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Discover the Things to Do with a Weekend Getaway to Paducah, Kentucky

Come for the National Quilt Museum, stay for the Floodwall Murals, and in between, enjoy savory food and lively drinks.

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At the congruence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers in the western reaches of Kentucky, the peaceful city of Paducah is a place to admire art, learn local history, and eat well. It’s a city where the most beautiful public artwork came because of the city’s worst natural disaster. A place where creative locals produce artwork, craft spirits, nifty shopping, and savory cuisine. It’s home to the nation’s fiber art museum and a genuinely unique welcome center.

Paducah is a place deserving exploration and welcoming to visitors. And it was a place where I spent four days during a whirlwind road trip across the Southeastern United States.

Three months after leaving Charleston, South Carolina, I arrived in Paducah. It was early August, the weather was timid, and the crowds were thin – it was the perfect time to visit. But weeks before arriving in the city, I began hearing stories about it.

The floodwall murals. The ice cream shop. The new brewery, distillery, and winery.

I spent four days exploring the riverfront city, starting with visiting the National Quilt Museum, where I learned a new term. At the River Discovery Center, I got to pilot a boat simulator for five exhilarating minutes. Finally, I visited one of the most gorgeous museums I have ever seen.

Leaving the history behind, I spent an evening with craft beer in an old Greyhound bus station, ordered a pizza while sipping beer at a brewery named for the city’s natural disaster, and met the owner at a distillery named for an intriguing piece of local history. I shopped for antiques, sampled the foods, and got that ice cream everybody had been talking about.

My face hurt from continually smiling by the time I left Paducah. When people ask about my favorite destination, I always say, “Wherever I visit next.” I’m always looking forward to my next road trip adventure. But for a moment, I glanced in the rearview mirror as Paducah trailed away.

Broadway Street is the “main street” through downtown Paducah – a beautiful place to go for a walk and enjoy shopping and dining.

Brief History of Paducah

During the Revolutionary War, George Rogers Clark was granted land on Kentucky’s frontier at the congruence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. After Kentucky was granted statehood in 1792 – the first state west of the Appalachian Mountains – settlers rushed westward as fast as the Ohio River could take them.

In 1827, famed explorer William Clark purchased 37,000 acres from his brother’s, George Rogers Clark, estate for $5. Clark laid out the site for a town, and in 1830 Paducah was founded.

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By the time the city was incorporated in 1838, it had already been established as an important river port for steamboats and a railway hub for steam locomotives. Dry docks were built along the riverfront. Locomotive workshops were built in the center of the city. By the early 1900s, Paducah was home to many of the barge company headquarters and the Illinois Central Railroad’s largest steam and diesel locomotive repair shops.

In the late 1900s, factories were shuttered, and industries left the city. But with its ideal location on the Ohio River between Shawnee National Forest and the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, life in Paducah shifted toward tourism. In 2013, the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Paducah as a UNESCO Creative City. Since the Creative Cities Network was established in 2004, only five United States cities have been added to the list.

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No. 1

Visit The National Quilt Museum

The first thing I learned at The National Quilt Museum is that quilts aren’t just quilts – sometimes, they’re called “fiber art.” The second thing I learned is that quilting – combining at least three layers of fabric with stitching – has been around for thousands of years.

And with all those thick quilts hanging on the walls, the museum was a tranquil place.

The museum near Paducah’s waterfront was a surprisingly gorgeous place to visit. Hundreds of quilts are displayed throughout the 30,000-square-foot museum, making it the largest quilt display in the world. After spending an hour meandering through the displays, I found a new appreciation for fiber art and the labor spent creating such beautiful works of art.

The National Quilt Museum was established in 1991 by Paducah residents Bill and Meredith Schroeder. In 2008, Congress officially designated it the National Quilt Museum of the United States – a title that signified the museum’s importance in the fiber art world.

