Paducah, Kentucky

Photo: The 1857 Hotel

It took you a while to catch on. When you first saw the word Paducah, you thought it was a bird. Its name looked like the type of sound it’d make. Then you heard it pronounced out loud. That transformed it into a Native American word. You pictured a tribe in the South. At least you were getting warmer. You were shocked when you realized what was hiding in Jackson Purchase, though.

Jackson Purchase is the western end of Kentucky. It’s where the Bluegrass State meets Illinois, Missouri, and Tennessee. Major rivers converge there, too. But your knowledge of the area ended with its geography. So you were shocked to learn about the creative little city that’s been luring artists from both coasts.

Paducah was founded as a river port at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. It tried to remain neutral during the Civil War. Union forces, commanded by General Ulysses S. Grant, wouldn’t let it. They set up a supply depot. The 1864 Battle of Paducah and a Confederate victory followed. Paducah was a Southern city.

The city should have flourished after that. But a 1937 flood stopped its progress. Paducah’s historic downtown was left to rot. It took more than 50 years for the revitalization to begin. That started with the opening of the National Quilt Museum. Paducah “Wall to Wall” Murals, the Carson Center, and the Artist Relocation Program followed. Downtown Paducah and the Lower Town Arts District are now filled with breweries, coffee houses, distilleries, restaurants, and shops. Plus lots and lots of art. The riverfront is booming.

For years, there was only one thing missing. It was a great hotel. That changed in 2016 when the 1857 Hotel opened. The redbrick building was constructed in 1857, of course, on a cobblestone street. It was home to a haberdashery in the years that followed. Then, like many of the surrounding buildings, it was left to decay.

It took a guy who grew up nearby, lots of money, and a huge amount of patience to reimagine and restore the historic building. The boutique hotel now has a lounge with a gas fireplace, a well-stocked bar, an event space that hosts live music, and 10 unique rooms. The historic district’s chic vibe was complete. It probably won’t be long until you consider moving there yourself.

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