 1903 into a Classical Revival style with a large pillared front portico, a grand staircase and elaborate ceilings and crown molding. After falling into disrepair the home was purchased by Paducah Junior College in the 1980’s. Governor John Brown, Jr. established the building as a Welcome Center and it was restored to its original grandeur.
19. Where to Stay
Although there are several nearby chain hotels, why not stay at a charming bed and breakfast when you explore Paducah? There are several to choose from and all are within walking distance of the sites you’ll want to see. The 1857 Guest House is located in Market Square and maintains its look from 1857 with modern amenities. Mavhouse is located in a restored 1897 home located on North 8th Street a block from the Lower Town Arts District. Belle Louise Historic Guest House built in 1879 has recently been restored. It’s located on North 6th Street. There are 5 private guest rooms, a Victorian parlor, a Great Room and event space. The Egg & I B&B is a renovated pre Civil War 2 story home on North 6th Street just a short walk to the museums and downtown Paducah. The Fox Briar Inn is located on Broadway. The more modern Inn with condo style suites. Rooms have a private living room and kitchen.
When you’re not busy sightseeing, Paducah has many shopping options. Kentucky Oaks Mall has many stores, food and activities fun for the whole family. Art enthusiasts will enjoy the many art galleries including PAPA Gallery, Yeiser Art Center and Pine Cone Gallery. Local antique stores include Paducah Antique Mall, Antique Gallery and Courtyard Antiques. The Shed is a local flea market. There are many gift shops including Troutt Old Time General Store and Market, Hancock’s of Paducah, Quilter’s Alley, Ephemera and Farmer’s Daughter Soap Company.
There are many options for dining out in Paducah. There are cafe’s and bakeries peppered through the town. The Ice Cream Factory is perfect for a cold treat. Kirchoff Deli and Bakery is a great spot for lunch or dessert. Backwoods and d Starnes are great BBQ spots. The Freight House on S 3rd Street has American, Cajon and Creole options on the menu. Cynthia’s Ristorante on Market House Square has fine Italian dishes. Also on Market House Square, Max’s Brick Oven overs pizza. Doe’s Eat Place on Broadway is a good steakhouse. Strickland’s Seafood Restaurant is on N 32nd Street. Rafferty’s on Hinkleville Road has an American menu. Flaming Row on Perkins Creek Drive offers American and Caribbean selections. For a good old fashioned burger try Gold Rush Cafe on Broadway.
Aside from dining out, there several bars and lounges in Paducah. No matter what your taste, you are sure to find something you’ll enjoy. The Silver Bullet and KC’s Rec Room are casual, friendly places where you’ll probably get into a conversation with locals. The drinks are cheap and the crowd is fun. The Captain’s Place features live bands. Dry Ground Brewing Company is a great place to enjoy craft beers. The Johnson Bar is a typical neighborhood bar. Highwater Bar is the perfect place to stop for a pre-dinner cocktail on the patio.
Paducah has two main public parks connected by a walking, running and biking trail, Greenway Trail. On one end is Staurt Nelson Park and on the other is the larger Bob Noble Park. Located at 2801 Park Avenue, Noble Park has three entrances. It stretches across 135 acres surrounding the 5 acre Lake Gerry B. Montgomery. The park includes fishing piers, walking and nature paths, two large playgrounds, a swimming pool and ball fields, a skate park, tennis courts, a horseshoe pit, picnic shelters, an amphitheater, the Anna Baumer Community Center and much more.
14. Wacinton Sculpture
When visiting Noble Park, don’t forget to take a look at the Wacinton Sculpture. The sculpture was created by Peter “Wolf” Toth in 1985 in honor of the city’s namesake, Chickasaw Chief Paduke. Toth hand carved the likeness of Chief Paduke from a 56,000 pound local Red Oak Tree. It is an amazing site and honors the Native American tribe who once lived and hunted in the area that is now Paducah, Kentucky.
13. Kentucky Dam
When visiting Paducah, you should take a drive to view the Kentucky Dam. The dam is located 22 miles from the joining of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. It is the lowest of nine dams built by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930’s and 1940’s to prevent flooding and help navigation. The dam and its reservoir are an interesting site to see. It is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and is listed on the Natural Registry of Historic Places.
After walking and touring Paducah, shopping and honing your art skills, you should take some time to relax. Elysion Fields Massage and Spa is the perfect place to do that. Located on Loan Oak Road, the spa offers a menu of 75 treatments. Another way to relax if you’re a fitness buff is to take a yoga or pilates class, True North Yoga offers classes in the 2nd floor of an art deco style building that was once used to bottle Coca-Cola (more on that next) located on Broadway.
11. Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center
You may want to plan your trip to Paducah to include a live concert or musical at the Carson Center located at 100 Kentucky Avenue. The venue was built to be the home of the Paducah Symphony Orchestra and as a venue for plays, musicals an live concerts. When it opened the week of February 27, 2004, acts included Vince Gill and BB King. Coming this summer is School of Rock, Grease, Hairspray and Harry Potter. The venue is named for Luther Carson. Carson and is brothers invested in a factory at 6th and Jackson to bottle and sell a new soft drink, Coca-Cola, in 1903. The factory eventually moved to 31st and Broadway where the building exists today.
What better way to get to know Paducah if you are a first time visitor than to take a guided tour of the town? You can take a self-guided walking tour of the city and learn all about its history while visiting historical landmarks. The interactive audio tour is mobile friendly. Its many stops include the riverfront, The National Quilt Museum, 1865 Ernest Rekopf Building, The Carson Center and many historical landmarks. If you like to explore a city in a cozy carriage ride, John’s Pass Carriage Service provides a leisurely horse drawn carriage ride and a tour guide who will give you a history lesson as you meander the streets of Paducah. The tour begins at 2nd and Broadway.