215 Jefferson Street, Paducah, KY | 270-442-8856 | www.quiltmuseum.org

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No. 2

Explore the Paducah Wall to Wall Murals

In 1937, the Ohio River crested at 60.8 feet in Paducah, flooding downtown businesses and homes. As a result, 27,000 people were forced to evacuate, seeking higher ground further away from the river.

The following year, the Army Corps of Engineers surveyed the communities along the Ohio River. They developed a plan to protect the towns from future floods. From 1939 until 1949, a 3-mile-long, 14-foot-tall concrete and steel floodwall was built around downtown Paducah.

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READ MORE: The Paducah Wall to Wall Murals – One of Kentucky’s Most Interesting Attractions

For fifty years, the dull walls left people feeling like they were residents inside a concrete fishbowl. In 1995, the Paducah Floodwall Mural Advisory Board hired muralist Robert Dafford to paint a series of murals on the walls. Each mural depicts a moment in Paducah’s history, from frontier exploration through shipbuilding to the modern age.

Completed in 2007, the Paducah Wall to Wall Murals are not unique but gorgeous to visit. A sidewalk in front of the floodwall lets visitors quickly walk along with the murals. From the public parking lot at the end of Broad Street, it takes about 20 minutes to see most of the murals.

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Plan to spend about an hour exploring the exhibits in the River Discovery Center – and a little bit longer if you get a chance at the boat simulator.

No. 3

Experience the River Discovery Center

The River Discovery Center takes guests behind the scenes of the river industry throughout Paducah’s history. Fascinating exhibits for all ages explore the river’s geology, the technology of riverboats and barges, and life on the river for pilot boat captains. It’s one of the best museums to understand Paducah’s history.

The Boat Simulator is the most popular exhibit at the museum. Built by the same company that furnishes simulators for riverboat training centers, the simulator offers children – and sometimes adults – a chance to experience what it’s like piloting a boat on the river. The steering wheel vibrates, a three-screen display creates a panorama view, and the physics are real.

Insider Tip The Boat Simulator has a time limit per user – providing the user only plays one round. So be prepared to wait for your turn at the simulator and be prepared only to watch as others enjoy a few minutes piloting a boat on the simulated river.

Opened in 2003, the River Discovery Center has changed as many times as the course of the Mississippi River. The idea began in 1988 to create a museum showcasing the river industry heritage throughout the region. The museum expanded with new exhibits and a boat simulator five years after opening.

117 South Water Street, Paducah, KY | 270-575-9958 | http://riverdiscoverycenter.org

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No. 4

Visit the Paducah Railroad Museum

The Paducah Railroad Museum interprets the other half of Paducah’s history. The heart of the museum is a miniature railroad set with a few working model trains and dozens of displays. Throughout the museum, explore the history of railroads in the city and learn how steam and diesel locomotives operate.

The museum features several exhibits of railroad machinery and office equipment. Handcarts, functional railroad crossing signs, and tools are part of the display. The most fascinating exhibit is the railroad operator’s board.

200 Washington Street, Paducah, KY | 270-908-6451 | www.facebook.com/Paducah-Railroad-Museum

Travel Guide to the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse

Learn about the best places, alternate locations, and how to plan a trip to see the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

No. 5

Visit the William Clark Market House Museum

After walking into the Market House Museum, my jaw dropped. A moment later, I involuntarily laughed out loud. This is the most gorgeous museum I’ve ever visited, I thought.

Built over a hundred years ago as Paducah’s market house, the interior was a cavernous space with exposed trusses beneath a cathedral ceiling two stories above the museum’s ground floor. Intricate wood display cabinets with glass doors wrapped the interior, the last remnants from List Drug Store. In the center, a horse-drawn carriage was draped with a beautiful quilt.

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Visitors to the Market House Museum can explore the city’s history from its founding in 1838. An old fire engine sits in a corner, historical artifacts fill glass display cases, and interpretive panels explain key moments through time. It was my last stop in Paducah after a four-day visit – but it should have been my first stop.

