Once upon a time, in the days before and after World War II, it was not necessary to travel from north-central Marshall County to Paducah or Murray or even Benton or Calvert City to get whatever one needed.
Why, right there in Palma, there were four grocery-general merchandise stores and a blacksmith shop.
There was an automotive repair shop, too, but that requires some explanation.
Five of the establishments were owned by men named Pugh, Peel, Powell, Poe and Peck.
“Charlie Wyatt’s garage was in there too,” remembers lifelong resident Edward Poe. “But they didn’t let him in because his name didn’t start with a ‘P’.”
Edward and his twin brother Edwin, two of the four sons of store owner Edwin Poe, have come to be known as unofficial caretakers of the history of the community. Edward even built a miniature diorama of the Palma community as it was in the 1940s, when he was growing up there.
The Poes refer to an article by historian, journalist and retired college professor Berry Craig of Mayfield to explain the name of the community, which as locals know is pronounced “PAL-ma,” as in “my pal Joey,” and not “PALM-a,” as in the tropical tree.
Craig’s guess is that the name came from America’s war with Mexico and the battle at Resaca de la Palma, where Zachary Taylor led the American forces to victory on May 9, 1846, south of the Rio Grande near Brownsville, Texas.
There were, indeed, some Mexican War veterans from Marshall County, Craig’s research revealed, so it is a plausible explanation.
At any rate, regardless of how the name came to be, the community was established in the mid-19th century on the high land between the Tennessee and Clarks rivers.
The Palma Church was organized in 1867, but the community was formed years before that.
The area was known as a source of clay, and Palma played a part in that early industry with a deposit at a spring near the home of J.T. Pugh, “a few miles east of Palma,” according to Lemon’s Handbook of Marshall County.
There are historical references to Col. Alfred Johnston, a Caldwell County native, who waged a successful bid for state senate against James Brien, then withdrew from politics and went into business in Palma in 1851. The War Between the States took Johnston into Confederate military service, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Other figures from the 19th century who figure in Palma’s history include:
n Joseph H. Little, who came to Marshall County from Henry County, Tenn., in 1866 and worked his way up from poverty to ownership of some 300 acres of farmland.
n C.H. Starks, who taught two years at Palma School and then went into business in a general store with partner W.R. Truitt.
n Martin B. Cooper, who partnered with his brother, George, in a general store in Palma in the late 1880s and later joined with C.H. Starks to establish the Starks & Cooper boot, shoe and clothing business in Benton.
Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series installment on Marshall County reports that Palma had a post office “until 1905.”
Loss of the post office did not retard the community’s progress much. Edwin Poe remembers that during World War II, his father’s store, which boasted a radio and a telephone, was a communications center.
“Everybody would come to the store to get their news,” he said.
He described the anxiety about native son H.B. Landrum and his wife, Irene, who were both at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked the U.S. Navy base.
“Everybody was worried,” he said. “They wanted to know if [the store] would get a phone call.” After about a week, he said, the call came. The Landrums were not among the many mlitary and civilian casualties in the event that thrust America into World War II.
A few years before the war, in 1938, the radio drew basketball fans from west of Palma along U.S. 68, as the Sharpe High School Green Devils played their way to a state championship.
“Everybody came up here and listened to the game on the radio,” Poe said.
After the war, attention returned to one of Palma’s long-standing institutions: baseball. The National Pastime was most definitely a big deal in Palma. The ball field owned by Edwin Poe played a significant role in that popularity.
Large crowds gathered at the field, on the top of a gentle rise on the northeast side of U.S. 68.
These were not merely recreational activities. In 1946, the Palma team won the inaugural Eastern Division championship of the Twin States League, a semi-pro baseball organization that thrived in southern Illinois and western Kentucky in the post-war years.
Edward and Edwin Poe, who went to Benton High School, were baseball standouts, Edwin as a pitcher and Edward as his catcher.
But the best of them all, the Poes say, was Cotton Wyatt, who starred for the Palma nine.
The ball field was behind Poe’s store, which in the 1950s became the largest retailer of Hotpoint appliances in three states.
Today, there is the Palma Methodist Church and Zion’s Cause Baptist Church. Holley Office Products is on the eastern fringe, the Texas Gas pipeline operation has a transmission station and there are a number of small businesses that are active.
The “greater metropolitan area” extends far beyond the town limit signs that identify Palma, and its unofficial territory extends from Draffenville to Sharpe, from Griggstown to Possum Trot and U.S. 62.
Palma retains a strong sense of community fitting its long and colorful history.