Owensboro is the seat of Davless County in western Kentucky. Lying on the banks of the Ohio River, Owensboro Riverport is just 32 river miles upstream (43 kilometers or 27 miles east-southeast by air) of Evansville, Indiana. Owensboro Riverport is almost 150 river miles (136 kilometers or 85 miles southwest by air) of Jefferson Riverport in Louisville, Kentucky. Owensboro Riverport is part of the Ohio River System.
Owensboro Riverport is a center for agricultural products that include tobacco, maize (corn), soybeans, wheat, and fruit. Manufactured goods produced in Owensboro Riverport include bourbon whiskey, chemicals, aluminum, furniture, paper, high-grade steel, plastics, smokeless tobacco, and food products. The 2010 US Census estimated the population of Owensboro Riverport to be over 57 thousand people.
Studies place human inhabitants in the future Owensboro Riverport area for some 12 thousand years. The Ohio River was important to the indigenous peoples, and several cultures grew up in its valley. At least 500 years before Europeans arrived, there were many chiefdoms and major earthwork mounds of the Mississippian culture in the Ohio River valley. The Ohio was a trade and transportation route, its waters connecting native villages.
In the early 1600s, the indigenous peoples in the Ohio Valley included the Omaha, the Osage, the Ponca, and the Kaw. These tribes were forced out of the area during that century by the Iroquois who were pushed by settlers coming to the New World. The tribe migrated beyond the Mississippi River to what would become the states of Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. The last tribe to inhabit the Owensboro Riverport area was the Shawnee Nation.
The future Owensboro Riverport was settled by frontiersman William Smeathers in 1797. At first, the settlement was called Yellow Banks, reflecting the color of the Ohio's banks. The Expedition of Lewis and Clark wintered in the future Owensboro Riverport before embarking on their famous exploration. Yellow Banks was incorporated as Owensborough in 1817 (shortened to Owensboro in 1893).
The future Owensboro Riverport was raided by Confederate guerillas in 1865 when they tried without success to rob a local bank. They took 13 Union soldiers from the 108th Coloured Infantry prisoner during their raid. The Confederates executed and burned the soldiers and fled back to Tennessee. Another major Civil War battle took place about 13 kilometers (eight miles) south of Owensboro Riverport.
In 1884, the Owensboro Wagon Company, one of the country's biggest wagon companies, was established in the future Owensboro Riverport. In 1887, Pennsylvanian Frederick A. Ames arrived in Owensboro Riverport to repair horse-drawn carriages at his new Woodstock Company. In 1910, the factory started manufacturing Ames automobiles. A Texas car dealer praised the auto as the best $1500 car. However, the company stopped making cars in 1915 and started making replacement bodies for the Ford Model T.
In 1899, the Kentucky Electrical Lamp Company started manufacturing light bulbs in Owensboro Riverport. The Kentucky Electrical Lamp Company made the lights that lit the first Major League Baseball night game in 1935 at Cincinnati's Crosley Field.
The last public hanging in the US took place in August 1936 in Owensboro Riverport when Rainey Bethea was hung for raping and killing Lischa Edwards.
After World War II, new civil engineering projects helped transform Owensboro Riverport from a quiet industrial village to a modern growing 1960s community. Many of those projects were managed by consulting engineers Johnson, Depp & Quisenberry. The Depps are an old Kentucky family that contributed the city's most famous citizen, actor Johnny Depp, to Owensboro Riverport.