Did You Know? The William Clark Market House Museum is named after famed explorer William Clark. In 1804, the Corps of Discovery Expedition, more commonly known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, began in Illinois and ended at the Pacific Ocean six months later. The expedition passed through the area on the Ohio River, and nearly thirty years later, Clark returned to lay out the original streets of Paducah.

121 Market House Square, Paducah, KY | 270-443-7759 | https://markethousemuseum.com

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No. 6

Catch a Show at the Market House Theatre

Ever since eight people formed a “little theatre group” in 1963, the Market House Theatre has put on hundreds of performances in the historic market building. The theatre’s schedule is packed with performances for half the weekends of every month. Book the next performance during your visit to Paducah and enjoy the show in the comfortable high-backed chairs.

132 Market House Square, Paducah, KY | 270-444-6828 | http://markethousetheatre.org

Travel Guide to the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse

Learn about the best places, alternate locations, and how to plan a trip to see the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

This gorgeous work of art – an American Bison – sits in front of the Yeiser Art Center.

No. 7

View Exhibits at the Yeiser Art Center

The Yeiser Art Center occupies a portion of the historic Market House along with the Market House Museum and Market House Theatre. Established in 1957 as the Paducah Art Guild, the art center hosts several exhibitions throughout the year and promotes education about the visual arts.

Explore the permanent collection, take a walk through the current exhibition, and visit the gift shop at the Yeiser Art Center.

200 Broadway Street, Paducah, KY | 270-442-2453 | https://theyeiser.org

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No. 8

Enjoy Downtown Shopping

Broadway is the “Main Street” through downtown Paducah. Two lanes of traffic moved in one direction with free parallel parking on either side of the street. Flat brick sidewalks flanked the roadway, occasionally covered in the shade of trees and awnings. Broadway ended at the Ohio River, so there was no busy traffic eager to get anywhere.

Between century-old facades on a summer afternoon, the serene soundlessness was a welcome break from the busy world everywhere else. And it was the perfect place to do some local shopping.

The PAPA Gallery – Paducah Area Painters Alliance – features artwork from dozens of local artists. At the Art Guild of Paducah’s gallery, browse the wide-ranging artwork from guild members, including fiber art, paintings, woodworking, and photography.

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When US Army veteran Nathan Antonites returned home, he founded the Kentucky BBQ Supply Company. The renovated commercial building on Broadway is an outdoor chef’s dream shop. Every imaginable type of grill covers the concrete floor. Along the brick walls, metal shelves are stacked with spices, rubs, and charcoal bags. It’s the place to shop for anything related to grilling – and you might find something for your next camping trip to the Land Between the Lakes.

BBQ & More is an interesting boutique shop. It’s more than just clothing – it’s a collection of trinkets and tools perfect for any room of the house. But if you’re looking for a boutique clothing shop, Selcouth Shop and McLaran Manner are where you want to go.

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In 1993, three local businessmen founded Hooper’s Outdoor Center to provide customers with high-quality outdoor gear and technical training. Located in a 5,500-square-foot building on Broadway, the retail store features gear for every kind of Western Kentucky outdoor adventure – kayaking, biking, camping, and hiking among them. Along with apparel, maps, books, and lots of local advice, any outdoor adventure in the area should begin here.

Go for a walk on Broadway from the waterfront to North 5th Street to experience local shopping in downtown Paducah. You’ll find antiques, jewelry, boutiques, and quirky shops that’ll make your city visit productive and entertaining.

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The Whitehaven Welcome Center doesn’t look like a welcome center.

No. 9

Take a Tour of the Whitehaven Welcome Center

The Whitehaven Welcome Center is the only visitor in the country located in an antebellum house – and you can take a guided tour to see it all. The original two-story brick farmhouse was built in 1864. But it was the second owner, local businessman Edward Atkins, who renovated it in the Greek Revival style, added the kitchen wing, carriage house, and painted the house white.

