Luther F. Carson, founder of the Paducah Coca-Cola bottling plant, knew something had to be done. The McCracken County fair lost its home in 1923 after a property sale, and ever since then, became itinerant.
After the 1936 fair, the future was in doubt. Carson surveyed the land the fair once called home and decided to act. By January 4th, 1937, Carson had purchased the property along North 28th Street and gifted it to McCracken County for the use of training horses and hosting fairs. His gift still serves us today.
"This is history," says Mary Jennett, Carson Park superintendent. "There is a presence here. It is wonderful!"
Mary Has been on the job since 2011, and it is easy to see her enthusiasm and passion for preserving Carson Park and making it accessible for the entire community.
"I am listening to this community," she says, "and listening to the people in this neighborhood, finding out what they want."
Mary started simply by paying close attention to keeping grassy areas mowed and weeded. She planted more flowers, added apple trees, and removed the barbed wire from the surrounding fence. "That was just an eyesore. This is a park, after all!"
Mary's work, whether it is weed-eating or painting a fence, is backed by a vision. "I can see people coming and walking in the park. They can take a beautiful day to picnic and watch the harness horses go around the track. I want to see our community take advantage of this place."
The cornerstone of Carson Park is Floral Hall, an exhibit space built in the late 1800s when the property first hosted the fair. As Mary Stands in the historical hall, her face beams with excitement as she envisions the building's past and its future.
"This is simply an amazing place," she says with a grand smile. "We got in here when I first came on board and removed some walls and a ceiling that wasn't original. We started to see what this hall was like when it was opened over a hundred years ago!"
Mary discovered sturdy beams of rich wood, deep in hue from age. The truss roof juts up, creating a beautiful pattern that had been obscured for many years. Up flights of stairs in all four corners of the building, Mary uncovered two viewing galleries that runs along the length of the building.
"Best we can tell that they would bring live stock through here, and buyers could stand in those areas and look down on the activity below."
One of the most unique features of Floral Hall is an encaged area suspended between the two galleries in the center of the building. "That's the fairground jail," says Mary. "They used it for folks who may have come out here and got drunk and unruly. We're not sure why they had it here other than it provided a place to keep troublemakers out of the way for a while. This was before patrol cars and such, and it may have been a big deal to get someone down to the jail quickly. At any rate, it hasn't been used in years! But we still have it. It is all original!"
Floral Hall, while best known as an exhibition space for the fair, is available for community rental. And Mary loves to see the historical space utilized. "We've had school dances, weddings, fund raisers, quilt week activities, and other events here. We keep the rental low so it is accessible. That is what this park and this building are about."
Mary, with the help of the County Judge Executive and County Commissioners, added insulation as well as central heat and air to the building, giving it the potential for more life year round.
"This was and is an amazing gift to the people of this county. I want to maintain that gift and continue to offer it to our community. It is here for the people."
More information on Carson Park can be found at carsonparkpaducah.com.