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As I exited Interstate 24 and drove around the building I was certain I was in the wrong place. I pulled into a parking space in front of a brilliant white antebellum home. I must have made a wrong turn because this looked like a museum! As it turns out I was in the correct place; the Whitehaven Welcome Center in Paducah, Kentucky.
Traffic heading both directions on I-24 can reach the Whitehaven Welcome Center. Even if you don’t really need any maps or brochures, it may be worth the stop to stretch your legs while admiring this gorgeous home. It’s the only interstate welcome center in the country located inside an antebellum era historic home.
Brief History of Whitehaven
It’s hard to believe this gorgeous mansion was built in 1864 as a simple two-story brick farmhouse by tobacco dealer Edward Anderson. When Ed Atkins bought the house in 1903 he hired his friend, architect Alda Lafayette Lassiter, to conduct an extensive renovation. When completed the house included a grand staircase, the portico with towering Corinthian columns, and was painted white. Atkins named the house Whitehaven.
For over eighty years the house belonged to the family of James Smith, a former mayor of Paducah. After the Smiths moved out in 1968 the house was left to caretakers who let Whitehaven fall into disrepair. In 1981 Paducah Junior College purchased the house and property with intent to expand their campus, but could never raise the funds to renovate the house.
Later that year Kentucky Governor John Brown, Jr. visited Paducah and learned about the historic mansion. The state purchased the house and property and conducted a large renovation and restoration. It opened in 1983 as the Whitehaven Welcome Center.
Whitehaven Welcome Center
I sat in my car parked in front of the mansion. It didn’t looked like a welcome center with Corinthian columns and formal gardens. But then I noticed the vending machines and picnic tables off to one side.
When I walked around the side and entered the modern visitor center I asked the lady, “How is this a welcome center?” She just giggled and handed me a brochure explaining the history of the historic home.
Whitehaven Welcome Center includes everything you would expect of an interstate rest area. Restrooms, vending machines, stacks of tourism brochures, and an information desk with friendly staff. Formal gardens add a touch to the picnic tables and walks paths with plenty of room to let the kids and dogs stretch their legs.
Guided Tours of Whitehaven Welcome Center
One thing visitors can do at the Whitehaven Welcome Center you can’t do at any other interstate welcome center in the country is take a guided tour of the antebellum home. Tours are offered every hour, though it seemed somewhat informal when I asked about it. A few minutes later I was whisked away with a group of five others to tour the historic home.
Many of the rooms on the first floor were restored using original materials. The grand staircase flanked by built in benches, a sitting room with a fireplace, and a grand piano showed what life was like in the mansion during its heyday years.
The second floor of Whitehaven is dedicated to Paducah native Alben Barkley who served as vice president under President Harry Truman. The Barkley Room has on display the desk he used while a member of Congress and another desk used while serving as vice president.
Getting to Whitehaven Welcome Center
For easy GPS navigation use “Whitehaven Welcome Center 1845 Lone Oak Road, Paducah, KY” for an address. The welcome center is accessible for traffic heading either direction on I-24 and also for traffic off the interstate.
Heading north on I-24 take Exit 7 at Lone Oak Road. Turn left onto the road and immediately get into the right lane. After passing the next traffic light use the exit lane on the right to enter the Whitehaven Welcome Center.
Heading south of I-24 takes a bit more work and confused me at first. Take Exit 7 to Alben Barkley Drive, but don’t make any turns. Stay straight onto two-lane, one-way Jack Paxton Drive. Take the exit on the right to the Whitehaven Welcome Center.
For all traffic not on the interstate getting there is pretty easy. There is an exit lane into Whitehaven Welcome Center from US Highway 45, locally called Lone Oak Road.