Owensboro and the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum

Owensboro, KY was designated as the “Bluegrass Music Capital of the World” in 2021. So, when I began planning our trip to Bill Monroe’s home a few weeks ago, I knew the second leg of our day would need to include Owensboro. I had to stay with the Bluegrass Music theme! What I didn’t expect was just how cute the downtown area would be!

First Stop

As part of my recent trip planning, I now try to find a unique place for us to stop for lunch. This week, I found City Walk of Owensboro.

Mural on the wall of the City Walk of Owensboro Restaurant / Personal Photo

I chose this restaurant for two reasons. One, it was in the downtown historic district, and two, it had Roast Beef Manhattan on the menu! I had been looking for this dish since December when I didn’t get to enjoy it on our annual trip to Science Hill.

City Walk did not disappoint! The restaurant was quaint and cute. The food was to die for!

My open-faced roast beef sandwich with gravy over mashed potatoes was everything I had hoped it would be. Think down home Kentucky on a plate! Delish!

My daughter had the Cajun Chicken & Shrimp Pasta. I’m not a shrimp person, so I didn’t try it, but she said it was incredible. We had left overs that we took home, and my husband raved over the dish later that evening. You can’t go wrong with the food or the atmosphere.

The History

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any specific history on the restaurant’s location. The historic district which includes not only restaurants, but also coffee shops, boutiques, and more (which we also took the time to explore), does however date back to the 1800s.


Downtown Owensboro contains the major concentration of 19th and 20th Century buildings which reflect the city’s development as a manufacturing, trade, transportation, and service center.


The Development of a Town

Present Day Historic Downtown Owensboro / Photo Credit: GoodFreePhotos

“Owensboro is located on the south side of a deep bend in the Ohio River,” (VisitOwensboro.com) making it the perfect place for an early settlement.

The town was settled by William Smeathers, AKA Bill Smothers, in 1797 when he built a cabin on the bank of the river. Settlers arrived on flatboats from the northeast that naturally drifted to the south side of the river due to swift river currents.

Bill Smothers History Marker / Personal Photo

The town was originally named “Yellow Banks” for the soil along the river, but in 1817, Kentucky’s General Assembly provided a plan for the town and changed its name to Owensborough. The town’s name would be in honor of Colonel Abraham Owen, who fought and died at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Later, in 1893, the spelling would be changed to the current spelling, Owensboro.

A Beautiful Waterfront

Today, the waterfront of Owensboro includes an enormous well-designed playground, fountains, swings, an amphitheater, and more. It is truly a sight to see. After finishing lunch, grabbing dessert in a small coffee shop, and exploring a few boutiques, we walked through the waterfront park on our way to the museum. We stopped for a few minutes to swing and watch the river flow by us.

The Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum

Finally, we walked just a few short blocks to the museum to learn a little more history of bluegrass music. We came around to the front of the building to be wowed by its size and architecture. It is quite stunning.

Upon entering the museum, we were greeted by a very friendly staff member who gave us information on how to navigate the museum and sent us on our way to the Pickin’ Parlor.

The Pickin’ Parlor

We were given the go-ahead to pick up and play any of the instruments on the walls of the parlor; instruments that included banjos, fiddles, guitars, mandolins, basses, and dobros. We know nothing about playing instruments, so we simply played around and enjoyed the time together.

The Birth of Bluegrass

As discussed in my last blog post, Bill Monroe is credited with the birth of Bluegrass Music. The first section of the museum walks you through the various genres of music such as Jazz, String Band, Parlor, and Country that came together to create Bluegrass. For some reason, I thought Bluegrass Music was older than it was. I thought Bluegrass came into play in the early 1930s. I was wrong. Instead, Bluegrass was born in the late 1940s, and did not become popular until the 1950s.

Uncle Pen

Included in the museum is Uncle Pen’s fiddle. Uncle Pen is credited with influencing Bill Monroe’s musicality and his road to creating Bluegrass music.

Bluegrass Popularity

Both Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs began as members of the Blue Grass Boys, Bill Monroe’s bluegrass band, but in 1948, Lester Flatt left the group. He quickly formed a new band he called The Foggy Mountain Boys. Soon after, Earl Scruggs also left Monroe’s band and joined Lester Flatt.

Flatt and Scruggs grew the Bluegrass genre by adding the dobro, a resophonic guitar, for the first time. Then, from 1948-1969, Flatt and Scruggs grew Bluegrass music throughout America. They did this through national television and radio, and appearances at schoolhouses, coliseums, and universities around the country.

Festivals & Pop Culture

Beginning in the 1960s, the idea of Bluegrass Festivals began. Various popular bluegrass bands would come together to play music for audiences throughout an entire weekend.

Music written by Flatt & Scruggs was then used in popular television shows and movies such as “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” for the television show Beverly Hillbillies and “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” for the film Bonnie & Clyde.

These two events took Bluegrass music from the hollers of Kentucky to the eyes and ears of Americans from coast to coast.

Since then, Bluegrass music has been highlighted in movies like Deliverance and O Brother, Where Art Thou? bringing the music to new audiences.

Hall of Fame Finishes the Museum

“Bluegrass music is now performed and enjoyed around the world.  The International Bluegrass Music Association claims members in all 50 states and 30 countries.  In addition to the classic style born in 1945 that is still performed widely, bluegrass bands today reflect influences from a variety of sources including the blues, traditional and fusion jazz, contemporary country music, Celtic music, rock & roll (“newgrass” or progressive bluegrass), old-time music, and Southern gospel music.”

Bluegrass Heritage

Final Thoughts

Bill Monroe passed away on September 9, 1996, four days before his 85th birthday. In May 1997, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because of the profound influence of his style on popular music.  He is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor. 

Bluegrass Heritage

So much of our music today can be attributed to Bill Monroe and Bluegrass Music. Whether you are a fan of Bluegrass or not, you have to have respect for the man and the music. I highly recommend a visit to Mr. Monroe’s home place as well as Owensboro and the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum. If you are not a fan, a trip to Owensboro is still highly recommended. The downtown area is a beautiful area. The river front is amazing. If you have small children, you’ll never get them off the playground! It truly is the most beautifully designed playground I have ever seen and the river is naturally beautiful too.

Go ahead, get out there and see Kentucky!

Happy Travels!

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