Paducah-McCracken Riverport is in far western Kentucky where the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers meet. It is part of the Tennessee River System. Paducah-McCracken Riverport is about 95 river miles downstream (127 kilometers or 79 miles northwest by air) of the Port of New Johnsonville on the Tennessee River. Paducah-McCracken Riverport is about 45 river miles upriver (45 kilometers or 30 miles east directly) from the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. On the Mississippi, the Port of St. Louis is some 235 kilometers (145 miles) northwest of Paducah-McCracken Riverport.
Paducah is the seat of McCracken County, Kentucky. Paducah-McCracken Riverport contributes to the local economy, a major market for products like timber, tobacco, livestock, soybeans, and coal. Paducah-McCracken Riverport is also located in one of the best power-generating areas in the world. Paducah-McCracken Riverport has benefited greatly from projects sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority and the United States Department of Energy. The 2010 US Census estimated that over 25 thousand people called Paducah home.
When European settlers first arrived at the future Paducah-McCracken Riverport around 1815, it is told that they were welcomed by Chief Paduke, probably a Chickasaw. The settlers traveled by flatboat down the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. Chief Paduke's wigwam, his village's counsel lodge, sat on a bluff where Island Creek met the Ohio.
Finding the area very attractive due to the meeting of several major waterways at the site, the settlers settled across Island Creek from Chief Paduke's wigwam. Calling their village Pekin, the settlers lived at peace with the indigenous people. They traded services and goods, and appreciated each others' cultures.
The new settlers to the area that would become Paducah-McCracken Riverport brought horses and mules that pulled their flatboats upstream. They established other settlements, trading posts, logging camps, and farms along the rivers and streams. Soon, the Pekin economy was flourishing.
The peaceful relations between cultures continued for many years until 1827 when William Clark arrived with a title deed for the Pekin land that was issued by the United States Supreme Court. After he led the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, Clark became the superintendent for interactions with the indigenous people of the Mississippi-Missouri River area. Clark asked the people, both native and immigrant, to move, and they did so without resistance.
Clark planned a new town on a grid pattern that is still apparent today. The Chickasaw had moved to the State of Mississippi, and Clark named his new town Paducah to honor the Chief. Former residents of the area were invited to buy tracts of land within the new Paducah; however, most chose to live outside the developments.
Incorporated in 1830, Paducah's location made it a valuable site for port facilities. Steamboats traveled the river system, carrying both passengers and cargo. Paducah-McCracken Riverport was quickly a busy industrial economy based on both river and rail transportation. At the center of the economy were a red brick factory and a foundry for railroad components.
After more than 20 years of tremendous growth, the city was chartered as Paducah in 1856. The Paducah-McCracken Riverport now had dry dock facilities for towboats and barges, and many barge companies located their headquarters there. Located near coal fields in both Kentucky in Illinois, Paducah-McCracken Riverport also grew as a rail hub for the Illinois Central Railroad that connected Chicago and St. Louis to Gulfport, Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Union troops led by General Ulysses S. Grant captured Paducah in 1861, thus winning control of the Tennessee River's mouth. Paducah-McCracken Riverport became a major supply depot for the Union Army and provided dock facilities that supported Union gunboats and supply ships located near the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee River Systems.
In late 1862, a general order forced 30 Jewish families who had lived in Paducah for many years out of their homes. Jewish businessman Cesar Kaskel appealed the order by telegram to President Lincoln, later meeting the President. Eventually the order was rescinded.
In early 1864, Confederate soldiers under General Nathan Bedford Forrest raided the city. The General hoped to re-supply their army with horses and mules, ammunition, medical supplies, and recruits and to undermine Union dominance of the region. While the Confederates were able to re-supply their troops, holding the town for 10 hours, they returned to the South. Despite a subsequent raid to get horses the Confederates had missed, the Union maintained control of Paducah until the Civil War ended.
In 1937, the famous Ohio River Flood forced Paducah-McCracken Riverport residents to evacuate their city for almost three weeks when the river crested at over 18 meters (60 feet). Eighteen inches of rain fell in 16 days in Paducah-McCracken Riverport, making it the most serious natural disaster in Paducah-McCracken Riverport's history. Noting that the city's levee did not protect the city, the United States Army Corps of Engineers was charged with building a flood wall that protects Paducah-McCracken Riverport today.
In 1952, the US Atomic Energy Commission opened a uranium enrichment plant in Paducah-McCracken Riverport. Owned by the US Government (the Department of Energy today), operation of the plant has changed several times. Union Carbide was the first operator. Martin Marieta and Lockheed Martin were also operators. Today, the United States Enrichment Corporation operates the Paducah-McCracken Riverport plant.
The American Quilter's Society selected Paducah-McCracken Riverport as the location of its Museum in 1991. Every spring, quilters from around the world come to Paducah-McCracken Riverport for the organization's annual Quilt Show. One of the biggest events for Paducah-McCracken Riverport, the Quilt Show brings considerable tourism revenue to Paducah-McCracken Riverport. In 2008, the US Congress designated the museum as The National Quilt Museum of the United States, bringing national attention and more tourists to Paducah-McCracken Riverport. The museum averages some 40 thousand visitors per year from both the United States and other countries.
A team created by Robert Dafford, a mural artist from Louisiana, started the Paducah Wall to Wall mural program in 1996. They created more than 50 murals on the Paducah-McCracken Riverport floodwall that illustrated topics like Native American history, steamboats, river barges, the heritage of local African-Americans, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. After 2007, the murals were being maintained by Herb Roe who repainted and refurbished panels every year. In 2010, Roe added a new mural depicting the 100-year history of Troop 1, the local Boy Scout troop that is as old as the national scouting organization. The mural was dedicated on National Scout Sunday in 2011.
Paducah started an "Artist Relocation Program" in 2000 to entice artists to move to the city's historic Downtown and Lower Town neighborhoods. Today, the program is a model for using the arts to stimulate economic development across the United States, and it has received many awards recognizing the effort. The program is located in Lower Town, and it has done much to stimulate the preservation of historic structures in the city and to revitalize Paducah's downtown.
In 2004, a plan to shine a spotlight on Paducah's musical heritage and to redevelop the city's downtown South Side took shape. The focus of the effort is Maggie Steed's Hotel Metropolitan which has hosted music greats like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Bobby "Blue" Bland, B.B. King, and Ike and Tina Turner, among many others who made the rounds on what is now called the "Chitlin' circuit." Since 2006, Paducah-McCracken Riverport has hosted the regional OMGcon, a gaming and anime convention that attracts people from across the country each year.