Written by Karen Nickless
Two things you need to know about me upfront: I live in Charleston, SC, the most distinctive of all distinctive destinations, and I had never been to Paducah, Kentucky until the day before Paducah was announced as one of the 2011 Dozen Distinctive Destinations. I’ve been to many small and mid-size towns in my travels with the National Trust and on my own, and I have been charmed by many of them. I was impressed by the nomination for Paducah that was submitted by the local Convention and Visitors Bureau and with their planning for the announcement event. I was looking forward to seeing if Paducah was truly “as advertised.”
After all, it was the middle of February and late winter in Kentucky was gray and brown. There was dirty snow clinging to the edges of parking lots and curbs. YUK! I arrived a little early and went straight to the National Quilt Museum, just a block from where I was staying. It was fabulous! Distinctive, even! A showcase of the contemporary quilt makers’ art, some influenced by traditional design, some not. The nineteenth-century storefronts downtown housed galleries, restaurants and shops. More than fifty murals along the Ohio River illustrated the history of Paducah.
Paducah has been a center for the arts for over a decade, when their “Artist Relocation Program” offered incentives for artists to relocate to the Downtown and Lower Town areas. Around the same time, the first block of Broadway, abutting the river, was extensively restored, as were other areas of downtown. Performing arts opportunities abound, too, both in the modern Luther Carson Center for the Performing Arts and Market House Theatre, located in the historic district. The River Discovery Center gives the visitor the opportunity to pilot a speed boat, towboat or Coast Guard vessel in their pilothouse simulator. (This is even more fun than you think!)
What I kept wondering was this—how did Paducah become this vibrant town that would have a chance of being one of a Dozen Distinctive Destinations? I think the answer boils down to this: they knew what they had (good bones of a historic downtown, the human resources to restore it and a feeling of community); they knew what they wanted (economic prosperity, the arts, and something to “sell” that would be an asset to the town, not a detriment); and, the will and knowledge to promote what they built over time. A winning combination.
Congratulations, Paducah! You are the 2011 Fan Favorite Dozen Distinctive Destination. And I’m one of your fans!
More about Paducah:
Karen Nickless, PhD, is a field representative in the Southern Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Updated to add additional links; 5:23 pm, March 16.