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Our history

The Inland Waterways Museum is located within the oldest surviving antebellum building in Paducah's historic downtown. Known locally as the Petter Building, this two-story, double-pile, brick structure was built in 1843 to house the newly formed Branch Bank of Louisville. The building still exhibits the original molded lintels, parapet end walls, and denticulated cornice that are characteristic features of the Greek Revival style. 

The Branch Bank of Louisville opened with a cashier named Adam Rankin and James Campbell as the first president. The bank operated until the period of economic uncertainty that accompanied the Civil War. Adam and Sophy Rankin resided in the north first floor and all of the second floor during his employment. In 1848, documented meetings were held in their parlor to organize what is now Grace Episcopal Church. 

From the mid 1870s to 1890, situated on what was then called Main Street, the structure housed at least three separate riverfront hotels. 

In 1890, Henry A Petter bought the building and established a hardware and provisions business that specialized in mill and steamboat supplies. The Petter family sold the property to the City of Paducah in 1995, and in 1996, it was leased to Seamen's Church Institute. 

In the late 1990s, conversations were held between Wayne W. Dyer and Paducah's then mayor, Gerry Montgomery, to discuss the establishment of a museum that showcased the Four Rivers Region maritime heritage. 

Originally opening on August 14, 2003 as the River Heritage Museum, for more than 20 years, our museum has educated locals and tourists alike on the history and importance of our inland waterways and the related industry. 

In 2008, new exhibits opened, including our pilothouse simulator and the hydro-electric dam. With these new exhibits came a new name, the River Discovery Center. For the next 15 years, the River Discovery Center would be a place for children and adults to discover the importances, excitements, and tragedies of the river. 

On August 14, 2023, a new name was announced, the Inland Waterways Museum. Along with this name change came announcements of a renovation project to renovate and expand the educational and exhibit space. Today, many changes are taking place at the Inland Waterways Museum. 

We have initiated a $7 million goal to fully renovated our oldest exhibits, expand into new space, and restore our Founders Room. With the help of a local dnor, we have hired Solid Light fron Louisville, KY to create the plans and help us move forward in ways that will make our community proud of the Inland Waterways Museum. 

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