There was a time when it wasn't a good idea to venture into Lower Town at night.
The neighborhood's historic houses, which date to the late 1800s, had fallen into disrepair, and some had been chopped into apartments owned by absentee landlords. Lower Town also gained a reputation for criminal activity that drove many people away.
In short, it was one of the last places one would pay money to visit.
But times have changed, and visitors to this weekend's annual Lower Town Home & Garden Tour will find a neighborhood filled with thriving gardens, restored houses and galleries, and proud homeowners.
"People have said to me, 'You probably could have built a new house for less money,'" said Dee Felts, a Lower Town resident and chairwoman of this year's tour. "But then what do you have? You just have a new house. This way we feel like we have a piece of history."
Felts' house on North Sixth Street was built around 1880. When she moved in seven years ago, it had been converted to five apartments and required extensive renovation. Now, Felts said, she finds satisfaction in opening her home and enjoys living in Lower Town.
"They're going to have to get me out feet first from that (house)," she said. "It's a nice place to live, I can say that."
Fellow Lower Town resident Anita Stamper places the emphasis on the garden part of the tour. She said she didn't go inside her home with guests at last year's tour, although she finds it interesting that people want to see her house. She opted instead to answer questions about her garden, an eye-catching, fragrant space on the corner of Madison and Eighth streets.
"I like to plant for the people who go by," she said, "even if they don't care about gardens."
Stamper, who has lived in her 6,000 square-foot home since 2007, pushes the envelope in her garden by bringing in plants from the South and Northwest. She says they're "on the edge of hardy," but if they don't make it, she's happy to replace them.
"I like to stick my hands in the dirt. It's pure pleasure for me," she said.
Stamper's home, which also houses a bed and breakfast on the top floor, joins an eclectic list of seven homes and 10 galleries on the tour. The tour runs from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday. A beer, wine and moonshine garden, complete with saxophone music from local musician Reggie LaFaye, will be open from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday.
Proceeds benefit the Lower Town Neighborhood Association's scholarship to the Paducah School of Art & Design. The association pledged $15,000 to endow the scholarship and has paid about two-thirds of the pledge, Felts said.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.
Want to Go?
What: Lower Town Home & Garden Tour.
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Lower Town Arts District.
Tickets cost $10 and are available at Etcetera Coffeehouse, 320 N. Sixth St.; Bebe's Artisan Market, 107 S. Second St.; the Texaco information center at the corner of Madison and North Seventh streets; and Bryerpatch Studio at 502 N. Fifth St. Tickets may also be purchased by calling 270-443-5848.