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Weekend Wanderings

Paducah: Quilt City

  Ever think about how to found a city? It’s real easy. Find two major rivers-such
as the Tennessee and the Ohio-and plant your town right in the confluence area.

  So it is with Paducah, which guards navigation to the Gulf of Mexico
via both its rivers. Paducah is more than a river town, however. There are almost
as many things to see and do, in fact, as there are pieces in the quilts you’ll
find scattered around town.

  Paducah has styled itself “Quilt City” since the Museum of the American
Quilter’s Society opened in 1991. Founded to honor today’s quilter, the museum’s
three galleries and gift shop, indeed the entire city, are host to an annual
influx of quilters from around the world each April. As a result, you’ll likely
see displays of both traditional and contemporary quilts at historic attractions,
museums, restaurants, boutiques, and antique shops located all over town, as
well as at the museum itself.

  However, there’s a lot more to Paducah than quilts. You’ll find a downtown
that’s on the National Register of Historic Places, with more than 30 well-kept
buildings; an intimate art museum, with permanent and changing exhibits; a wooden
sculpture honoring Native Americans; a riverfront walk; and more historical
markers than any other Kentucky city.

  Begin your Paducah tour at Whitehaven, the state’s antebellum welcome
center. Here you’ll find plenty of brochures, maps, and pamphlets on area sights
and attractions. You’ll also find a magnificently restored house and spectacular
gardens. Daily guided tours provide a glimpse into the lives and fortunes of
the families who lived in this home between 1860 and 1968.After visiting Whitehaven
there are several ways to experience the pleasures of Paducah. You can follow
the Red Line tour, a self-guided auto tour, which hits 50 different sites in
and around town. Or there’s the Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Paducah, with
34 buildings along the way. 

  Make sure you see the wooden sculpture “Wacinton,” standing by Bob Noble
Park. Hand carved by Peter “Wolf” Toth from a single 56,000-pound, locally grown
red cedar, it is dedicated to the Chickasaw Indians who lived and hunted in
this region prior to the 1818 Jackson Purchase. We passed this massive figure
many times during our Paducah meanderings, marveling at its changing aspect
each time we viewed it.

  Another must-see spot is the lobby of the Irvin Cobb. Built as a hotel
in 1929, it was named for the world-renowned native son and humorist. The lobby
has been restored to its original elegance, with hand-painted ceilings, polished
wood columns, Moorish-tiled floors, and a massive chandelier. There’s a display
in one corner of Cobb memorabilia, ranging from buttons to cigars.

  Another place you won’t want to miss is The Market House. Built in 1905,
it’s on the same site platted as a market area by General William Clark in 1827,
when he paid $5 for 37,000 acres, which included the present town site. Saved
from demolition by community effort in the 1960s, it’s been entirely refurbished
and enclosed. Today it’s home to the Yeiser Art Center, the Market House Museum,
and other attractions.

  Unlike many cities, there’s ample parking, free of charge, so you can
easily explore Paducah’s downtown on foot. 

  From The Market House, it’s just a block to Paducah’s riverfront. Right
beside the massive floodwall that protects the city from the Ohio River’s frequent
rampages is Steam Locomotive No. 1518. Dedicated to past and present Illinois
Central Railroad personnel, it’s a reminder of the railroad’s importance to
Paducah’s history and economy, as well as the last “Iron Horse” owned by the
Illinois Central.

  At the foot of Broadway, the floodwall opens to a pretty little park
with benches, picnic tables, walkways, a platform stage, and boat launch. Situated
where the Tennessee River empties into the Ohio, it’s an inviting place to sit
beneath shade trees and watch barges and pleasure boats ply the waters.

  Several of those boats, by the way, are making a great circle tour.
Motoring up the Tennessee, they lock through the dam to Kentucky Lake, take
the canal to Lake Barkley, then the Cumberland River downstream to the Ohio,
and back to Paducah. We’ve always thought that would make an incredible houseboating

  As you relax by the water, you’ll notice lots of historical markers.
Within a block we counted at least six. Paducah probably has more historical
markers than any other city in the Commonwealth. The little nuggets of information
we found scattered around Paducah really made for a memorable visit.

