After our rather unsatisfying and disappointing BBQ dinner, we wandered around the center of Owensboro to take photos and explore.
This is the former Carnegie Free Public Library. This Beaux-Arts structure was built in 1909. In 1903, the Owensboro Business Men’s Association had solicited at $30,000 donation from Andrew Carnegie for a library building. For a time, Carnegie was the richest man in the world. In any case, city budgeted funds were added to public contributions to buy the lot and plan for construction of the building.
In 1968 the library was moved to a larger building and this structure became the home of Owensboro’s “Area Museum” in 1968. In 1977 that museum moved to another facility and the former library building became the home of the Museum of Fine Art.
I took a virtual tour of the Art Museum and it appears to be quite a collection of an eclectic and quality grouping of art forms. One display includes 16 large stained glass church windows from the late 1800s. To learn more, go to .
Another building of note in Owensboro is the three-story Federal Building and U.S. Post Office. The structure is the finest example of Beaux-Arts architecture in the city. It also is the more architecturally significant civic building.
· Owensboro has been the home of many sports stars and celebrities. The Hayden family provided 3 racing professionals and the Green Family did the same for NASCAR. As regards the latter organization, both Michael and Darrell Waltrip are from Owensboro. The best known celebrities from town were Tom Ewell, Florence Henderson and Johnny Depp.
· As of the most recent census data, the Owensboro metropolitan area has about 117,000 residents.
· FYI, Owensboro is the home of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Museum. You can learn all about it at .
I couldn’t find any historical reference to this building or buildings in downtown Owensboro. However I’d be really surprised if this handsome and eye-catching structure wasn’t part of one of the city’s commercial districts that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, the data bank at the National Register is incomplete for the great majority of the historic structures in the city. The Register includes 34 listings for Owensboro included 4 Historic Districts, each containing a number of buildings or historic places.
Currently, the row of store fronts in this old building has 3 businesses in place. Riverwalk Razor Barber Shop; Hooded Crow Tatoo Shop and; Vintage Stripes Barber Academy. I’m guessing that they are all related…
· Unfortunately, the history of Owensboro was severely blemished in August of 1936. That’s when the downtown area became the site of the last public hanging in the USA. A 26 year old African American man was convicted and sentenced for the rape and murder of a 70 year old woman. Only 37 days lapsed between the crime and the execution. A carnival atmosphere was in place on the day the accused man, Rainey Bethea, was hung. There were food vendors, as well as a large crowd including children and reporters. Worse yet, before Bethea was dead, the crowd began to tear at his clothes and even his body for souvenirs. Following this sad and embarrassing fiasco, the Kentucky General Assembly quickly abolished public executions.
We both loved the look of this narrow three-story Romanesque Revival building. The Breidenbach building, completed in 1890, remains one of the best examples of this style of architecture in Owensboro’s downtown commercial area. The structure was part of what was then called “Court Row” and it was constructed by Edward H. Breidenbach, the Light and Water Superintendent for the city for over 50 years. Breidenbach was also a distiller, city commissioner and an extensive land owner. In recent times, the building served as a law office but now it is the headquarters for MediaWorks Advertising, a company that has been in business since 1996
This is the old Odd Fellows Building. This eclectic Beaux Arts and Italian Renaissance three-story structure was built in 1895 but unfortunately, part of the street level portion has been poorly altered. The Odd Fellows chapter had 125 members in 1895 when the building was completed. The Odd Fellows Lodge was on the third floor, while the rest of the building was commercial, the second floor serving as office space and the first floor as retail space.
The Lodge was organized in 1856 and it owned half of the “Court Row” block at the time they built this structure. I noted that this 22,255 sq. ft. building was sold at auction in May of 2022. It cost $610,000. Currently, the building is the home to a restaurant, Colby’s Fine Foods and Spirits. If you’re interested, you can learn more about this restaurant at .
I couldn’t find out anything about this juxtaposition of what I’m sure is at part of an historical structure and a modern glass addition. It was an interesting and eye-catching concept which preserved the front of an impressive old building while serving the needs of the Truest Bank Corporation. A similar and more dramatic mix of old and new was created a number of years ago in Paris France with the expansion of the Louvre.
