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You Know You’re from Owensboro When…

Photo by Dave Spencer

Every town is unique. Some of its citizens may not think so, but if you flesh it out and pay attention, you’ll learn why. Owensboro is no different. It doesn’t take much talking to learn that someone is a native of the Big O. In fact, I’ve come up with some ways to readily identify Owensboroans. You know you’re from Owensboro when…

1. The Word “Skyline”  Conjures Up Images of Gabe’s Tower and the Roosevelt House
Roosevelt House (Photo by Dave Spencer)
Gabe's Tower (Photo by Dave Spencer)

On a hill far away–and by that, I mean Seven Hills or out around Habit–or coming into town from the north or south, for that matter, two things will stand out: the Roosevelt House and Gabe’s Tower. I don’t have memories of the Owensboro landscape that do not include these structures, although the Roosevelt House–a retirement community on Yale Place–hasn’t been there my entire lifetime. It was built when I was very young and is so engrained in my consciousness that I cannot remember when it wasn’t there. And Gabe’s Tower has been sitting there at 20th and Triplett since 1963 so that’s a permanent fixture in my brain. Now,  I just wonder how long it will be before the delapidated old building comes down.

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2. You Say “Barbecue” and You Just Mean Mutton
Photo by Dave Spencer

When I was a kid and Dad would say he’s bringing home barbecue for dinner, I honestly thought “barbecue” was just a type of meat. And that meat was mutton. Obviously, as I grew older I learned the true definition. But I can’t help but think that, in Owensboro–and because it’s very difficult to find outside the county line–barbecue means mutton. Now, I know there are plenty of folks who don’t even like mutton. Blasphemy! Just kidding; I get it. It probably does seem foreign to visitors from out of town or those who are not natives but now call Owensboro their home. And I do like other types of barbecued meat: chicken, Boston butt, brisket.  Seriously, if its barbecued, I’m there. But if I order THOSE entrees, I’ll actually say “barbecued chicken,” “barbecued pork,” “barbecued beef.” If I want mutton, I just usually say “barbecue.” Now, I’m hungry.
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3. “U.S. Highway 231″ Still Means Breckenridge, Triplett, and New Hartford Road

When the Natcher Bridge was built in east Daviess County, U.S. Highway 231 was altered. Coming in from the south, it now stops at the first intersection with the bypass near Daviess County High School. To stay on 231, you get on the bypass and go around to where it ends at U.S. 60; actually they are combined for a few miles. They split and go their separate ways just beyond Maceo; 60 continues east into Hancock County and 231 heads north across the Natcher Bridge. HOWEVER, before the bridge was built, 231 went through Rockport, Indiana then Reo and then 9 miles later you were crossing the old blue bridge into Owensboro at which time you would follow the signs to get to Triplett Street. Triplett would turn into New Hartford Road at the fork just past 21st Street and then head out to the bypass. If you were coming into town from the south, New Hartford became Breckenridge Street–still does, actually–and that was 231 N. So, to me, 231 is still New Hartford Road and its city cousins. I am, however, careful when I give directions to someone unfamiliar with the town. They only have the signs on which to rely, and I understand that. But I’ll always think of those streets and the blue bridge as U.S. 231. And speaking of the blue bridge, you know you’re from Owensboro when…

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4. You’ve Never Called the Old Blue Bridge by Its Real Name
Photo by Dave Spencer

What? You mean you didn’t know it had a real name? Well, until about 1998, neither did I. It was just the old blue bridge, or the old orange bridge–remember when it was orange? Yuck. Anyway, the old blue bridge is officially The Glover Cary Bridge. It was opened in 1940 and was named for U.S. Congressman Glover Cary. And until 1954, it was a toll bridge. But now, time has taken ITS toll on old blue. Oh wait, excuse me. Old Glover Cary. It is in need of repairs and plans to close the bridge for that reason are in the works. That’s when we’ll know just how much we depend on the Glover Cary Bridge. Yep, that just doesn’t sound right.

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5. You Can’t Drive by the Big Dipper Without Getting a Pig in a Blanket
Photo by Dave Spencer

Well, I know I can’t. And I’ve found that it’s pretty hard to resist for most other people, as well. Now, the traditional pig-in-a-blanket is a hotdog wrapped in biscuit dough and baked. And, I’d imagine you can find those in your grocer’s freezer. (I’ve actually never met MY grocer, but I digress.) In Owensboro, just say “pig in a blanket” and see if you don’t fling a craving on some poor unwitting soul within earshot who will then drive to West Parrish and chow down on a delectable taste treat. The Dipper’s pigs are simply this: a hotdog bun, a hotdog wrapped in bacon, and cheese. Condiments are optional. Sound simple? Yes. Sound unbelievably delicious? YES!!!! Now, how many of you want one?