In 1981, Kentucky Governor John Y. Brown Jr. visited the area and learned about the historic house. Interstate 24 was recently completed through the county and ran across the house’s front lawn. Brown thought it would make an excellent welcome center for southbound traffic out of Illinois, so the state purchased the house and restored it.

READ MORE: Why You Need to Visit the Unique Whitehaven Welcome Center in Paducah, KY

Opening in 1983, the Whitehaven Welcome Center offers clean restrooms, vending machines, picnic tables under the shade of giant trees, and travel brochures. But in addition to all the typical amenities, visitors can also take a guided tour of the historic house. The tour includes the foyer, grand staircase, and the second floor with exhibits on Paducah native Alben Barkley, a congressman and vice president under Harry Truman.

1845 Lone Oak Road, Paducah, KY | 270-554-2077

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No. 10

Get a Drink at Silent Brigade Distillery

When Keith Bundy and John Brown opened Silent Brigade Distillery in 2016, they offered five types of moonshine straight from a still in the back of a renovated commercial building. But in 2020, the distillery diversified and offered a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – just like all Kentucky distilleries should offer.

The façade of the building on Broadway has an Art Deco style that lights up beautifully at night. Tables are spread across a painted concrete floor, and high chairs butt up against the wooden bar.

While visiting Silent Brigade Distillery, ask the bartender about the Tobacco Wars. It’s a fascinating story – and a dark chapter – from the early 1900s. By the time you’ve finished your bourbon and heard the entire story, you’ll know why Bundy and Brown chose the name of the distillery.

426 Broadway Street, Paducah, KY | 270-709-3242 | www.silentbrigadedistillery.com

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No. 11

Enjoy an Evening at Paducah Beer Werks

When Paducah Beer Werks opened in 2015, visitors were treated to something new inside a travel hallmark – the historic Greyhound Bus Station. Outside, the patio seating is covered with the original awning that protected bus passengers. Inside, retro signs left over from Greyhound’s days hang on the walls.

Owner Todd Blume wanted to bring the craft beer scene to Paducah, but he wanted to be more than just a local brewery. Taps feature beers from breweries throughout the region and around the world. But you’ll also find their own English Ale-style beers ranging from IPAs to Lagers.

With a full food menu, comfortable indoor seating, and occasional live bands, it’s easy to spend an evening sampling their craft beers and relaxing in Paducah.

301 North 4th Street, Paducah, KY | 270-933-1265 | https://paducahbeerwerks.com

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No. 12

Get a Drink at Dry Ground Brewing Company

In 2015, Ed and Meagan Musselman went against the grain of Kentucky bourbon distilleries and opened Paducah’s first brewery. The brewery and many of its beers are named after the catastrophic 1937 flood that devastated Paducah. Fortunately, the floodwalls protect the city today, so everyone can just enjoy a good drink.

The brewery is located inside the old Coke Plant. The industrial space features a painted concrete floor, exposed ceiling, and high-top tables. The room is flanked by shiny stainless-steel fermenters and tanks – where the good stuff happens.

The best way to spend an evening at Dry Ground Brewing is to take advantage of the Mellow Mushroom next door. Ask the bartender for a menu and place an order after getting a seat in the brewery. Wait twenty minutes, walk next door to collect your pizza, and bring it back to the brewery.

3121 Broadway Street, Paducah, KY | 270-201-2096 | www.facebook.com/DryGroundBrewingCo

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No. 13

Visit the Purple Toad Winery

Paducah isn’t a big city, but you can still escape the city into the countryside with a visit to Purple Toad Winery. After a fateful family vacation to Napa Valley, Allen and June Dossey planted 2,500 vines on their home property. In 2009, the winery and tasting room opened to the public.

The tasting room is conveniently open seven days a week and feels like home. Couches, tables, and chairs are spread throughout a sitting room surrounded by large windows. Try a flight at the bar to find your favorite wine – and admire the dozens of awards hanging on the wall.

After finding your favorite wine, take a glass outside to the covered patio and enjoy the peacefulness of the vineyard.

