Fountain Avenue is one of Paducah’s storied neighborhoods. Rich in history and charm, this community has endured more than ten years of renovation to restore its homes to their once-grand beauty. And, that struggle has made each house a work of art.
Established in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Fountain Avenue once housed some of the city’s most prominent citizens, including Vice President Alben Barkley. These prestigious people traveled to and from downtown on the electric streetcar lines that ran through the area and helped popularize the neighborhood.
As the city grew, beautiful houses popped up along the street, from grand Victorian homes to simple bungalows, and Fountain Avenue became an eclectic collection of suburban architecture. The city even built its first park in the neighborhood, a round patch of green dubbed “Lange Park.” A roundabout later encircled the park and created one of the avenue’s most recognizable features.
“It was one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city, and it still is”
“It was one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city, and it still is,” says Paducah Planning Director Tammara Tracy.
But then, automobiles replaced the streetcars, and Fountain Avenue’s popularity declined. The beautiful homes that once stood proudly along the sidewalks started to age in the latter half of the century. Their paint pealed. Their roofs leaked. And, they failed to attract new owners willing to make updates.
“People find it easier to move to newly constructed homes,” Tammara explains. ”The people who built Fountain Avenue had kids, and those kids went to other areas of the city because they couldn’t find or afford homes in that area. … The trick is to make that transition to the next generation. Some neighborhoods do it better than others.”
However, Paducah never gave up on Fountain Avenue.
In 2007, the city worked with property developers, federal programs, and a local nonprofit called the Midtown Alliance of Neighbors to begin the Fountain Avenue Revitalization Plan. It started offering residents incentives to move into and renovate the worn-out homes, ensuring that each new homeowner would preserve a house’s original aesthetic.
And, the project worked. In the subsequent decade, at least 79 homeowners have snapped up homes in the Fountain Avenue neighborhood and poured time and care into rebuilding these structures. Tammara says the success is a testament to the area’s original beauty.
“One of the key things that made the Fountain Avenue Project work so well was the initial housing stock that was there,” she says. “It was quality upon exuberant quality… You see craftsmanship that you can’t get now.”
Sarah and Calvin Shanks agree. They purchased a 1921 bungalow from the city for $1 in 2008 and spent the next year and a half tearing the house down to its studs so they could rebuild it to suit themselves and their son, Jesse.
“It’s fun to sit on the front porch and wave at people as they walk by”
Sarah says everything about the neighborhood and its revitalization appealed to them. They liked the area’s location in the heart of the city. They liked the neighborhood’s history and story. And, they liked the idea of molding an old bungalow to their exact specifications.
Plus, she says, the project has formed a community of people—both young and old—who have worked hard for their houses and care about the place where they live. Fountain Avenue has gained a friendly, homey atmosphere.
“It’s fun to sit on the front porch and wave at people as they walk by,” she says. “It’s about as ‘Norman Rockwell’ as you want to see.”
The Fountain Avenue Revitalization Plan is still in operation, but there are only a few homes and lots left. Anyone with a love for old houses and a penchant for hard work can find available listings here.
Those who embark upon a renovation adventure on Fountain Avenue can do so knowing they are helping to rebuild a part of Paducah’s past and set a beautiful precedent of community spirit for its future.