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6. You Remember Shopping at Anderson’s Department Store
Photo by Dave Spencer

The Owensboro Museum at 3rd and Daviess in downtown Owensboro has a much longer history than you might think, IF you only know it as the museum. Until the late 1980s, the museum building was the home of W.S. Anderson’s. It was a department store from another era. Seriously, can you imagine a retail facility in Owensboro, in this day and age, with four stories? It was quite a showplace, harking back to a bygone era. The ground floor featured men’s and women’s apparel. There was a lounge between the first and second floors with windows where you could look out over the first floor. By the way, that lounge featured an old built-in wooden phone booth. Very cool. Gift wrapping and specialty items were located on the second floor with housewares on the third. The fourth floor was the business office and layaway. And how about this–Anderson’s employed an elevator operator. When I was a kid, Anderson’s was the gateway to downtown. You’d park in their lot across 3rd and enter at the men’s department door. After looking around Anderson’s you’d exit onto 2nd Street and finish your afternoon or evening. Somewhere along the way, you’d get your parking ticket validated. Then you’d come back through Anderson’s when your day was done. As kids, me and my sister simply equated Anderson’s with Christmas. You couldn’t go through a holiday without it.

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7. You Remember Attending the Owensboro Expo at the Ninth Street Tobacco Warehouse

And that was a blast. When I was a boy, that was a landmark event in my life. We’d all pile into the car and down to West 9th to the old tobacco warehouse that no longer stands. We’d climb up into that thing and just walk around and see all the demonstrations by local merchants who had their wares on display. There was free stuff everywhere: key chains, fans, candy. Food booths were set up, because people in Owensboro just made a night of it at the Expo and you had to eat. It eventually moved to the Sportscenter. But it wasn’t the same. For some reason, that old tobacco warehouse WAS the Expo. And even though the old building is gone, I can’t drive by its location on 9th without remembering a really great time.

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8. Your Memories Include “Senior Day” at Miller Lake

Anyone new, or even relatively new, to Owensboro may not have any idea what I’m talking about when I say “Miller Lake.” But, growing up, that was the definition of summer fun. Miller Lake is still out there on Windy Hollow Road. But it is no longer operating. But when it was, it was a great recreational facility. The lake featured diving docks, swings, and pedal boats. You could play miniature golf or have a picnic up on Skyline Drive, which, by the way, featured an impeccable view of Daviess County if you found just the right spot. And when I was a senior in high school, that’s where the big senior day picnic was held. It was a no-brainer. We all voted and that was the hands-down winner. Hey, for my family, Miller Lake was ALWAYS a hands-down winner.

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9. You Remember Cruising Wesleyan Park Plaza
Photo by Dave Spencer

And you have to “remember” doing it, because you no longer can. And that’s a good thing. Can you remember when cruising the Plaza was still permitted? I can. First, cruising Wesleyan Park Plaza simply meant driving around the shopping center’s parking lot, practically until curfew. The big and obvious problem was that if you were actually shopping, you were pretty much stuck. It was nearly impossible to get in or out of the Plaza when that was happening. Consequently, the merchants stepped in and the city put a stop to it, which was completely reasonable. And, just like that, you were able to move freely about the Wesleyan Park Plaza parking lot.

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10. You Dreamed That You Could Live on One of Those Houseboats on the River

The Owensboro waterfront is under construction. Back in the day, that waterfront was home to Smothers Park. My grandfather used to take me down there. Most kids would spend their entire time at the park on the swings or the slides–and I spent my fair share. But I could often be found at the wrought-iron fence gazing down at all the houseboats that were docked along the river’s edge. And I remember how awesome I thought it would be to live on one. Heck, I still do. My dad’s boss owned one of them and invited my family to dinner one night. On the boat! What a night! I didn’t want to leave. If I’d thought about it I would have found a place to stow away. Of course, then I would have gotten into a lot of trouble and, boom, it would have turned into a bad memory and I wouldn’t be sharing it with you now. Logic prevailed in the end.