4275 Old US Highway 45 South, Paducah, KY | 270-554-0010 | www.purpletoadwinery.com

Travel Guide to the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse

Learn about the best places, alternate locations, and how to plan a trip to see the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

No. 14

Start the Day at Etcetera Coffeehouse

What happens when high school teachers open a coffee shop? For one, they choose a quirky name like Etcetera Coffeehouse. In 2006, Johanna and Allan Rhodes opened the coffee shop a few blocks from downtown. Since then, it has grown into a local staple and hangout place.

Inside, comfortable tables and chairs are perfect for a short break from exploring the city or some much-needed remote working. Outside, umbrella-covered tables are scattered across a stone patio and surrounded by beautiful murals.

Etcetera Coffeehouse offers drip coffee, espresso drinks, tea, and many specialty drinks. They only use fair-trade, organic coffee beans from around the world and fresh ground for every coffee served.

320 North 6th Street, Paducah, KY | 270-443-7760 | www.etccoffeehouse.com

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No. 15

Get a Dozen at Red’s Donut Shop

In 1955, Howard “Red” Clark opened the Nunn Better Donut Shop across the street from a drive-in movie theater. The business was slow, steady, and certain as he baked the savory sweetness from different locations around the city. Finally, in 1988 he purchased the current location for his rebranded Red’s Donut Shop.

Red retired in 1997, but not before passing on all his secrets to his sons and current owners, Howard Jr., David, and Nicky. Inside the small shop, glass cases are filled with fresh donuts every day of the week. Choose from yeast or cake donuts, filled or traditional, glazed or iced.

Oh, and individual donuts are less than a dollar. Eat your heart out. Literally.

2800 Jackson Street, Paducah, KY | 270-443-6717 | www.redsdonutshop.com

Travel Guide to the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse

Learn about the best places, alternate locations, and how to plan a trip to see the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

Donuts, muffins, and bread – Kirchhoff’s Bakery always has something fresh and delicious.

No. 16

Eat at a Local Restaurant

Cajun, seafood, brick oven pizza, and American staples – Paducah is a small foodie destination.

Broussard’s Cajun Cuisine opened in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in 1986. In 2019, Jason Coalter approached owners Hunter and Stephanie Clark about opening a second location for the restaurant in Paducah. The menu includes savory Cajun staples like crawfish, frog legs, and po’boys. If you’re unsure where to start, order a sampler and enjoy it at the comfortable seating inside the large restaurant.

In 1941, Dominick “Doe” and Mamie Signa opened a small honky tonk in the front of the family grocery store in downtown Paducah. The popularity of Mamie’s hot tamales recipe quickly boosted the restaurant’s business, and soon he closed the honky tonk to open Doe’s Eat Place. Comfortable tables and chairs are spread across the painted concrete floors and surrounded by rustic brick walls. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a menu of sandwiches, steaks, and salads.

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The Freight House is the best farm-to-table restaurant in the city. When Paducah native Chef Sara Bradley opened the restaurant in 2015, she knew she wanted to work directly with local farmers to get the freshest ingredients for her meals. The menu changes throughout the year depending on the season but typically includes salads, appetizers, burgers, steak, and fish.

Korey Vasquez took his childhood passion for cooking and adulthood pursuit of culinary school seriously when he opened Gold Rush Café in 1999. Vasquez puts his own spin on classic American dishes like omelets, waffles, sandwiches, and burgers. Comfy tables and chairs are spread throughout the small, quiet restaurant on a corner of Broadway.

In 1873 – just forty-three years after Paducah was founded – Prussian immigrants Franz Kirchhoff and his wife Hannah Baumer opened Kirchhoff’s Bakery. Fresh bread was baked every day in the bakery’s wood-fired oven while the family lived upstairs. Today, the bakery is owned by Ginny Kirchhoff-Elmore, the fifth generation of the family to own and operate the business. Artisan breads are still made from scratch every day, and now you’ll also find a selection of sandwiches from their deli.

