Fountain Ave History

History of the Fountain Avenue Area*

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 streetcar 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 housing styling popular during the late Victorian era through the second decade of the twentieth century, more 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 historic neighborhood, with a 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 are already being erected or contracted for in this suburb.”  The leading figure in 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.  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 and 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.
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 Greenspoint, 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.


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.
A 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.  The elaborate Colonial Revival house at 129 Fountain Avenue was built in 1906 by Virgil Sherrill and Russell Lumber Company.  Local legend explains that Sherrill built the house for his financee and used the very finest building materials that his lumberyard could supply.  Unfortunately Sherrill was jilted by his fiancée 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 brew master who came to Paducah in 1901 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.  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 1984 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.


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.
Margaret Hank Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized on August 20, 1849. Reverend Russell Searcy was the first minister at the first location on what is now South Third Street, between Washington and Clark Streets.  When the church was completed, it was on 311 South Locust Street.  In July 1890, a lot on what is now Kentucky Avenue and Sixth Street was purchased for a new building.  Completion was in 1885 and was described in the local paper as “one of the prettiest houses of worship”.  In 1906, this property became a church of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. through litigation.  Having lost their place of worship, the Cumberland Presbyterians bought a Methodist Church on what is now Park Avenue.  The church eventually was named “Park Avenue Cumberland Presbyterian Church”.  Soon after the 1937 flood, fire claimed the building.  A lot on Sixteenth and Park was given to the Church by Mr. Gus Hank in memory of his wife.  On October 2, 1938, the Church became “Margaret Hank Memorial Cumberland Presbyterian Church.”  The new sanctuary was completed on May 17, 1942.

The buildings built in the last decade of the nineteenth century exhibit the mass, scale and detailing typical of late Victorian architecture.  On these houses the wooden sawn decorations typical of Victorian architecture is seen in the detailing on the front porches.  Large Victorian houses distinguished by corner tower include the Magruder House at 103 Fountain Avenue and the Russell House at 201 Fountain Avenue.  The waning years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth saw a reaction against the eclecticism and variety of Victorian architecture and a move toward restraint and classicism.  Another transitional building is the Sherrill-Truitt House at 129 Fountain Avenue.  This elaborate structure is built of brick with stone and wood decorations.  While the dense layering and juxtaposition of details is Victorian inspiration, the decoration is Colonial revival in style.  The flaired-hipped roof is covered with terra cotta tile.  The Overby-Penney House at 231 Fountain Avenue represents another transition.  The house is Colonial Revival in style with its Iconic columned front porch and weighty balanced designed.  However, the earth-tone brick fabric and squat truncated cluster of porch columns indicate the influence of Romanesque Revival.  Many of the other houses in the area can be grouped as Colonial Revival in design.  These houses are usually brick two-story structures distinguished by Classically-inspired font porches.  Among the examples are the Ferguson-Moyers House at 230 Fountain Avenue and the Sherrill-Gasser House at 212 Fountain Avenue.  The yellow brick house at 319 Fountain Avenue is a superb example of another twentieth century architectural development, the Prairie School.  This house has the low, gently pitched roof, abbreviated window openings and lack of historical ornamentation common to Prairie School houses.  This house is also interesting because its trapezoidal shape is bent to fit the curve of Fountain Avenue. *

*Taken in part from the Application to the National Register of Historic Places—Richard Holland 1978