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Preservation and Loss At Hickman, KY
Preservation and Loss At Hickman, KY

Preservation and Loss At Hickman, KY

I had only been to Hickman, Kentucky on one previous occasion, back when I was in college at the University of Tennessee at Martin. It had been the closest Mississippi River town to the campus, and I drove up there one evening to see it, and ended up eating a hamburger at a bar on the main street of the downtown, Clinton Street. I recalled it as a sort of romantic spot, with an old and historic courthouse high up on the bluff above the old downtown, which was starting to be abandoned due to river scouring of the bluff on which the downtown area sat. At least part of Clinton Street had been barricaded off, and the folks in the bar and grill told me that the area had had to be abandoned due to the instability. That would have been in April of 1987, and I was curious to see how Hickman looked nowadays. In some ways, things had changed for the better, or at least one thing had, in that the Corps of Engineers had received funding to stabilize the bluff, which they did. The project also resulted in a beautiful overlook of the swamps and Mississippi River at a distance, and there’s no better place to park the car and shoot some photos, or just enjoy some peace and quiet. At the highest point of the bluff, I also found that the historic and beautiful Fulton County Courthouse was still standing and in good condition. But down the bluff in the old downtown, things had changed only for the worse. There was no trace of the old bar and grill where I had eaten back in 1987, and nearly every storefront which remained on Clinton Street was vacant. Many vacant lots were places that I seemed to have recalled being buildings when I was last there, and at least one wall was crumbling into a pile of bricks. There were two abandoned law offices, one with legal books still scattered all over the room visible through the windows, a City of Hickman redevelopment office which seemed something of a cruel joke (for it seemed to need redeveloping itself), and an intriguing building called the LaClede Building, big enough to be a hotel, and with a bizarre keyhole-shaped front entrance that I had never seen on any other building. At the convenience store on the outskirts of town, I tried to ask the young man at the cash register what had happened to Hickman, particularly the downtown area. His answer was simply, “There’s never been much here. We’re a poor city, you know.” I left feeling that more needed to be investigated. The next town of any size upriver is Cairo, Illinois, and the conventional wisdom about Cairo is that it was decimated by the racial war and the Black boycott of businesses between 1969 and 1972, but the similar condition of Hickman, Kentucky, where there was (as far as we know) no dramatic racial conflict or rioting suggests that the decline of river towns might have been inevitable and unpreventable rather than something caused by extraordinary events like those Cairo experienced. At any rate, Hickman is rapidly crumbling, and deserves a better fate. With Clinton Street properly restored, Hickman could become a popular stop on the riverboat vacations, and also a tourist destination, but it will require both vision and money, and Hickman seems to be short on both.


  1. I’m from Fulton, KY, which is just east of Hickman, and I’ve seen a rapid decline just within the past 5 years. It could be a beautiful town again, but there’s nothing there to bring people (and revenue). I’ve always thought it was a darkly romantic place. Several years ago, this area had a horrible ice storm, but one of the most beautiful pictures I have ever seen was a picture taken when the entire town was covered in ice.

    1. John Anthony Choate

      I’m from hickman. And both sides of my family. I’m 54 yrs old. It was a wild place to grow up. I miss it a lot. Corps of engineers caused a crack to run thru the bldngs of an entire block in mid 80s. Bldgs/businesses had to be demolished. This was the beginning of the end. I have a facebook pg “Hickman Ky History ” lots of old old pics. Chk it out. Thank you

  2. Elizabeth Hostetter

    I lived in Hickman from 1971-1974 and have two good stories from the Laclede Hotel especially. I don’t know how active this site is so won’t go into detail. If you care to hear them, you can contact me at My husband was pastor then at First Baptist, just steps from the courthouse. We have so many good memories from that small, diverse membership which included the courthouse custodian up through the circuit court judge.

    1. linda miller

      Hello Elizabeth, I saw your post today and I am interested to read about your stories of the Laclede Hotel. Thelma and Ray Gilliam lived there as managers of the hotel in the 1950s. Thelma was my great aunt. I never met her since I have always lived in Ohio, but I am interested in genealogy and related history.

  3. Robin

    Just came across your page after seeing the Laclede Building up for sale for $65k! I wanted to know the story about the horse shoe entry. This was TAKEN FROM THE AD:
    Your Dreams Won’t Wait Forever!!!
    The Laclede Hotel with three floors (Top floor is water view!!) and 29,000+ sf of usable space! Five retail shops available to rent out. 14 hotel rooms, nine with full baths and five with half baths. 1,000 ft dining area and a commercial kitchen plus two additional lots that could be used for parking or to build.
    The photos do show that some of it does need work, but the shops are being worked on. New sheet rock is up on some. You could get folks to rent and do some of the work themselves for their own shop. I have never been to this area and was curious about the horse shoe entry. That is the coolest thing ever! I am a horse person and was totally drawn to it for that reason alone. Plus the price. You can't beat that. You could seriously live upstairs and rent out the shops or create shops yourself to get things rolling. The town seems cool, but without being on a major highway, at least not very close that hurts it. I saw a place called Discovery Park of America in Union City, TN, that isn't far from Hickman. That place gets a lot of traffic. Could be a way to work with them to send some visitors on discovery tours or something. However, the ferry is cool (saw it from the google maps). Not many restaurants or much of anything there. Just beauty ready to be rescued. Festivals, concerts, anything to bring people to the town is what is needed. That doesn't cost much. Just provide a free venue to a promoter and voila! They bring all they need and create the show. Even, antique shows would be great there. The management of the city needs serious help. Because right now with them in place, nothing will ever happen. You don't need tons of money, just vision, intuition and a very good knack for improvisation. Here is the link if you want to post some of the pics and get contact information from the owner. They may have some input on the town.
    Owner will Finance the balance with a 50% down payment!!!

    Max Witzler
    Keller Williams Realty
    Murray, Kentucky

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