Jefferson Street-Fountain Avenue Residential District
Jefferson Street-Fountain Avenue Residential District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the City of Paducah expanded in a westerly direction. This development also included residential construction, facilitated by the installation of electric street car lines in the area. The Jefferson Street-Fountain Avenue neighborhood dates to this period and represents the earliest housing built in this section of the city. By the turn of the century, it had grown into one of Paducah's most prestigious neighborhoods, with many of the city's leading citizens residing there. Visually, the district displays the widest range of styling popular during the late Victorian era through the second decade of the twentieth century than any other neighborhood in Paducah. It contains the best collection in the city of turn-of-the-century residential architecture. Over the years, the district has retained its integrity as a neighborhood, with few contemporary residential or commercial structures present.
The area was developed by the West End Improvement Company, which platted and sold lots for home building. This company was organized in 1891 and embraced 116 acres platted into 400 lots and valued at over $40,000 in 1894. A promotional pamphlet published in 1894 states, "the plot is central, being on both sides of Jefferson, and is the largest share of the town's spreading; many handsome residence properties being already erected or contracted for in this suburb."
The leading figure of the West End Improvement Company was Dr. S. B. Caldwell, a physician who maintained an active practice in Paducah from 1855 to 1870. He learned to survey at an early age and from 1845 on had been a professional surveyor. He also was a practicing real estate dealer during this time. He served as a land purchasing agent and investor for many of the wealthy people in Paducah. He began investing in the Jackson Purchase, as well as other areas in Kentucky and outside the state. Dr. Caldwell organized the investors that made up the West End Improvement Company.
The area of Jefferson Street and Fountain Avenue was incorporated into the city limits in 1884. During the administration of Mayor James M. Lang (1897-1901), light and water services were extended to this area and suburban gravel roads were constructed. A circular park on Fountain Avenue became the first public park within the city limits. This park was named Lang Park in honor of the mayor. During the term of Mayor Thomas Hazelip (1917-1921), numerous street improvements were made, including the bitulithic paving of Broadway and Jefferson Street from Ninth Street to Fountain Avenue.
Electric streetcars were introduced to Paducah in 1889. This new means of transportation made possible the development of peripheral residential neighborhoods, or streetcar suburbs, which became more popular as the commercial and industrial facilities in downtown Paducah increased. The Jefferson Street-Fountain Avenue area became one of the first and most popular streetcar suburbs in Paducah.
The first streetcar line to this area ran from the downtown along Jefferson Street to the site of the 1894 Paducah Fair and Exposition at 28th Street and Jefferson. The erection of this fairgrounds was a great spur to the development of the west end. The fair area was described as containing Ma beautiful half-mile trotting track, with first class grandstand, floral hall, stables, and the electric street railway line running right up to the entrance gates."
On July 3, 1902, the city of Paducah awarded a streetcar franchise for a route known as the Broadway-Third Street Line. This route ran down Broadway from First Street to Fountain Avenue� down Fountain Avenue to Park Avenue;then up Park Avenue to Sixth Street. The conditions for this streetcar line were that it was to run at least once every hour from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.; it was not to run at a speed exceeding 8 miles per hour- and the fare was not to exceed five cents per person.
Later, after the turn of the century & the advent of the automobile, the streetcar lines were taken up. On Fountain Avenue and on Jefferson Street from 18th Street to Central Avenue, the medians holding the streetcar lines were converted into green areas. Here trees, grass, and bushes have been planted to create a picturesque park area. This boulevard effect is one of the distinctive and beautiful features of the Jefferson Street - Fountain Avenue area.
As Paducah developed, the elite of Paducah moved farther and farther out into the West .end. From approximately 1890 to 1930, the Jefferson Street-Fountain Avenue area was developed as a fine residential neighborhood. Many of the town leaders in government and business built homes in this area. Most of the houses in this neighborhood are still associated with these prominent people.
The most famous man to live on Fountain Avenue was Alben Barkley, who was to serve as united States senator, Senate Majority Leader, and Vice-President of the United States under Harry S. Truman. Barkley lived at 200 Fountain Avenue early in his career as a lawyer. He came to Paducah in 1897 and in 1905 was elected county attorney and in 1909 was elected County judge. In 1912 he was elected to the Congress. This began his meteoric career as a national politician. Some time after Barkley sold the house at 200 Fountain Avenue, it was moved to a vacant lot at the rear of the property. The house now faces Jefferson Street.
Judge William Reed built the large frame house at 2131 Jefferson. Judge Reed represented McCracken County in the Kentucky State legislature for six years at the turn of the century, and was the Democratic candidate for governor in 1911. Later, Reed served as circuit court Judge of Kentucky's Second Judicial District. A subsequent owner of 2131 Jefferson was Robert L. Myre, a prominent attorney in Paducah.
