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The Citistate in Brief

Owensboro, with a 1990 population of 53,549, is Kentucky’s third-largest city, located 100 miles south of Louisville on the Ohio River. It is the capital seat of Daviess County, which had a population of 87,189 in 1990, up 1.4 percent in a decade. The county covers 463 square miles in the western Kentucky coal field region. Except for Owens, the county has only one other incorporated town – Whitesville. There are separate city and county school districts, and six special districts.

The Peirce Report Glossary

Fiscal Court is the name assigned to the county government (a throw-back to early days when territorial moneys flowed through it.) Griffith Avenue is a major Owensboro residential street, known for its lovely dogwoods in the spring, a route on which many prominent citizens build their homes. One such citizen, shopping mall magnate David Hocker, has such a massive Griffith Avenue home that the text makes jocular reference to it as the “House of Hocker.” Stone Creek is an area where homes are more properly identified as estates. Thorobred Acres is a typical middle-class housing development filled with a labyrinth of residential streets rather than anything like the straight-away racetrack its name suggests.

The West End historically housed Owensboro blacks, as well as a spare scattering of poor whites. The East End tended to be dominated by poor whites. Smothers Park, on the waterfront, has fountains, flags, and boat launching ramps. English Park, also on the waterfront, has an outdoor amphitheater capable of seating 10,000 to 15,000 people for music festivals and other activities. Downtown Owensboro Inc. promotes the downtown’s business and commercial life. The Campbell Club is Owensboro’s “establishment” social club. The Owensboro Career Development Association seeks to help young blacks, mainly in grades four to eight, raise their sights academically so that more will become interested in going to college and into business and professional lives.

Owensboro, Kentucky: Reforging Community

(Originally published in the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer September 29-October 3, 1991.)

On a perfect spring day, the little Cessna lifts off from Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport, quickly revealing to us three worlds: western Kentucky’s fertile fields, the city of Owensboro, and that mighty lifeline and geologic creator, the Ohio River. We had come for several days of interviewing, to meet and talk with a broad cross section of the leaders, exalted and humble, of Owensboro and Daviess County. But first, to our delight, we were able to get this bird’s-eye view of the Owensboro region.

In a broad semicircle, we flew west over the Audubon Parkway, sighted Alcoa’s red and white smokestacks across the river, identified the future Scott Paper Company site.

Then our pilot picked up the tree-lined, meandering Green River, took us in a wide arc over McLean, Muhlenberg, Ohio, and Hancock counties, and finally, from a spot near the Cannelton locks, picked up the Ohio and flew us downriver to Owensboro again.

A thousand feet above the earth, an hour in a small plane, watching meadow and water, town and mine site, factory and forest and field roll out below you, makes it clear why so many people love this part of Kentucky—and why some worry, too, about its environmental future.

It was May, and the fields were being prepared for another season of corn and soybeans, wheat and tobacco. Tractors furrowed many fields, tiny clouds of dust rising in their wake.

On some pastures, planted even earlier, the tender and luminescent greens of first growth soothed the eye. And here and there, great splashes of yellow sprang to view: canola, considered the new “health plant” because it has the right chemistry for more health-conscious diets—more monosaturated, less polysaturated fats.

Occasionally the air tour produces extraordinary surprises: right in the midst of grassy farm country, for example, Delbert Glenn’s huge Diamond Lakes spread—breeding lakes for fish, laid out with geometric precision, together with restaurant and country music theater and campgrounds, miles from any settlement.

Over Muhlenberg and Ohio counties, the countryside gets a lot hillier, and suddenly more and more chunks of territory have been laid bare for strip mining. The vast gashes upon the earth, monstrous earth-moving machines astride them, are a visual shock. Far pleasanter to the eye are some of the green, recovered mine strips. Saddest of all are the “orphan mines” stripped before the reclamation laws came in.

Mighty industry greets us along the waterways, a muscular, raw presence, whether for power or aluminum or paper or brick, a reminder that this region’s economy depends as much on making things as growing them. Companions to the gritty factories are the great barges moving up and down the Ohio—common-sense, cheap transport that holds on tenaciously in the age of the monster truck and interstate America.

As Owensboro looms into view again, multiple images rush before us: the lacy blue steel of the bridge spanning the river from Indiana, the town’s orderly grid, church spires and the two hospitals, the massive Executive Inn Rivermont at the water’s side, the great white silos of Owensboro Grain. White homes, modest and expansive alike, line many streets. There’s Griffith Avenue, springtime’s Dogwood and Azalea Trail, one corner anchored by the multiwinged House of Hocker.

Yet for all the beauty trees give to Owensboro, they don’t shade the blotches of multiple downtown blocks that have lost their historic structures and now stand vacant for parking. On the periphery, asphalt seas surround the shopping centers. Owensboro has become car country and paid a price for it.

But not everyone is encapsulated in two tons of steel. Kids are playing baseball on a green diamond. And down near the river, crews are getting ready for the yearly International Barbecue Festival. Some 50,000 people will pack the scene. We hear they’ll consume beef and pork by the carload and 20 tons of mutton. Wow!

Next: Central Challenges

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