Matt Jaeger, McCracken County Library Assistant
What do you think?
A birthday is defined as 1) the day of a person’s birth and 2) a day of origin. When you’re talking about people, that day is pretty easy to determine. When you’re talking about a town’s origin, however, perhaps the answer is a tad grayer.
There are three important dates in Paducah’s history, all of which involve Acts passed by the Kentucky General Assembly, which could vie for Paducah’s date of birth: the establishment of the town, the incorporation of the town, and the incorporation of the city.
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE TOWN OF PADUCAH
In 1827, William Clark platted out the town and gave Paducah its name. Three years later, the Commonwealth of Kentucky recognized this plan, and on January 11, 1830, the state’s General Assembly passed an Act to establish Paducah as a town, stating “that the town of Paducah, in the county of McCracken, be, and the same is hereby established upon the plan which has been formed and laid down…” With establishment, the General Assembly named five early residents as trustees of the town, who in their prescribed duties, were allowed to pass bylaws which they thought “advisable for the government of said town” and to levy taxes.
INCORPORATION OF THE TOWN OF PADUCAH
Eight years later, having duly established itself, Paducah’s status was once again brought before the General Assembly. On February 13, 1838, the Assembly approved Paducah’s incorporation, stating that “the town of Paducah, as now established by law, within the boundaries defined in the plat of said town, is hereby declared to be the town of Paducah.” In a nutshell, with incorporation, the town of Paducah became a recognized legal entity which could enter into legal contracts. It could sue and be sued. The power of the Trustees was greatly expanded with this Act, and the election of further officers was put forth, including a Clerk, Assessor, Treasurer, Marshal, and Market Master.
INCORPORATION OF THE CITY OF PADUCAH
Settled into its township, we flash forward 18 years in Paducah’s history, when on March 10, 1856 the General Assembly approved an “Act to incorporate the city of Paducah.” Paducah was no longer an established town or an incorporated town, but a city! The approved Act in 1856 included 32 pages that outlined the corporate structure of the city, which included the establishment and election of mayors, judges, city attorneys, wharfmasters, and a city council. The Act also states that it was now okay for the city to pave the sidewalks and roads.
SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Traditionally, the city of Paducah has recognized the 1856 date as its birthday. In 1956, we threw ourselves a mighty fine centennial celebration. And this date does make total sense: we are a city now and on March 10, 1856, we were officially declared to be one.
Then again, we couldn’t have become an incorporated city without first becoming an incorporated town, so perhaps the Act on February 13, 1838, the Act which established the town of Paducah as a legal entity, represents its true birth date.
But, then again, you can only be born once for the first time, and on January 11, 1830, the Commonwealth of Kentucky recognized Paducah’s name and its plan for growth. Paducah could be established. Paducah could call itself a town. So maybe, just maybe, January 11, is our day of origin. Maybe three days from now is our city’s birthday.
If you agree, raise a glass on January 11 and wish our established town a Happy 185th Birthday. Or you perhaps you’d rather wait until February 13 and wish our incorporated town a Happy 177th. Or maybe you’ll postpone the celebration to March 10, so you can wish our incorporated city, a Happy 159th!
Let us know what you think!
For more confusing origin stories, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this post, make sure to “like” our Facebook page as well.