9. Farmers’ Market
Many cities host Farmers’ Markets and Paducah doesn’t miss out. The community farmers’ market is located at 306 N. 2nd Street and is open Saturdays from 7:30 am to 1:00 pm from May 1 through October 30. There is also a Homegrown Holiday Market that is held on the second Saturday of December. Midweek Markets are held at Carson Park on Tuesdays and Southside on Thursdays. The Market supports local agriculture, artisans and businesses who bring fresh homegrown produce and meats, baked and artisan goods, flowers and more to sell to the community.
8. Purple Toad Winery
Inspired by a trip to California’s Napa Valley in 1998, June and Allen Dossey decided to build their own winery, Purple Toad Winery. They began their journey by planting 2500 vines including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, Riesling and Pinot Noir. With the help of June’s family, they began construction of the winery in 2008. The were a bit surprised that the interest was great when they opened in July 2009. Today Purple Toad Winery features tastings and tours. The winery also hosts events including live music and seasonal festivals like their Winter Wine Festival and Howl-o-Ween Fall Festival.
7. Moonshine Company
Kentucky is well known for its production of Bourbon Whiskey. There are over 20 working distilleries in the state producing 200 different brands. Moonshine Company is in Paducah and a must see for whiskey enthusiasts. Located at 407 Jefferson Street, Moonshine Company offers tastings and tours. Guided tours include information on the origins of bourbon with recipes and information on barrel levels of char and the aging process. Tours include seeing antique and working whiskey stills. At Moonshine Company you can taste whiskey including Quilter’s Special which has a peach flavor, Sweet Apple Shine, Lemonade and Strawberry. Moonshine Company offers events and festivals.
6. Railroad Museum
To honor Paducah’s important role in the railroad industry. The Freight House and museum are located at 200 Washington Street. and has an expansive display including railroad train cars, refrigerated cars and loading docks. The Freight House was built in 1925. Through much of the twentieth century it held thousands of refrigerated cars that unloaded produce onto trucks to be transferred by trucks to other cities. The museum opened in 1996 and is currently open by appointment.
5. Lloyd Tilgham House and Civil War Museum
Civil War buffs will enjoy a visit to the Lloyd Tilgham House and Civil War Museum when visiting Paducah. The museum is located at 631 Kentucky Avenue. The home has a lot of history. It was built by Robert Woolfolk in 1852. It is a beautiful Greek Revival Home and played an important role in western Kentucky’s role during the American Civil War. Woolfolk and his family would not live in the home until 1861. Its first residents was Lloyd Tilgham and his family. General Tilgham was a West Point graduate and was assigned as a railroad civil engineer. He was also one of 2 colonels in the Kentucky State Guard assigned to maintain the state’s neutrality in the war. When the Tilghams moved out of the home, Woolfolk and his family moved in. Woolfolk was pro Confederacy. The areas Federal Troops’ headquarters were located across the street. In 1864 Woolfolk was banished to Canada. The Sons of Confederate Veterens purchased the home in 2008 and created the museum.
4. River Discovery Center
The River Discovery Center is fun for all ages. Located at 117 South Water Street, the museum complex has exhibits and educational events honoring the two rivers that converge in Paducah. The idea came about in 1988 and came to life with its grand opening in 2003. Educational opportunities include a summer camp, career day, “Animal Encounters”, “Skippers” and “Mound of Builders”. Exhibits include a boat simulator, “River Habitats, “EJ’s Otterville”, “Hidden Hideaways”, “Civil War”, “River Bottom”, “Lock and Dam”, a boat simulator and much more. Since 2012 the Center hosts an annual Dragon Boat Festival. The fundraising events draws people to watch the team sport of a Dragon Boat Race.
3. National Quilt Museum
The National Quilt Museum is a must see for those who love to quilt, want to learn to quilt or just enjoy viewing quilted artwork and folk crafts. The $2.2 million facility is located at 215 Jefferson in downtown Paducah’s historic district just a couple blocks from the river. It was founded by Bill and Meredith Schroeder who contributed much to the cultivation of art in the city. The museum features displayed quilts and fiber art exhibits showing the art of quilt making which are changed 8 to 10 times a year. There are also educational opportunities for experienced, novice and beginning quilters. The museum has traveling exhibits as well.
2. Lower Town Arts District
Those visiting Paducah that are interested in art will enjoy a stroll through the Lower Town Arts District on 7th Street. The street located in Paducah’s oldest neighborhood is home to several art galleries. It is also home to the Paducah School of Art and Design. Working artists and students flock to the area to hone their skills. A good time to visit is during the Lower Town Arts and Music Festival each May. Galleries in the district include the Art Guild of Paducah, Yeiser Art Center and Bricolage Art Collective.
When visiting Paducah, there is no way to avoid the Riverwalk. It’s an amazing place to stroll, sight see, dine and shop. The scenic vies of the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers where they converge is beautiful. There are several historical markers along the Riverwalk. It is also the location of the amazing “Wall to Wall” titled “Portraits of Our Past”. The UNESCO site is also called the Dafford Murals. The project began in 1996 with sponsors including individuals and businesses. It was initiated by Bill and Meredith Schroeder, local philanthropists and art and history lovers. The first 21 panels were completed in 2001. A second 3 block section was completed in 2010. The murals depict images of Paducah’s history including its native sons, the river industry and the 1905 Market House. The city maintains the walls and landscaping. The walls are lit up at night.