Civil War: Financing the Keepers of Kentucky's Memory

Paducah, Kentucky's Lloyd Tilghman House and Museum may not have the cache of Arlington or the Lincoln Birthplace, but it's a must-see if you're looking into the history of the Civil War's western theater. U.S. Grant launched his Fort Donelson campaign from Paducah, William Tecumseh Sherman once commanded Union Soldiers in the city, and Nathan Bedford Forrest raided the river town in 1864. The future author of Ben Hur, Lew Wallace, even got into a fistfight during the war in what is now the museum's main gallery.

The House continued to remain a private residence until the early 1900's. At that time, it became a boarding house, it was a dance studio for some time, then became an office building.

John Weaver is the museum's executive director and a past chairman of the Tilghman Heritage Foundation. The foundation began renovations to the Confederate Brigadier General's house after it was saved from demolition in the mid-1980s. Even though it dodged the wrecking ball, the museum has never entirely escaped a more persistent foe: a lack of money.

"There was a heavy mortgage on the place, and that began to weigh down and weigh down, so from a financial standpoint, for several years, there was great difficulty here," said Weaver.

Different modes of trying to raise money, to service that mortgage were tried, none of them really effective in the long term.

"Fortunately, other local groups like the Market House Museum were able to help, albeit temporarily, until they could work out a more permanent solution, with the Sons of Confederate Vetrans," said Weaver.

But even after the S-C-V stepped in, late 2008, the money problems continued. The building needed more renovations, and on average, it costs $15,000 per year to keep the doors open.

Enter the Transportation Equity Act of 1998, which provided grants for local historic preservation. So, the museum applied. Five or six times. The last application Weaver oversaw was in early 2008. He says no one else had applied, and the board thought, "Maybe this is our year."

"As it turned out," Weaver said. "The grant money, I believe, was given to the project of building a walking path or a bike path on one of the flood walls here in Paducah. So once again, we did not get our grant money."

Weaver waves off any suggestion the funding didn't come through because of their association with the SCV. The organization has been controversial in the past, particularly in defense of Confederate symbols.

"All the times that we applied for grants was prior to the SCV owning the building," Weaver said.

They've explored other ways to raise money, other ways that also attract attention, like last year's ghost walk at the house. Weaver says these fundraising events foot the museum's annual expenses. He also says the 5 thousand yearly visitors help. And thanks in part to the Civil War Sesquicentennial, those numbers are going up.

"Lots and lots of the visitors that we get are out-of-state visitors, as a matter of fact,I had visitors from Wisconsin, I had visitors from Indiana, I had visitors from Illinois," Weaver said. "If it's somebody from this area, they come in and say, Oh, I didn't know all this was here. This is really wonderful, said Weaver"

Those out-of-state visitors tend to leave with good impressions. One reviewer on wrote, " is an excellent example of how informative even small museums can be. This turned out to be one of the nicest surprises in Paducah."

Weaver says the museum isn't going anywhere, and they haven't given up on the grant process. So, the battle to preserve a unique part of a unique city's Civil War history will continue.