The 1937 Flood

The 1937 Flood in Paducah

by Tom Osborne (

Paducah was built on the banks of the Ohio River at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers.  For almost all of its life, Paducah and the river cooperated to promote the growth of the city.  But on January 21, 1937, the Ohio River rose above the 52.7 foot flood stage and the waters flowing over the earthen levee laid seige to the city.

The flooding was caused by unusually heavy rainfall; in Paducah 18 inches fell in 16 days.  It was in January, and at times the flood waters had a skim of ice.  For two weeks the river continued to rise, cresting at 60.8 feet on February 2, and about 27,000 residents were forced to evacuate and live in temporary shelters, or with friends or relatives.  The river slowly receded and dropped below the 50-foot flood stage on February 15, and the residents started to return to clean up the mess.

The story of the 1937 Flood in Paducah is told by Bill Bartleman in the Discover 2000 Special Publication of The Paducah Sun, published on Friday, September 8, 2000, and is posted at: A few additional pictures of Paducah during the flood are at  The flood affected all towns along the river from north of Cincinatti, OH southward.  For more information, go to and search on " flood of 1937".

After the 1937 flood, a new floodwall was built around Paducah and it has become a centerpiece with murals telling the story of Paducah's history.  For more about the famous murals, see

The 1937 flood is an unforgetable event for three generations of our Osborne and Burnett families.  William and Lula and the younger children lived far enough out on the Hinkelville road that their property was not affected.  However the family business, the Osborne Lumber Company, was in downtown Paducah and was flooded.  Carl and Mary L lived at the Houser Place near Nobel Park, and the water got into the basement, but they didn't have to evacuate.  The Burnetts lived well out of town, and not owning property in the city, were not affected directly.  However the daily lives of these generations were totally disrupted and redirected for over a month, and left us with vivid memories or our town, Paducah, which we will never forget.

The pictures below were in the collection of Louise Earnhardt Osborne.  Most have labels, but most don't really need labels for those of us who have driven up and down Broadway and turned around at the floodwall many times.

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