With city plans to demolish the condemned building, she envisioned breathing new life into the structure to share Paducah’s stories of African American history.
“[Hotel Metropolitan] was opened in 1908,” Betty Dobson, director and curator, said. “Maggie Steed, a young African American woman wanted to provide decent lodging for her people, people of color…Under Jim Crow laws, you had to go to facilities to accommodate you. Maggie had a vision of doing so and got the hotel built.”
Well-known African Americans like Ella Fitzgerald, Louie Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles Robinson, Bessie Smith, Jesse Owens and many more artists, authors, athletes, and musicians traveling on the Chitlin’ Circuit spent the night and walked the halls of Hotel Metropolitan.
“It’s just historic in all aspects,” Dobson said. “The building in itself is historic. The people who stayed here who were legendary make it historic. It’s just the community which it stands in is historic and tells the story of Paducah’s African American community. It’s just not Paducah’s African American community, it’s our community as a whole.”
After being closed for years, Hotel Metropolitan officially reopened in 2008 as a hotel and museum. The upstairs reflects what the guestrooms once looked like when guests were passing through. All the meals are homemade, and Dobson said on the first Friday of the month, they have a fish fry open to the public. For a tour of the hotel, visitors can walk through, or request an experience tour where Dobson will dress up as Steed.
Though, Dobson said the experience tour is different and unique.
“You get a unique reading at the door, that I don’t want to put it out there and rob people of, but if you are white and you come here and you order the experience tour, I’d let you know that you can’t come in here,” she said.
When she tells them they can’t come inside, Dobson said “it takes them back.”
“When they knock on the door, they aren’t getting in here,” Dobson said. “I close the door in their face. And when they knock again, I’ll just let them know this is what black people felt. They can’t let you in. [They] could go to jail.”
Dobson said this helps put history into perspective and she doesn’t do it to be rude, but she wants them to understand how African Americans felt during this time period.
Hotel Metropolitan is celebrating its 10-year anniversary of being open, but Dobson has been an advocate for the hotel for 19 years.
“You know how sometimes you think, ‘Why me Lord?,’” Dobson said.
Through the years she has worked hard to establish the hotel and she loves learning more about history, but she said she know she won’t be here forever. Her hope is that someone with her same dedication and passion will want to take it over.
“It’s just like going to church how they say if you don’t train up your young in the way you want them to go, then I think that is the way it is here,” Dobson said. “I am passionate about it because I like history and I feel empowered when I hear our history. I can’t speak for others but I feel empowered and proud of we made it from there to here. I hope that I can get someone else excited and they will take it another 20 years.”
Hotel Metropolitan is located on Oscar Cross Avenue. To schedule a tour or book a room, call 270-443-7918.
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