Another important judicial figure was Walter A. Blackburn who lived at 1531 Jefferson. Blackburn was the deputy clerk of the U.S. District Court Western District of Kentucky. He also served as the deputy collector of Customs and U.S. commissioner at the Custom House. Many prominent men in Paducah's commercial affairs also lived in this neighborhood in the first part of the twentieth century. One of Paducah's wealthiest citizens, Coca Cola magnate, Luther Carson, lived at 1924 Jefferson Street. Carson came to Paducah from Galloway County in 1903. The following year, he obtained a Coca-Cola franchise and by the 1920s he and his brothers were operating a profitable bottling and distributing business. With his new found wealth, Carson bought the substantial house at 1924 Jefferson Street built by the Ernest Rehkopf family. This house remained in the Carson family until it was recently sold to Dr. Richard Smith.
Another prominent Paducah businessman, William P. Paxton, lived at 1622 Jefferson. Paxton was the president of both the Southern Textile Machine Company and the Claussner Hosiery Company. Southern Textile was formed in 1906 to manufacture an invention of E. O. Davis of an attachment which improved the efficiency of looping machines used in the manufacture of hosiery. The firm bought another invention from William G. Weight of Cleveland and combined the two in 1909 to revolutionize the textile industry. William Paxton served as president of this firm until 1952.
The Southern Textile firm organized the Claussner Hosiery Company in 1922. This company became a leader in the manufacture, dyeing, and selling of fine denier seamless and full fashion hosiery. The company was named for Robert Claussner of 1630 Jefferson, a stockholder who helped organize the enterprise.
Two of Paducah's leading drug manufacturers also lived in this neighborhood. E. E. Sutherland, of 1621 Jefferson, built one of the largest medicine manufacturing plants in the South. A 1913 advertisement stated; "He is the originator and sole manufacturer of Dr. Bell's Pine Tar Honey, a cough remedy, Dr. Bell's Anti-Flux, a cholera and diarrhea specific, Sutherland's Eye Salve, and Sutherland's Linseed Salve." Sutherland began his career producing medicine in a laboratory building at the rear of his Jefferson Street property. In 1895 he built a three story building at 128 North Third and by 1913 had moved to an even larger building at 1016 Jefferson.
The elaborate Colonial Revival house at 129 Fountain Avenue was built in 1906 by Virgil Sherrill of Sherrill and Russell Lumber Company. Local legend explains that Sherrill built the house for his fiancee and used the very finest building materials that his lumber yard could supply. Unfortunately Sherrill was jilted by his fiancee and he lived in this house for only a short time.
The handsome house at 121 Fountain Avenue was owned by Charles G. Vahlkamp. He was an expert brewmaster who came to Paducah in 1909 to run the Paducah Brewery Company. Under his management, the brewery became regionally famous for such products as Paducah Pilsner and Paduke Beer. After Prohibition closed the brewery in 1919, that building became the home of the City Consumers Company, a firm that processed and marketed dairy products. Charles Vahlkamp was the first president of this company. The house on Fountain Avenue remains in the Vahlkamp family.
Several prominent owners of grocery firms also lived in the neighborhood. Henry C. Overby of 231 Fountain Avenue was a partner in the Noble-Overby Wholesale Grocery Company. By 1894 this firm was the largest wholesale grocery in the Jackson Purchase and the second largest in the state. The firm was founded in 1880 by Ed P. Noble, who lived at 2031 Jefferson. Overby and Noble were also large stockholders in the Paducah Banking Company, and oversaw its absorption by the Globe National Bank.
W. B. Weaks, of 2103 Jefferson, was a partner in Weak Brothers and Company Wholesale Grocery firm with his brother and father. The Weaks family formed their grocery business in 1889 and it soon became one of the foremost in Paducah. In 1893 the firm did over a quarter of a million dollars in business. Their building at 207-213 South Third embraced the largest floor space of any similar business in Paducah in 1894.
