The 1937 Flood

Historical Marker #1053 in McCracken County commemorates the devastating flood of 1937. This flood led to some 27,000 citizens to be evacuated and caused several million dollars' worth of damage.

January 1937 opened with a two-week period of rain in Paducah, followed by a sleet storm. As residents were accustomed to rising waters, few were initially concerned. By January 19, however, it became clear that the water was reaching an ominous level, prompting the chairman of the Red Cross to appoint emergency committees.

Emergency responses were complicated by downed lines of communication. Telephones, telegraphs, and radio stations were rendered silent, leaving people to worry about the safety of their family and neighbors in Paducah and beyond. By January 30, water levels reached approximately fifty-nine feet, and the complete evacuation of the town came under military supervision.

The flood reached its highest point on February 2. Nearly ninety-five percent of Paducah was submerged as water levels swelled to 60.8 feet. When the water subsided, the displaced citizens of Paducah returned to unsafe buildings, utilities that required renovations, and millions of dollars in property damage.

After the disaster, talk of constructing a flood wall began circulating the city. On February 22, a petition was sent to the U.S. Congress to build a levee to protect Paducah. Work on it began soon after. A worst-case scenario test, conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1968, determined that the flood control available from dams on the Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers, along with the Paducah floodwall, would prevent an occurrence like 1937 from happening again.