The settlement was initially known as Yellow Banks, a reference to the color of the banks of the Ohio River. Lewis and Clark are said to have wintered here before embarking on their famous expedition. In 1817, it was incorporated under the name Owensboro, in honor of Colonel Abraham Owen, a military officer and Kentucky legislator.
Manufacturing has played a vital role in the history of Owensboro. Owensboro Wagon Company set the standard for wagons at the turn of the 20th century. The Carriage Woodstock Company, later the Ames Motor Car Company, first specialized in the repair of horse-drawn carriages before switching to the manufacture and sale of cars in 1912. The Kentucky Electrical Lamp Company, established in 1899, was a manufacturer of light bulbs.
The company was eventually purchased by General Electric, where it flourished as a major site for the production of vacuum tubes. The Modern Welding Company, Inc. was founded in 1932 and continues to thrive. It operates nine steel tank and vessel fabrication subsidiaries throughout the United States, as well as five welding supply stores in Kentucky and Indiana.
Owensboro Health Regional Hospital operates a full-service hospital in our city. Through its partnership with Louisville’s Jewish Hospital Heart and Lung Institute, it is able to provide the highest quality of care to heart patients. It is also home to the Owensboro Cancer Research Program, a joint venture with James Graham Brown Cancer Center at the University of Louisville. Owensboro Health Regional Hospital employs 3,000 people, including 200 physicians. On June 1, 2013, the Owensboro Health Regional Hospital represented a new era of healthcare and wellness for the region. Owensboro Regional Hospital serves the medical needs of twelve counties in western Kentucky and two counties in southern Indiana. On average, the regional hospital delivers 1,900 babies, performs 200 open-heart procedures, 600 hip and knee replacements, 65,000 Emergency Department visits and 1.2 million lab tests. Owensboro Regional Hospital is licensed to operate 477 beds, 30 transitional care beds, including a Level III NICU unit making Owensboro Health Regional Hospital one of the largest in Western Kentucky.
Owensboro Public Schools operates five elementary schools, one pre school, one middle school, one high school and an alternative school in our city. Owensboro is also home to Kentucky Wesleyan College, Brescia University, and Owensboro Community and Technical College.
Riverpark Center is the premier landmark along the downtown Owensboro riverfront. This non-profit venue boasts nearly 100,000 square feet including Cannon Hall, a state-of-the-art, 1,479-seat auditorium, a multi-purpose, 300-seat experimental theater, meeting rooms, a brick center courtyard and an outdoor entertainment patio overlooking the lovely Ohio River. The center hosts the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra, Owensboro Dance Theater and various other performances and civic events.
Known as “the longest running show in town,” Theatre Workshop of Owensboro (TWO) has produced quality community theatre entertainment since 1955. Additionally, TWO offers numerous educational and volunteer opportunities. TWO’s home for the past 30 years, the historic Trinity Center, provides an intimate setting for these special performances. TWO is also in the process of renovating the 100-year-old theatre on Frederica Street, which will host larger musicals, concerts and shows.
Owensboro is home to Somthers Park which was ranked top 20 in the "50 Best Playgrounds in America" in 2015. Smothers Park is located along the Ohio River in downtown Owensboro. The park contains three signature fountains and a cascading waterfall at the base of Frederica Street. The Charles Shelton Memorial, a monument to POW’s and MIA’s from all wars is located at the east end of the park. Lazy Dayz Children’s Playground and Spray Park is completely handicap-accessible and has won numerous national and international awards. Walk along the promenade and enjoy watching the Ohio River or relax on one of the swinging metal benches. Many evenings and weekends during mild weather will feature free music or other entertainment at the Overlook.
Bluegrass is the official state music of Kentucky. Be sure to visit the International Bluegrass Music Museum, the world’s only facility dedicated to preserving the legacy of Bluegrass music. In the late 1930s, Bill Monroe and his band, “The Blue Grass Boys,” combined elements of Appalachian mountain music, rural “old time” string playing, folk ballads, blues, African stomp, black and white gospel, thus forming a powerfully unique new sound. In the 1950s, this energetic style became known as Bluegrass, which you can hear drifting from the museum doors and down through the Riverpark complex. The museum houses a comprehensive assortment of permanent and rotating exhibits, in addition to providing education and outreach programs. Saturday Lessons offer musicians the opportunity to receive quality instruction and become part of the largest Bluegrass band on Earth.
As the site of more than 20 annual celebrations, Owensboro is known as “Kentucky’s Festival City.” One of the area’s most anticipated events is the annual ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival, sponsored by the International Bluegrass Music Museum. Taking place each summer at Yellow Creek Park, the celebration features food and craft venders, camping, a water spray park, dancing and live performances by some of the biggest names in Bluegrass today.
Bring a hardy appetite to the world-famous International Bar-B-Q Festival, where the region’s best cooking teams battle for the Governor’s Cup, the prize awarded for serving up the most mouth-watering bar-b-q. Other festivities include the Backyard Cook-off, live music, dancing, a beer garden, carnival rides, face painting, pie and mutton-eating contests.
Owensboro’s biggest party takes place every summer at Reid’s Orchard. The Big O Music Fest brings some of the brightest stars in country music to our town. Fall means it’s almost time for the International Mystery Writers’ Festival. This unique celebration showcases original mystery plays performed in Cannon Hall and the Jody Berry Cabaret Theatre at the Riverpark Center.
Art buffs will love browsing the intriguing collection at Owensboro Museum of Fine Art. Permanent exhibits include works of fine and decorative art from America, Europe and Asia. These masterpieces date from the 15th century to the present. Traveling exhibitions, visual and performing arts, interpretive events and educational programs are offered throughout the year.
Another downtown attraction is the Owensboro Museum of Science & History. Featuring five permanent exhibit galleries and one traveling exhibit gallery, the museum is a wonderful source of learning and entertainment for the entire family. Hands-on educational opportunities, history and science-based activities, diversity programs, student forums, leadership institutes and seminars are also available throughout the year.