Other prominent Paducah businessmen living in the neighborhood were C. C. Covington of 1621 Jefferson, president of Covington Brothers and Company Wholesale Grocers; Dr. J. R. Coleman of 1625 Jefferson, physician and surgeon; Louis A. Lagomarsino of 1719 Jefferson, proprietor of the Hotel Lagomarsino at 201 Broadway; Lawrence Dallam of 103 Fountain Avenue, manager at Friedman, Keiler and Company Distilling Company; J. B. Davis of 1402 Jefferson, partner of Hank and Davis Hardware Company; B. J. Billings of 1406 Jefferson, president of Billing Printing Company; R. L. Tate of 1419 Jefferson, owner of the Paducah Broom Company; E. D. Thurman of 1501 Jefferson, owner of Thurman's Bootery, "Paducah's Only Exclusive Lady Shoe Store"; Lee Livingston of 1514 Jefferson, partner of M. Livingston and Company Wholesale Grocers and Coffee Roasters; E. B. Fergerson of 1600 Jefferson, president of The Fergerson Company, Harness and Saddlery Manufacturers. Other residents of the neighborhood include R. G. Terry of 1625 Jefferson, president of Farmers Supply Company; Edward G. Scott of 1632 Jefferson, vice-president of the Mechanics Trust and Savings Bank; Erasmus Wolfe of 1643 Jefferson, president of Fowler-- Wolfe Sheet Metal Works; Louis Rubel of 2020 Jefferson, owner of Rubel's Department Store; George B. Hart of 1916 Jefferson, owner of George Hart and Son Hardware Company; T. M. Watkins of 1417 Jefferson, owner of Watkins Department Store, O. C. Hank of 1509 Jefferson, vice-president of the U.S. Tobacco Company; J. E. English of 1650 Jefferson, manager of the Kentucky Theatre, vice-president of the Western Kentucky Coal Company; and Frank L. Kirchoff of 1935 Jefferson, owner of Kirchoff's Bakery.
Several other large buildings are also located in the district. The Katterjohn Building at 1501 Broadway was built in 1919 as an Illinois Central Railway Hospital. This was the largest Illinois Central hospital between Chicago and New Orleans until it was closed in 1957. Subsequently, it was purchased by George Katterjohn and converted into professional office space. This was an early example of a successful adaptive use in Paducah.
The Ritz Hotel at 2201 Broadway was built during the economic boom times of the 1920s. The hotel was built by the Charleston Investment Company of St. Louis, an enterprise that also constructed the Charleston Apartments on Jefferson Street. In 1939, Paducah natives Louis and William Burger bought the Ritz from the Louisville Title Company, which held the mortgage on the hotel. In 1977 the hotel was sold to the present owners, who have remodeled the interior without destroying the exterior appearance. The Fountain Avenue Methodist Church was constructed in 1916 at a cost of $25,000. This congregation was organized in an old store building at 511 North 10th Street in 1892. The congregation later voted to buy new church grounds in the western part of town and bought the large lot at the northeast corner of Fountain Avenue and Monroe Street.
The building at 1531 Broadway was built in 1922 for the First Church of Christ (Scientist). After this congregation moved to a new building, this site was adapted for first a law office then a clothing store.
Three important statues are also included in this neighborhood. Dominating the circular Lang Park on Fountain Avenue is a bronze statue of General Lloyd Tilghman, a Confederate Civil War hero from Paducah. The general is dressed in full field uniform, with top boots, leather gauntlets, and field glasses. The statue was cast under the supervision of Eugene Gargani at Greenpoint, New York. The stone base was furnished by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the statue was paid for by General Tilghman's children. After the statue was unveiled on May 15, 1909, a local writer stated, "The subject is interpreted with such truth and breath, in such an original and distinct style, that it has been pronounced as one of the finest portrait statues in America." Of course, the statue faces South.
Another important statue in the district is that of Chief Paduke, a legendary Indian chief for whom Paducah was named. This statue was chiseled from stone by Lorado Taft of Chicago. It was unveiled at its original site at Fifth Street and Broadway on May 19, 1909. The $3,000 cost was donated by the Paducah Chapter of the Daughters of the Mexican Revolution. After the 1937 flood, the statue was moved to its present site at 19th Street and Jefferson where the Jefferson Street boulevard begins. This statue of Chief Paduke has always been a physical symbol of Paducah and its history.
A third statue is dedicated to Alben Barkley and located at the intersection of Joe Clifton Drive and Jefferson Street. This squat, obelisk was erected after Barkley's death in 1956. Each side of the statue shows Barkley's profile and his last words, spoken at a speaking engagement in Lexington, Virginia: "I would rather serve as a servant in the House of the Lord than as a master in the House of the Mighty."
The residential qualities of the Jefferson Street-Fountain Avenue area have been protected by the efforts of the Jefferson Street Area Association. Members of the association have worked for thirty years to prevent commercial encroachment into the neighborhood. The fact that the neighborhood retains so many of its historic structures is due to the work of the neighborhood association.
Another prominent Paducah drug manufacturer was L. S. DuBois, who lived at 113 Fountain Avenue and later at 129 Fountain Avenue. DuBois came to Paducah in 1876 and established the wholesale drug firm of DuBois and Robertson in 1880. This firm has continued as a wholesale drug firm to the present and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1976.
† Richard Holland, Preservation Director, Paducah-McCracken County Growth, Inc., Jefferson Street-Fountain Avenue Residential District, McCracken County, KY, nomination document, 1982, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.