The story of Pekin (Paducah)
Paducah, originally called Pekin, began around 1815 as a mixed community of Native Americans and white settlers who were attracted to the spot due to its location at the confluence of many waterways.
According to legend, Chief Paduke, most likely a Chickasaw, welcomed the people traveling down the Ohio and Tennessee on flatboats. His wigwam, located on a low bluff at the mouth of Island Creek served as the counsel lodge for his village. The settlers, appreciative of his hospitality, and respectful of his ways, settled across the creek.
The two communities lived in harmony trading goods and services enjoying the novelty of each other's culture. The settlers had brought horses and mules which they used to pull the flatboats upstream to farms, logging camps, trading posts and other settlements along the waterways, establishing a primitive, but thriving economy.
This cultural interaction continued until William Clark, famed leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, arrived on the scene in 1827 with a title deed to the land upon which Pekin sat. Clark was the superintendent of Indian affairs for the Mississippi-Missouri River region. He asked the Chief and the settlers to move along, which they did offering little resistance probably because the deed was issued by the United States Supreme Court. Though the deed cost only $5.00 to process, it carried with it the full authority of the U. S. Government backed by the United States Army.
Clark surveyed his new property and platted the grid for a new town which remains evident to this day. The Chief and his villagers moved to Mississippi allowing Clark to continue with the building of the new city which he named Paducah in honor of the Chief. Upon completion of the plat, Clark sent envoys to Mississippi to invite Chief Paduke back to a ribbon-cutting ceremony but he died of malaria in the boat while making the return trip. The settlers had been allowed to purchase tracts within the new grid but most of them moved on to less developed areas.
Source: The Story of Pekin in the special collections section of the McCracken County Library.
Paducah was incorporated as a town in 1830, and because of the dynamics of the waterways, it offered valuable port facilities for the steam boats that traversed the river system. A factory for making red bricks, and a Foundry for making rail and locomotive components became the nucleus of a thriving River and Rail industrial economy.
After a period of nearly exponential growth, Paducah was chartered as a city in 1856. It became the site of dry dock facilities for steamboats and towboats and thus headquarters for many barge line companies. Because of its proximity to coalfields further to the east in Kentucky and north in Illinois, Paducah also became an important railway hub for the Illinois Central Railroad, the primary north-south railway link connecting Chicago, Illinois and East St. Louis, IL to the Gulf of Mexico at Gulfport, Mississippi. The IC system also provided east-west links to Burlington Northern Railroad and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway lines (which later merged to become the BNSF Railway).
During the American Civil War on September 6, 1861, forces under Union General Ulysses S. Grant captured Paducah, which gave the Union control of the mouth of the Tennessee River. Throughout most of the war, US Colonel Stephen G. Hicks was in charge of Paducah and massive Union supply depots and dock facilities for the gunboats and supply ships that supported Federal forces along the Ohio, Mississippi and Tennessee River systems.
On December 17, 1862, under the terms of General Order No. 11, thirty Jewish families, longtime residents all, were forced from their homes. Cesar Kaskel, a prominent local Jewish businessman, dispatched a telegram to President Lincoln, and met with him, eventually succeeding in getting the order revoked.
On March 25, 1864, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest raided Paducah as part of his campaign Northward from Mississippi into Western Tennessee and Kentucky to re-supply the Confederate forces in the region with recruits, ammunition, medical supplies, horses and mules and to generally upset the Union domination of the regions south of the Ohio river. The raid was successful in terms of the re-supply effort and in intimidating the Union, but Forrest returned south.
Forrest's report: "I drove the enemy to their gunboats and fort; and held the town for ten hours, captured many stores and horses; burned sixty bales of cotton, one steamer, and a dry-dock, bringing out fifty prisoners."
Later, Forrest, having read in the newspapers that 140 fine horses had escaped the raid, sent Brigadier General Abraham Buford back to Paducah, to get the horses and to keep Union forces busy there while he attacked Fort Pillow.
On April 14, 1864 Buford's men found the horses hidden in a foundry as the newspapers reported. Buford rejoined Forrest with the spoils, leaving the Union in control of Paducah until the end of the War.
In 1937, the Ohio River at Paducah rose above its 50-foot flood stage on January 21, cresting at 60.8 feet on February 2 and receding again to 50-feet on February 15. For nearly three weeks, 27,000 residents were forced to flee to higher ground to stay with friends and relatives in higher ground in McCracken County or in other counties. Some shelters were provided by the American Red Cross and local churches. Buildings in downtown Paducah still bear plaques that highlight the high water marks.
Floodwall gates closed April - May 3011
during high water level of the Ohio River
With 18 inches of rainfall in 16 days, along with sheets of swiftly moving ice the '37 flood was the worst natural disaster in Paducah's history. Because Paducah's earthen levee was ineffective against this flood, the United States Army Corps of Engineers was commissioned to build the flood wall that now protects the city from the ravages of flooding.
In 1948 the Atomic Energy Commission selected Paducah as the site for a new Uranium enrichment Plant. The plant, originally operated by Union Carbide has changed hands several times and is now operated by the United States Enrichment Corporation.
a city of Quilts
Photos of the Museum of the American Quilters Society
and Murals on the floodwall
Photos of the Murals
General Lloyd Tilghman
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