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Max Bastani has a degree in electrical engineering, but it was his passion for cooking that chartered the course of his life. After working as a chef at a Chicago restaurant, Max and Judy moved to Paducah to be closer to Judy’s family. In 1998, they opened Max’s Brick Oven Café. The renovated commercial building features a hodge podge of architectural styles from salvaged materials. White linen cloths cover the tables, but you’re more than welcome to wear blue jeans while enjoying brick oven pizza, pasta, and special entrees.

Brian Shemwell opened Barrel & Bond in 2019 with a single purpose: to provide one of the country’s largest selections of bourbon and American whiskey. And he succeeded with over 1,600 labels. A bar built from brass and bourbon barrels wraps around floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with bourbon and whiskey from around the world. The bartenders will help you find something great to drink, order a charcuterie board, and then you can enjoy it on comfortable couches and armchairs.

Over/Under is something different – it’s a sports bar featuring industrial décor with a kid’s menu and food served on glass plates. Over thirty televisions are hung on the walls above tables, over booths, and behind the bar. The menu is twenty laps ahead of typical sports bar food with burgers, tacos, sandwiches, and sides. And you won’t go thirsty with a dozen beers on tap!

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After a long day of exploring, shopping, and dining, get dessert at Craving the Curls. When Randy and Renee Hayden opened a dessert shop in downtown Paducah, they chose the novelty of rolled ice cream. Step inside their chic shop and watch them roll fresh ice cream made to order.

Over the years, the brownstone three-story building on Broadway has been home to many ice cream shops. In 2022, Susan and Stewart Lofton opened the newest version – Forever Sweet Creamery. The owners like experimenting with ice cream flavors to go with homemade waffle cones and bowls.

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Where to Stay

Paducah has a lot of nice hotels surrounding the Interstate 24 corridor – with one downtown exception.

Budget

The Red Roof Inn is an older building, but all the rooms have been renovated recently. Guest rooms feature hardwood floors, new furnishings, plenty of outlets, and secure access inside the building. Choose from rooms with two queen beds or a king bed.

Moderate

Country Inn & Suites is one of the best hotels in the city, with an indoor swimming pool and comfortable guest rooms. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, one king bed, or suites with two queen beds or a king bed along with a sleeper sofa.

Auburn Place Hotel & Suites features a casual elegance with a towering lobby, indoor swimming pool, and comfortable guest rooms. The accessible rooms only feature a king bed, but the other guest rooms feature either two queen beds or a king bed along with a sleeper sofa. This is the best hotel in Paducah for families.

Premium

La Quinta Inn & Suites is a bit awkwardly located, but it’s still a good hotel for a weekend visit to Paducah. The hotel features an indoor swimming pool and hot tub. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, one king bed, or suites that include a sleeper sofa.

Hampton Inn & Suites features a small indoor swimming pool with lounge chairs and the best complimentary hot breakfast of any chain in the country. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, one king bed, or the King Suite with a king bed and a sleeper sofa.

Holiday Inn is the only downtown hotel and the best place to stay in Paducah. The hotel features a lovely indoor swimming pool and an excellent outdoor patio behind the floodwall. Riverfront rooms feature a balcony overlooking the Ohio River. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, one king bed, or suites that include a sleeper sofa.

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One Response

  1. I loved reading all of this information about my home town!! So much has changed from when I had to move from Paducah in 1964 due to my dad’s relocation as an employee of the Union Carbide plant in Paducah … a change that took himto New York City!! Luckily we lived 60 miles away in Westchester County ! But he had a long commute via train every day. Seeing all of the wonderful changes in Paducah makes me want to visit again. I have a friend in NJ who is a great quilter so my husband and I took her and husband to Paducah in 2019 … but we were not aware of so many of the other interesting places that are in this presentation. When I lived there I lived off Lone Oak Road and always marveled at the “Smith mansion “ that is now the welcome center! All of this makes another trip back to Paducah a must on my bucket list. Thank you for putting all of this wonderful information available to everyone.

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