Owensboro is the fourth largest city by population in the U.S. state of Kentucky. It is the county seat of Daviess County. It is located on U.S. Route 60 about southeast of Evansville, Indiana, and is the principal city of the Owensboro, Kentucky, Metropolitan Statistical Area. The city's population was 57,265 at the 2010 U.S. Census, with a metropolitan population of 114,752. The city was named after Colonel Abraham Owen. Owensboro is the second-largest city in the Tri-State region of Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky after Evansville.
According to anthropological studies, Native American culture in the locality dates back 12,000 years, though the last Shawnee Indians were forced to vacate the area before the end of the eighteenth century.
The first European descendant to settle in Owensboro was frontiersman William Smeathers (Smothers) in 1797, for whom the riverfront park in downtown Owensboro is named. A Kentucky Historical Marker is erected in his honor at the park. The settlement was originally known as Yellow Banks, a reference to the color of the banks of the Ohio River. The Lewis and Clark Expedition wintered at what is today's Owensboro prior to departing on their famous travels. In 1817, Yellow Banks was incorporated as a city under the name Owensborough, named after Colonel Abraham Owen. In 1893, the spelling of the name was shortened to its current Owensboro.
In August 1865, Owensboro was subject to a raid by a band of Confederate guerrillas from Tennessee led by Captain Jack Bennett, an officer in Stovepipe Johnson's Partisan Rangers. Bennett's men rode into Owensboro, tried and failed to rob a local bank, took 13 Union soldiers of the 108th Coloured Infantry prisoner, executed them, burned the bodies on a supply boat and escaped back to Tennessee having covered a total of on horseback inside six days. Another major battle occurred south of Owensboro and is today signified by a monument marking the battle located beside US Hwy 431.
There have been several distillers, mainly of bourbon whiskey, in and around the city of Owensboro. The major distillery still in operation is the Glenmore Distillery Company.
On August 14, 1936, downtown Owensboro was the site of the last public hanging in the United States. Rainey Bethea was executed for the rape and murder of 70-year-old Lischa Edwards. The execution was presided over by the first female Sheriff in Kentucky, Florence Thompson.
The end of the Second World War brought civil engineering projects, which helped turn Owensboro from a sleepy industrial town into a modern, expanding community by the turn of the 1960s. Many of the projects were set in motion by Johnson, Depp & Quisenberry, a firm of consulting engineers then engaged in a runway redesign at the County Airport; the 'Depp' in question was a member of an old and prodigious Kentucky family which includes the town's most famous son, actor Johnny Depp.