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11. You Still Might Drive Up McCreary Avenue to Get to the Library
Photo by Dave Spencer

Yes, occasionally, if I’m coming from Griffith Avenue, I just might pull onto McCreary to get to the library. And you can get to the new library that way, but if I’m lost in thought I still think about it being at the top of that hill. I spent many an hour in my youth in that old building–now part of Owensboro High School–reading Billboard magazine from cover to cover and doing research for whatever term paper was required at the time. Of course, I love the new library; it’s great to sit and read in those corners with those big windows. But sometimes I forget and step back in time and there I am on McCreary all over again.

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12. You Remember Five Owensboro Movie Screens, Not Sixteen

There was a time when movies shown in Owensboro were spread out all over town and not located in one building. Three buildings–five screens. Can you imagine taking that kind of math and spreading sixteen movie screens around? Clearly Malco Cinema 16 is a boon to Owensboro entertainment. But, back in the day, you had to look around. There was the Plaza Twin in Wesleyan Park Plaza, the Mall Twin in Lincoln Mall–now Owensboro Christian Church, and the original Malco Theatre, which became Goldie’s Opry House then part of the Theatre Workshop of Owensboro. And I actually remember the last movies I saw in each one: “St. Elmo’s Fire” at the Malco; “The Crow” at the Mall Twin; and “L.A. Confidential”–my all time favorite movie–at the Plaza Twin. But let’s be honest; it sure is a whole lot easier today.

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13. You Know That Daviess County High and Apollo Used to Share a Football Field
Photo by Dave Spencer

A long time ago, before Apollo High School had its own football field, it used Daviess County’s. To this day, I can’t figure how they worked out the logistics for that situation, but they did. And, of course, Daviess County and Apollo are hated rivals–even more so than Daviess County and Owensboro. So it was particularly galling when the Daviess County/Apollo game came around and it was Apollo’s turn to be the home team. We (I’m a Daviess County grad) had to sit on those old bleachers closest to the highway while the Apollo fans got the nice big stadium bleachers next to the concession stands. I have a feeling it wasn’t exactly a carnival for the Apollo students either, actually HAVING to come over to enemy territory to play a home game. But now, every school has its own field and all is right with the world…that is, until game night. Hey, rivalries are still rivalries no matter where the game is played.

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14. “Utica” and “Hartford” Don’t Mean Cities in New York and Connecticut

I bring this up because of two separate exchanges I once had with the father of a friend of mine from college. When I was a freshman at Western Kentucky University, my friend Jeff invited me and a few others out to his parents’ house for dinner; he lived in Bowling Green. Jeff’s dad asked me about my family–what they did, where they were from, that sort of thing–and I mentioned that my dad was from Utica. He said, “New York?” I said, “No, Kentucky.” And there must have been a bit of a tone in my voice, because I was scolded just a little by Jeff because it apparently sounded like I was kind of annoyed that he didn’t know what I meant. I certainly didn’t mean to sound like that. It was probably more a tone of surprise than anything. Of course, why would someone from Milwaukee (Jeff’s hometown) have heard of Utica, Kentucky? Later that same night, I said that I had gotten a warning for speeding while driving through Hartford. With perfect timing, Jeff’s dad said, “Connecticut?” I said, “No, Kentucky.” This time we all laughed. Remember that next time you tell someone you’ve been to Paris, London, or Rome. “Europe?” “No, Kentucky.”

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15. You Remember When Trains, Not Cars, Travelled Up and Down J.R. Miller Boulevard

There was a time when if you were stopped at Byers Avenue and J.R. Miller Boulevard, you were not waiting for the light to change, nor was the street called J.R. Miller Boulevard. You were waiting for a train to pass. I think it was 1988 when J.R. Miller was opened for travel. A few years before, trains were moving up and down that stretch of land. There was a street on which the tracks were laid. It was Lewis Street–not to be confused with Lewis Lane, which I always did. But Lewis Street didn’t run the entire length of the city. It was broken up. It went from 2nd to 9th then picked back up at 18th and went to 24th and stopped. Two of my grandparents and some close family friends lived in homes or apartments right on the tracks so, growing up, it was always fun to go outside and watch the trains go by. Now it’s all street vehicle traffic. And, seriously, could you imagine not having J.R. Miller Boulevard now?

Yes, you may not think Owensboro has its distinctions, but it absolutely does. Mention any of the above topics and you’ll find out quite a bit about the people to whom you’re speaking.

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