· The first European who settled at Owensboro was frontiersman William “Bill” Smeathers in 1797. A restless soul, he moved around quite a bit, ending up in Texas. He fought in The War of 1812 and in the Texas Revolution. In 1909, when living in Kentucky, using the name “Bill Smothers”, he was tried for the murder of a man who allegedly raped his sister. He was acquitted but advised to leave the area for a while. For more on Bill Smeathers, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Smeathers.
· The settlement that was to become Owensboro was originally known as “Yellow Banks” after the color of the land beside the Ohio River. In 1817, the town was renamed “Owensborough”, after Colonel Abraham Owen. Owen served as a colonel and as aide-de-camp to William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe, where he was killed in 1811.
· Owensboro was incorporated in 1817 and during the 1800s it developed as a market for tobacco and a center for distilling bourbon whiskey. By 1900, the city could count 12 active distilleries and 25 tobacco stemmeries. FYI, a stemmery is a building where tobacco leaves are stripped for the production of tobacco products.
The Beaux Arts style Callas Sweet Shop was built in 1921. The National Register of Historic Places termed it ‘elegant’ and described it: “The buff color terra cotta and tile decorative elements, such as brackets, shields, and cornices, create a simple, classical appearance”.
Listed in the National Register in 1986, the building was deemed significant as “having the only surviving example of complete terracotta tile fronts in downtown Owensboro. The original owner was a European immigrant who started out shining shoes. His first shop was called Progress Candy. He built this shop next door to the Empress Theater. When Callas’ health failed he rented it to a local who added sandwiches to the menu. For many years, a visit to the Callas Sweet Shop was an Owensboro tradition…
More recently, for several years this building served as “Bill’s Restaurant”. Today, it is once again a restaurant. Now it is called “Sassafras”. See
This is the old Trinity Episcopal Church in the 400 block of West 5th Street in Owensboro. Listed on the National Register since 1972, this building was built way back in 1875. In 2 years it will be 150 years old… The structure has the attractive straightforward lines of typical village Gothic Chapels that are found across the English countryside. It is the oldest brick church building in town…
The church was first organized in the Masonic Lodge with services being held over Dr. McGill’s Drug Store. A bit later, church members bought a carpenter’s shop and worshipped there until this building was completed. Trinity Episcopal Church would seat 600 people and many people thought that it was too large for the city.
Owensboro acquired the Old Trinity Centre/Church in 1972 and it was offered to the Theater Workshop of Owensboro in 1973. For many years, theater productions were staged here but in the 1990s, play productions were moved to the new RiverPark Center. In 1999, a major renovation of Trinity Centre was completed and productions are once again being staged in its intimate auditorium. You can learn more about the Theater Workshop of Owensboro at
This big blue Queen Anne style home caught our eye. The James J. Sweeney House was built in 1893. The home ranks among the finest examples of late nineteenth century domestic architecture in Owensboro. James Sweeney was a prominent local attorney who was a partner in the law firm with his father and a brother. The home served as a residence for over 70 years. The five bedroom and five bath home has 8,580 sq. ft. of space.
In the 1970s the Sweeney home was converted into a restaurant. But in 1980, it was sold to owners who rehabilitated it for use as a private residence once more. The current on-line estimated value for this property is $658,100.
I borrowed this old photo from the internet as this old home was being rehabilitated/updated when we stopped by. Scaffolding doesn’t make for a great photo. This home, referred to as the Gillim House, was built ca. 1880 by John Woolfolk, a local business entrepreneur. A few years later, he sold it to C.D. Jackson, a relative of President Andrew Jackson and a major local landholder. When Jackson died, his heirs sold it to a wealthy distiller who, a few years later sold it to J.D. Powers, an attorney and state legislator. Finally, it was purchased by Dr. W.F. Gillim who owned it for 31 years…hence its known as the Gillim House.
The home became a boarding house for the upper class in the 1930s. In 1959, it was converted to a private members only dining club, hence the photo showing it as the Campbell Club. Once again, it has changed hands. Small world… Bill Hughes, the former chef and general manager of the Campbell Club and the former owner/operator of Bill’s Restaurant in the Callas Sweet Shop location has moved on. The Gillim House will now be known as the Cupola Club and that same Bill Hughes is the proprietor. I’d provide the contact information but this is a members’ only dining opportunity...
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by for a visit!
Care, Big Daddy Dave