  Another thing you’ll notice is the large number of antique shops. More
than 22 of them offer a wide variety of collectibles, artifacts, and furnishings-certainly
enough shops to satisfy the most discriminating buyer.

  For a city its size, Paducah has a surprising number of dining experiences,
running the gamut from fast food to casual to elegant. So there’s a bit of something
for everyone’s taste. Lodging, too, offers some surprises. There are chain motels,
for sure. But there also are Victorian bed and breakfasts in the historic district,
and country inns amid the rolling hills outside of town.

  For more information, contact: Paducah-McCracken County Convention &
Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 90, Paducah, KY 42002, (800) 359-4775.

Day Trips & Short Stops

Aviation Museum

  In 1908, barely five years after the Wright Brothers made their historic
flight at Kitty Hawk, a large, four-winged craft took to the air from a hillside
in Carter County. 

  Matthew Sellers, who did independent, original aviation research, launched
the first motorized flying machine into the skies of Kentucky. The Sellers Quadruplane,
looking like a giant pre-historic animal, was the first airplane designed, built,
and flown in Kentucky. It was also the first aircraft ever built with retractable

  You can see a replica of the Quadruplane, along with many other historically
important aircraft, at The Aviation Museum of Kentucky, headquartered at the
Blue Grass Airport, in Lexington. 

  Although the museum has hosted visitors from all 50 states and 39 foreign
countries, it’s not well-known here at home. In fact, as one of the volunteers
wryly notes, “we’re trying very hard not to be the best-kept secret in Kentucky.” 

  The museum grew from the dream of a band of enthusiasts who’d formed
the Kentucky Aviation History Round Table in 1978. For some years, as they discussed
flying and aviation history at their meetings, they talked about someday having
a museum. “Someday” became a reality in the mid-1990s. In 1994 a hanger became
available, which the club purchased. In 1995 the museum opened.

  Right from the start there were important events. The Doolittle Raider
Reunion was held at the museum that year, and in fact the surviving members
of the Doolittle raid actually cut the ribbon officially opening the museum.
You can see their signatures on a B-25 rudder, one of the many displays found
in the museum. 

  For complete details, contact: The Aviation Museum of Kentucky, Hanger
Drive at Blue Grass Airport, Lexington, KY 40544, (859) 231-1219.

Outdoor Log

Double AA streams

  When the 11-inch smallmouth erupted from the surface, we were a bit surprised.
Not by the presence of the fish, but that one that big would come out of a pool
no bigger than our living room, and only about thigh-deep.

  But the streams along the Double AA highway are like that. They don’t
look like much, but they harbor good populations of smallmouth, largemouth,
and other species. 

  Take Twelve Mile Creek, near Alexandria, for instance, one of several
streams that flow, literally, in the shadow of the Double AA. At its widest
it measures 15 to 20 feet, with most of it narrower than that. Its freestone
bottom is mostly knee-deep or shallower. Along the way, many of the banks are
lined with private homes. 

  The mile of water between the Double AA and KY 10 is a series of riffles
and pools and scours. Some of the pools are thigh-deep. And the bottom is covered
with rocks from the size of gravel to as big as a filled shopping bag. In short,
perfect smallmouth water, and ideal for a flyrod or ultra-light spinning tackle.
Yet we’ve never seen another angler on that stream.

  In addition to smallmouth, there is an occasional largemouth found in
the deeper pools, and rock bass the entire length. Rock bass-red-eyes-are the
least fished-for species in Kentucky. But on light tackle, they are hard-fighting.
Most of those found in Twelve Mile Creek are the size of bluegill, and put up
the same kind of scrap.

  The bass aren’t huge, by any means. That 11-incher we took last time
out is a real trophy from such skinny water. But the isolation, and the number
of fish, more than make up for their small size. 

  We much prefer fishing Twelve Mile with light fly tackle and top-water
bugs like Shenandoah poppers or Sneaky Petes. But an ultra-light spinning rig,
and miniature crankbaits, work just as well. Either way, you’ll be surprised
at the great action you’ll find when wading the Double AA. 

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