We Have A Winner! The 2011 Dozen Distinctive Destinations Fan Favorite Is…

Posted on: March 16th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 9 Comments

Written by Karen Nickless

River Place in Paducah (Photo: Paducah CVB)

River Place in Paducah (Photo: Paducah CVB)

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.

Voting for Paducah as the Fan Favorite during the announcement event on February 15. (Photo: Chris Black)

Voting for Paducah as the Fan Favorite during the announcement event on February 15. (Photo: Chris Black)

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.

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9 Responses

  1. Willis

    March 16, 2011

    It was a fun and challenging race and we keep you on your toes . . .
    Sheridan, Wyoming came in second with only 3% below you and 18% above #3.

  2. Nancy Dawson

    March 16, 2011

    Don’t forget Paducah has some great African American historical sites such as the Hotel Metropolitian

  3. clameater

    March 16, 2011

    Great Job from New Bedford, Mass. You truly deserve this honor !

  4. Catie Bondurant

    March 17, 2011

    I’m Paducah Proud! The Paducah CVB does a remarkable job in bringing the community together and promoting Paducah.

  5. Kim Meeks

    March 17, 2011

    As a life-long resident…there’s NO place like home! The author of the article, Karen Nickless, needs to visit mid-April to see the Paducah in her spring time glory and then come back the last Saturday in September to a taste of BBQ on the River.

  6. Patience Renzulli

    March 17, 2011

    Paducah is a small town that lives large! My husband and I moved here from midway between Philadelphia and Baltimore, and we do more here than we dreamed of there. The historic district houses the Paducah Symphony Orchestra conducted by Raffaele Ponti, and the Carson Center (http://www.thecarsoncenter.org/) which not only features a Broadway series every year, but where we’ve seen B.B. King, Bill Cosby, Lily Tomlin, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and many more. We see all our movies at Maiden Alley Cinema, which also hosts the River’s Edge International Film Festival. And we go to the Market Street Theater which produces absolutely delightful community theater.
    Also in Paducah’s historic district are the Yeiser Art Center, the River Heritage Museum, and the Quilt Museum. (How I love taking our guests to the Quilt Museum! Our visiting friends who think they have no interest in quilts? I love to watch their jaws drop and their eyes bug out!)
    Of course everyone wants to tour the Lowertown Arts District studios and galleries; that’s a given.
    What Miss Nickless didn’t mention was the food. Paducah’s historic district has no lack of yummmmm. From fine dining to homemade ice cream and gelato. World famous hickory smoked pulled pork barbeque, brick oven gourmet pizza, Italian, Argentinian, and good old Southern cuisine, plus a bakery to die for and your choice of free trade organic coffee houses.
    Oh. And I forgot to mention antiques.

    We love it here. When you visit, remember that as you walk on the sidewalks, folks passing by WILL smile and speak. Paducah is just that kind of town.

  7. Sue Clark

    March 17, 2011

    I have loved historic Paducah since I was a small child and my mother took me to the Market House on 2nd Street to buy fresh sage, chile powder, hot tamale papers and fresh meat. What a wonderful place to grow up. Small town – Special people!

    My father worked in the marine industry as an engineer on a tow boat. Our lives were always connected with the rivers. What a special gift to have those rivers at your doorstep.

    My husband and I are now a part of the history at “RiverPlace” – eight buildings built in the mid to late 1800s in the most historic block of Downtown Paducah, overlooking the Ohio River. Check out our website – foxbriarinn.com

  8. Robert Worden

    March 17, 2011

    I moved to Paducah in the late 1970s. I was raised in Memphis, TN and remember all of the extras such as the Opera, Memphis Zoo and downtown. However, I fell in love with this river city and Paducah became my home. I have become active in many areas, including being a volunteer at the National Quilt Museum. I love the Spring and Summer with the beautiful trees and flowers as well as the downtown arts opportunities. Come visit us and fall in love too. While I have enjoyed visiting some of the other towns in the competition – Paducah is my favorite place to visit and to live.

  9. Peg Howard

    March 22, 2011

    I lived in Charleston SC for over 25 years- but moved away 10 years ago–yes it still has my heart.( In fact I was there visiting when this announcement was made. My first visit to Paducah was in 1990–it drew m e in…Paducah is well deserved of this honor- I have watched the progress and charm just multiply over the years……I would love to call it home….it has a VERY special place in my heart- as do some of the people there. WEll done….and yes Karen needs to return during “quilt week”