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Hotel Metropolitan:
Paducah, Kentucky

Hotel Metropolitan, Ausugt 2002, in the middle of structural renovation work

Photo by Rick Coltharp, courtesy of Ray Black and Son, Inc. and the Upper Town Heritage Foundation
The Hotel Metropolitan, the first hotel owned and operated by and for African Americans in Paducah, was constructed for a young black woman in 1909. Maggie Steed, like many Paducah women, took boarders into her home, generating income while providing a much-needed service to newcomers. In 1904 her husband Henry Steed had purchased a small frame house around the corner from the African American business district that was thriving along 7th Street. A year and a half later, when Maggie was not yet 30 years old, Henry Steed passed away and the house was deeded to his wife. In the fall of 1908, Mrs. Steed used the title to her property to secure the lumber she would need to build a hotel. Her house was razed and the hotel was completed by the spring of 1909. At the end of five years, after paying $1,250 plus interest, Maggie Steed regained the full title to the property.

Historic photo of the Hotel Metropolitan, c.1915, which first appeared in The Golden Jubilee of the General Association of Colored Baptists in Kentucky: The Story of 50 Years' Work From 1865-1915

Photo courtesy of Pen Bogert of the Filson Club Historical Society

In its early years the hotel hosted the participants of the General Association of Colored Baptists in Kentucky and other conventioneers. Well-known musicians and travelling performers such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Chick Webb's orchestra, B.B. King, Bobby "Blue" Bland and Ike and Tina Turner were guests of Maggie Steed's Hotel Metropolitan or the neighboring Jefferson Hotel, the only accommodations for African Americans in the area. Fifty years ago Lester and Olivia Gaines bought and refurbished the Hotel Metropolitan. Some of the Hotel Metropolitan's new clientele included men who came to town to work on construction at the nearby atomic energy plant and dams at the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. These workers kept rooms full and inspired several other short-lived African American hotels during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Although hotels were desegregated after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, the hotel continued to serve out-of-towners until 1996. In a 1915 publication from the General Association of Colored Baptists Maggie Steed explained that she "saw the need of a modern hotel in the city to accommodate her people" and "being economical and having a business mind" she was able to fill this need.

Hotel Metropolitan, December 2002, after recent renovation

Photo by Rick Coltharp, courtesy of Ray Black and Son, Inc. and the Upper Town Heritage Foundation
A complete renovation of the hotel is underway. Using two $100,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grants and $100,000 appropriated by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2000, the Upper Town Heritage Foundation (UTHF), a small non-profit corporation, has completed serious structural repairs on the building and only the finishing touches remain on the exterior shell renovation. We are currently seeking the funding needed to complete the interior installation of mechanical and utility systems an to refinish the interior. When the restoration is complete, the historic hotel will house a museum for preserving and sharing Paducah's African American history. Rotating exhibits downstairs will focus on various aspects, challenges and successes, of African American life in Paducah from the Antebellum period onward. Honoring the museum's historic role as a hotel, permanent exhibits will focus on the experiences of African American travelers during Segregation. Different guestrooms upstairs (and the single shared bath with its original fixtures) will be finished and furnished to reflect what they would have looked like during various decades of the hotel's operation with interpretive tours and other educational activities. Several of the guestrooms will even be prepared so that visitors who wish to extend and deepen their experience of the hotel can stay overnight.

For further information on this project, please contact Betty Dobson, UTHF President at
270-443-7918 or Sharon Poat, UTHF Secretary at 270-443-9229.

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