Preservation and Loss At Hickman, KY

ghost towns, Photography, Travel


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.

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One thought on “Preservation and Loss At Hickman, KY

  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.

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