Escape: Paducah

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In 1937, 50-foot waves came crashing through Paducah, Kentucky, leaving a destroyed town in their wake. Founded by William Clark (sans his pal Lewis) in 1827, Paducah’s rich history and its strategic positioning—right at the junction of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers—made it a town worth rescuing. Enter the Paducah Renaissance Alliance. By importing artists and more than $100 million in investments, PRA revived the heart of the city, transforming it into a hip, quilting-frenzied cultural hub. You won’t need scuba gear to explore the town, but we do recommend good walking shoes.

Arts & Crafts
The art culture is quite literally wall-to-wall in Paducah. The floodwalls that line the banks of the Ohio are covered with the works of mural artist Robert Dafford; they depict the town’s early years, its river history, and its period of growth in the 1950s—a colorful introduction to the town’s past.

When in Paducah, the National Quilt Museum (quiltmuseum.org) is a must-visit spot. The world’s largest facility dedicated to showcasing quilts, this museum boasts more than 300 displays that reflect the work of some 350 artists from around the country. Drop by the Yeiser Art Center (theyeiser.org) after June 7 for the Paducah Photo 2014 competition to see submissions from hundreds of photographers. Now in its 39th year, this competition is regarded as the region’s most prestigious showcase. For a more hands-on arts experience, wield needle and thread in a museum-hosted quilting workshop—like Fabulous Feathers and Fillers (July 10–12). Or head to Ephemera Paducah for some crafty fun at either the Art of Correspondence card-making workshop (June 19) or the Mixed Media Club (June 26).

Shop & Sightsee
Paducah’s tourism association (paducah.travel) created a cell phone walking tour, which allows you to learn at your leisure by dialing in as you pass selected historic landmarks around town. Worth your visit: the River Heritage Museum (riverdiscoverycenter.org), which lays out a thorough history of the Ohio River, and the William Clark Market House Museum (markethousemuseum.com), which details facts about the town’s founder, the original Native American inhabitants, and the Civil War’s effect on the area.

Take a piece of Paducah’s workmanship home with you, too. BeBe’s Artisan Market (270-443-5848) offers goods crafted by the city’s artists—like wood-carved duck boxes, hand-sewn puppets, painted platters, and fine jewelry. J. Nichols Clay Botanicals (270-349-4951) markets one-of-a-kind hand-painted recreations of sunflowers, geraniums, tulips, and more, all made by Jimy Nichols, a born and raised Paducahn.

Room & Board
Tuck yourself in for the night at one of Paducah’s quaint inns. The Fox Briar Inn (foxbriarinn.com) boasts a riverfront view, and the condo-like setup makes it a perfect spot for families. Just next door is Fox Briar’s Ice Cream Factory, granting you easy access to site-made ice cream mixed to order on a frosted slab. And three blocks from the National Quilt Museum you’ll find spacious suites at the Egg and I Bed and Breakfast (eggandiarts.com). 

Every town needs a good bakery, and Kirchhoff’s Bakery and Deli (kirchhoffsbakery.com) fills the niche for  Paducah. With fresh artisan breads baked daily and a deli serving up sandwiches like brie with bacon and tomato on French sourdough and roast beef with portabellas on Cuban bread, this is your go-to lunch stop.  For an evening meal, try Cynthia’s Ristorante (cynthiasristorante.com). The California-Tuscan eatery sources ingredients from Paducah’s farmers and businesses to offer locally-grown, made-from-scratch American-Italian meals. As you might expect in such an artsy town, the dining area doubles as a gallery for up-and-coming local painters.

Originally published in the June 2014 issue.

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