With the arts, the railroad, and steamboats, downtown Paducah is full of history. Did you know that Ella Fitzgerald — Ike and Tina Turner, Louis Armstrong and the Harlem Globetrotters — once frequented the downtown area? She and the others all came to stay at the Hotel Metropolitan, which is full of 110 years of stories and history.
When you get to the Hotel Metropolitan, it's easy to see the charm it brings to Paducah, but what you can't see are the stories that are inside about its history.
Betty Dobson is the hotel director. One thing she really enjoys about her job is giving tours.
“When they grab the stairwell, they’re grabbing the same stairwell that all those famous people —Ike and Tina Turner, Billie Holiday, Thurgood Marshall. They all had their hands on this particular railing going up to their rooms,” said Dobson.
The hotel opened in 1909, but in 1999 it was condemned. That’s when Dobson’s organization, the Uppertown Heritage Foundation, stepped in. Nine years of hard work and community support later they were able to restore it to its former glory, opening up once again in 2008.
Each room upstairs tells a story and showcases a different part of African American history. The Underground Railroad Room focuses on slavery, including Gordy, who Dobson calls the poster boy for slavery. "They would use his back, showing his back to other slaves to deter them from running," said Dobson. "People were sold just like you would sell corn, wheat or tobacco. The going rate was about $1,200 for a young man, and if you were young woman of mixed race you were referred to as a wench. You were also able to work inside the house because of your light complexion."
One of the displays you’ll find on the wall shows quilt code patterns, which were used by the conductors of the Underground Railroad.
“If you saw the bear paw quilt displayed, that meant you would find food and water. If you saw the monkey wrench, that meant something was wrong,” said Dobson.
There’s also the Emancipation Proclamation Room and the Paducah Room, which features pictures of what the city looked like in the 1930s. There's also a list of African Americans who joined the regiment to fight during the Civil War. Dobson says some of their descendants still live in Paducah.
In the USA artillery room, there's a display case that includes several mementos, including chains that were used on slaves during the 1800s.
“This is probably one of our most powerful exhibits," said Dobson. "When people come in on occasion, we’ll unlock it and get the slave chains out. To feel them gives you a weird since of loss.”
To keep the hotel running they bake pies, sell baked goods and hold a fish fry on the first Friday of every month. This weekend they're hosting the 10th Annual Grand Ma's Recipes, which is a soul food sampler. You can try things like fish, chittlings, pit feet, chicken, greens and other soul food favorites.
You can learn more about the history of African Americans and Paducah by going on a tour of the Hotel Metropolitan at 724 Oscar Cross Avenue.
100 Television Lane
Paducah, KY 42003