Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the questions we often receive about historic Paducah as well as the museum itself.
To submit questions, please use our contact form.
- FAQ_titleHow did Paducah get its name?FAQ_bodyPaducah’s name was chosen by William Clark, the famous explorer, who was also the founder of our town. He wrote in a letter to his son "I expect to go to the mouth of the Tennessee River, and be absent about two weeks. I have laid out a town there and intend to sell some lots in it, the name is Paducah, one of the largest Indian nations known in this country, and now almost forgotten.” -Letter, April 27, 1827.
- FAQ_titleIs there an old map of Paducah, available for viewing at the Market House Museum?FAQ_bodyYes! The Museum has several early documents bearing Clark’s signature, on display at the facility. The earliest is dated April 20, 1823; another is dated May of 1827 and shows the plan of Clark’s new town. It is drawn on linen with natural ink dyes. (No photography, please!)
- FAQ_titleAre there Clark family artifacts at the Market House Museum?FAQ_bodyYes, there are! On display are the eyeglasses and leather wallet of Jonathan, William’s oldest brother, and one of his closest confidants. An impressive Old Paris porcelain vase with ormolu mounts, given by the Marquis De Lafayette to William upon the occasion of his second marriage, also resides within an exhibit. Having on one side, an image similar to those of Angelica Kaufman, it rotates to show a floral design on the opposite side of the vase.
- FAQ_titleHow many Market Houses were there in downtown Paducah?FAQ_bodyThere have been three; all have been on the same site. The first was built in 1836, and was a simple log structure. It burned, and the second market was built. This building, partially made of brick, was used as a hospital after the Battle of Paducah on March 25, 1864. That building was torn down in 1904, and the third market was built in 1905. The present building ceased to be a market in the early 1960’s, and the structure was to house three separate cultural entities beginning in 1963. The Market House Theatre is located on the Kentucky Avenue end of the building, the Yeiser Art Center on the Broadway end, and the William Clark Market House Museum is located in the tallest central section.
- FAQ_titleWhat are the rivers that merge at Paducah's waterfront?FAQ_bodyThe confluence of the Ohio River and the Tennessee River are located at Paducah. Nearby are the Mississippi River and the Cumberland River. In fact, Kentucky has more inland miles of waterways than any other state in the union, except Alaska!
- FAQ_titleWhat were a few of the early businesses in Paducah?FAQ_bodyThe river industry has always been prevalent due to the proximity to the rivers. Paducah Marine Ways was one such endeavor. Foundries were another interest, as ornate cast iron storefronts were designed, fabricated, and sold to Paducah stores as well as shipped by water to other cities. Jackson and Linning were popular manufacturers of these. Whiskey distilleries and distribution was another line of trade. Dry goods and furniture stores abounded; Paducah even boasted of a large dairy industry. Large patent medicine manufacturers were present; Sutherland Drug Company was one of these. Hardware and harness makers were also numerous. Paducah city directories list Hop Sing’s Chinese Laundry being in the 200 block of Broadway! Fine jewelry stores, such as J. L. Woolf’s were much patronized. In later years, the railroad and atomic plant were big employers of residents. Today the health fields and related industry is a large entity.
- FAQ_titleWho were the Cohen Family of Paducah?FAQ_bodyThe ghost of Stella Cohen has been accused of ‘occupying’ the building at 2nd and Broadway since her death, but actually, the story of the entire family is what is so haunting. The Cohens arrived in Paducah aboard the Cotton Blossom paddle boat in the 1880’s. They started a dry goods business, which became successful; three generations of Cohens lived in the building on the corner in downtown Paducah. The grandparents, parents, Stella and her three siblings, Carl, Goldie, and Ruben all called the apartments over the store ‘home.’ But as the years went by, they all died of natural causes or old age… until Stella was left alone, living with her cats and dogs, harming no one and minding her own business. Though reclusive, she was a well respected business person and at her death, many of Paducah’s downtown businessmen officiated as pallbearers.
- FAQ_titleWhat is the story surrounding 'Speedie?'FAQ_bodySpeedie, whose real name was Henry Atkins, was a middle aged African American who lived in Paducah in the 1920’s. Having no known family, he was a handyman, much in demand, who got his nickname because he never hurried, and worked very slowly. Speedie drowned in 1927 at the foot of Broadway while fishing. Mr. Hammock, who owned the colored funeral home, offered to give Speedie a free embalming and funeral. (It seemed Mr. Hammock had been working on a new embalming fluid and wanted to 'try it out' on someone.) Speedie underwent the procedure, and lo and behold, came through the process so well preserved that he became legend; turned to 'stone' he was stored in a closet for years at Hammock’s, and was undoubtedly Paducah’s best dressed cadaver. He was a local curiosity for years, but made several television appearances alongside Mrs. Hammock, thereby becoming known nationwide as well. Speedie was buried in the early 1990's, thus getting his free funeral… after 60 years of waiting patiently to receive it.
- FAQ_titleWas Paducah the site of a Civil War battle?FAQ_bodyYes, Paducah has a fascinating Civil War timeline. The town was largely pro- Confederate in their way of thinking at the onset of hostilities, though Federal supporters and those with neutral proclivities also lived in Paducah. The ‘Federal Invasion’ of troops occurred on Sept 6, 1861, due to the advantages the river could offer in ways of travel and commerce. The fort at Paducah was called Fort Anderson, named after Robert Anderson, the Kentuckian who defended Fort Sumter. On March 25, 1864 Nathan Bedford Forrest arrived in Paducah, and the ‘Battle of Paducah’ ensued, which lasted about 6 hours. Federal Commander Stephen Hicks held the fort, but Forrest was successful in his raid for supplies. Three weeks later, Forrest read a Federal newspaper account of the battle, given by Hicks, and because of information included in the article, sent Brigadier General Abram Buford back to Paducah to get some overlooked horses and mules. The capture of the animals was accomplished with little fanfare. This was known as ‘The Skirmish of Paducah.’ Paducah remained in the hands of the Federals throughout the war.
