Ranked 93rd out of the top 100 cities in Money Magazine’s 2010 “America’s Best Places to Live,” Owensboro, Ky., also was honored in 2003 as Kentucky’s No. 1 sports town as judged by Sports Illustrated magazine. And the seat of government for Daviess County was named No. 1 in the state for “Best Place to Raise Your Kids: 2010," as stated in Business Week magazine.
With its low cost of living, sophisticated amenities, great sports facilities, a stable economy, good school test scores and a low crime rate, Owensboro, Kentucky’s third-largest city with a population of about 55,000, has been referred to as an “Urban Oasis.”
The city has recently begun its renaissance with more than $1.5 billion in public investment.
Known as Kentucky’s Festival City, Owensboro hosts more than 20 festivals and fairs annually, drawing tourists world-wide. The self-proclaimed “Bar-B-Q Capital of the World,” the city holds the “International Bar-B-Q Festival” annually, with contestants competing for the Governor’s Cup. In addition, there is a Backyard Cook-Off contest, carnival rides, classic car show, midway games, pie-eating contest, and face painting. And what sets Owensboro apart from other such BBQ centers is its mutton -- slow-roasted and basted frequently.
Music lovers enjoy the Gospel Festival, and ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival. Thousands attend the weekly summer series, “Friday after 5” outdoor concerts, downtown along the Ohio River.
The city also boasts the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra, and the International Bluegrass Music Museum. The Father of Bluegrass Music, Bill Monroe, who was raised in nearby Rosine, Ky., is being celebrated on what would have been his 100th birthday. The Bill Monroe Centennial Art Exhibit is the first exhibit in the set, which opened at the museum during the Blue Grass Boys Reunion on opening day of ROMP 2010. The final Bill Monroe Centennial Exhibit will open September 13, 2011, the anniversary of his birth.
In 2010, Global Traveler Magazine and the Southeast Tourism Society have each deemed the International Mystery Writers’ Festival held in Owensboro as a premier August festival not to be missed. The most recent event drew celebrated authors Sue Grafton and Mary Higgins Clark. The festival accepted submissions from writers, seeking the “next great play, screenplay, teleplay, or short story” written in the mystery/thriller/suspense/adventure generes. Selected finalists’ works were presented in live productions during the 2010 festival.
A busy regional performing arts and civic center, the RiverPark Center presents more than 1,000 events annually, highlighted with Broadway tour shows. The city is also home to Owensboro Museum of Fine Art, the Owensboro Museum of Science and History, and the Western Kentucky Botanical Garden.
Settled in 1800 by William Smeathers (Smothers), the settlement then called Yellow Banks was later incorporated as the city of Owensborough, honoring Col. Abraham Owen. The spelling of the town’s name was shortened to Owensboro in 1893. In 1864, Confederate soldiers set fire to portions of the town, including its courthouse. The final public hanging in the US occurred in downtown Owensboro on August 14, 1936.
Today, Owensboro is known as the region’s center for industry, medicine, retail and culture. Home in the '60s to the Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Harland Sanders, Owensboro also claims actor Johnny Depp as a former resident.
It is also home to Kentucky’s Wesleyan College, Brescia University and Owensboro Community and Technical Collage.
Written by Kathleen Cooney