- FAQ_titleWho was the famous "Duke of Paducah?"FAQ_bodyBenjamin Francis "Whitey" Ford was born on May 12, 1901 in DeSoto, Missouri. By his own account, he was always "mixed up" in acting and plays, trying to make people laugh. Once a dramatic teacher told Whitey he had ruined a very funny act by insisting on talking. Whitey was very peeved with the teacher, and swore he’d never utter another word. It was the worst thirty seconds he ever spent! He said he graduated from the 'School of Hard Knocks,' and had the lumps on his head to prove it. Becoming a radio personality, his nickname was given him by Arnold Boone of station KWK in St Louis. He was later associated with WGN in Chicago, and later, got a job with the Grand Old Opry in 1944. He did stand up comedy, and his famous line was, "I’m going back to the wagon, boys, these shoes are killing me!"
- FAQ_titleWhat was the story of the USS Paducah?FAQ_bodyThere were several paddlewheelers named Paducah. But the USS Paducah was a gunboat that was commissioned in 1905. It was in active service for several years, then semi-decommissioned in the years between the World Wars. Prior to and during WWII, she was a gunnery training vessel stationed in Duluth, Minnesota. In 1945, she was officially decommissioned and was sold to be used by the Hagana, a group which was charged with the relocation of Jews that had survived the Holocaust. She ferried refugees, until she was stopped by the British for immigration violations. She was later disabled and sold for scrap, an inglorious end for a brave little ship with a great big heart. The 1959 book, and later the movie, Exodus, was written about the history surrounding the relocation project.
- FAQ_titleDoes the Museum really have Paducah's first motorized fire truck?FAQ_bodyYes, it does! It’s a big, beautiful 1913 LaFrance, bright red, crank started, and chain driven. It was bought second hand from the city of St Louis in 1920. It took the place of seventeen horse drawn fire wagons, and saved the city of Paducah $800 in horse shoeing, and $2400 in feed bills the very first year it was operated. Also included in the exhibit are the conical bottomed fire buckets used by the firemen. They weren’t good for feeding animals, as they wouldn't stand upright! They were just good for passing buckets of water at fires, thereby cutting down on theft of fire department property!
- FAQ_titleIs a lifelike wooden statue of Henry Clay on display at the Museum?FAQ_bodyYes! It’s our ‘signature piece.’ George Theobald, a twelve year old boy, started his masterpiece after dragging a yellow poplar ‘log’ into his mother’s house, and began to carve upon it, over 150 years ago. His siblings laughed, for George had never carved anything except pot roast at the supper table. When the head and shoulders of Clay emerged from the wood, one of his brothers quit giggling and offered to hold a candle to help him see to carve after supper. George finished his masterpiece at the age of 15, went off to fight in the Civil War with his brother, and returned to be a meat vendor in Paducah’s second Market House. Sadly, he died during an epidemic in his twenties. The statue is, as far as we know, his only experience at carving. But what an example!
- FAQ_titleHow did the Market House Museum get started?FAQ_bodyBack in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, a ‘core group’ of civic minded persons saw that there was a need for Paducah’s history to be preserved and shared for educational purposes. The idea for a museum took hold, and the fledgling facility was officially ‘on paper’ by 1961. It was incorporated as a Museum, and in 1963, won the right to occupy the center of the old market house. It wasn’t an easy endeavor; there was no heat and no air conditioning… and there were no artifacts. But the word made the circle; a museum was being organized. Volunteers picked up artifacts in station wagons; citizens dropped by with items of interest, and newspaper articles helped spike interest of others. The Museum collected artifacts for five years, and in that time also acquired the fine oak woodwork interior of the old List Drugstore. It was donated by Mrs. Gus Smith, granddaughter of the drugstore’s builder. The doors Of the Market House Museum opened to the public in June 1968, with an admission of just twenty five cents per person. Five years later, the admission was raised to fifty cents. Golda Beaman was the Museum’s first president and her husband, ‘Pete,’ as its first official Executive Director. The Museum has had many loyal supporters, board members and Volunteers over the years, and has had just three Executive Directors in its forty year history, thus providing a stable influence in the community, and a high standard of quality among its educational exhibits and programs.
- FAQ_titleWhat were some of the early entertainments offered in Paducah?FAQ_bodyPaducah was home to several opera houses and theatres. Two of the earliest were St Clair’s Opera House, (which was visited by Charles Dickens) and Morton’s Opera House, which burned after a disagreement between the owners and a traveling entertainment show, known as Buckskin Bill’s Wild West Show. (It was second only to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show!) Also located in Paducah were the Variety, the Arcade (which opened early in the 1900’s with an open air movie on its roof every night in the summer) the Kentucky Theatre, the Little Theatre, and the even more intimate, Cozy Theatre. The Columbia Theatre opened in 1927 with a huge marquee of lights and a wonderful console organ as part of the entertainment!
- FAQ_titleWho were some of the more famous 'sons' and 'daughters' of Paducah?FAQ_bodyVice President Alben Barkley (who served alongside Harry S Truman) called Paducah home. So did prolific write and humorist Irvin S. Cobb. Mary Wheeler, who recorded early river songs for the Library of Congress, was also a native. John T. Scopes, of the famous "Monkey Trial", and John B. Sleeth, who invented the first underwater submarine cable were Paducahans. Paul Twitchell, publisher of 26 books on spirituality, who led a popular following of 300,000 persons in California during the 1960's, grew up in our town. Paducah was also 'home' to seven Rear Admirals!