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Bowling Green is a home rule-class city in and the county seat of Warren County, Kentucky, United States. As of 2016, its population of 65,234 made it the third most-populous city in the state after Louisville and Lexington; its metropolitan area had an estimated population of 171,839; and the combined statistical area it shares with Glasgow has an estimated population of 225,638.
Founded by pioneers in 1798, Bowling Green was the provisional capital of Confederate Kentucky during the American Civil War. The city was the inspiration for the 1967 Everly Brothers song "Bowling Green". It is the home of numerous manufacturers, including General Motors and Fruit of the Loom. The Bowling Green Assembly Plant has been the source of all Chevrolet Corvettes built since 1981. Bowling Green is also home to the state's second-largest public university, Western Kentucky University. In 2014, Forbes magazine listed Bowling Green as one of the Top 25 Best Places to Retire in the United States.
The first Europeans known to have reached the area carved their names on beech trees near the river around 1775. By 1778, settlers established McFadden's Station on the north bank of the Barren River.
Present-day Bowling Green grew out of homesteads erected by Robert and George Moore and General Elijah Covington, the namesake of the town near Cincinnati. The Moore brothers arrived from Virginia circa 1794. In 1798, only two years after Warren County had been formed, Robert Moore donated 2 acres (8,100 m2) of land to county trustees for the purpose of constructing public buildings. Soon after, he donated an additional 30 to 40 acres (120,000 to 160,000 m2) surrounding the original plot. The city of Bowling Green was officially incorporated by the Commonwealth of Kentucky on March 6, 1798.
Some controversy exists over the source of the town's name. The city itself follows the first county commissioners' meeting (1798), which named the town "Bolin Green" after the Bowling Green in New York City where patriots had pulled down a statue of King George III and used the lead to make bullets during the American Revolution. Some historians dispute this, however, and credit Bowling Green, Virginia, or a personal "ball alley game" of Robert Moore's instead. Early records indicate that the city name was also spelled "Bowlingreen".
By 1810, Bowling Green had 154 residents. Growth in steamboat commerce and the proximity of the Barren River increased Bowling Green's importance. Canal locks and dams on the Barren River made it much more navigable. In 1832, the first portage railway connected the river to the location of the current county courthouse. Mules pulled freight and passengers to and from the city on the tracks.
Despite rapid urbanization of the Bowling Green area in the 1830s, agriculture remained an important part of local life. A visitor to Bowling Green noted the boasting of a tavern proprietor named Benjamin Vance:
In 1859, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad (currently CSX Transportation) laid railroad through Bowling Green that connected the city with northern and southern markets.
Bowling Green declared itself neutral in an attempt to escape the Civil War. Because of its prime location and resources, however, both the Union and Confederacy sought control of the city. The majority of its residents rejected both the Confederacy and the Lincoln administration. On September 18, 1861, around 1300 Confederate soldiers arrived from Tennessee to occupy the city, placed under command of Kentucky native General Simon Bolivar Buckner. The city's pro-Union feelings surprised the Confederate occupiers. Surrounding hills were fortified to secure possible military approaches to the valuable river and railroad assets. In November 1861, the provisional Confederate government of Kentucky chose Bowling Green as its capital.
On February 14, 1862, after receiving reports that Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River had both been captured by Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant, the Confederates realized they had to withdraw from Bowling Green. They destroyed bridges across the Barren River, the railroad depot, and other important buildings that could be used by the enemy. The city was subject to disruptions and raids throughout the remainder of the war. During the summer of 1864, Union General Stephen G. Burbridge arrested 22 civilians in and around Bowling Green on a charge of treason. This incident and other harsh treatment by federal authorities led to bitterness towards the Union among Bowling Green residents and increased sympathies with the Confederacy.
After the Civil War, Bowling Green's business district grew considerably. Previously, agriculture had dominated the city's economy. During the 1870s, many of the historic business structures seen today were erected. One of the most important businesses in Bowling Green of this era was Carie Burnam Taylor's dress-making company. By 1906, Taylor employed more than 200 women.
In 1868, the city constructed its first waterworks system. The fourth county courthouse was completed in 1868. The first three were completed in 1798, 1805, and 1813. In 1889, the first mule-drawn street cars appeared in the city. The first electric street cars began to replace them by 1895.
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth founded St. Columbia's Academy in 1862, succeeded by St. Joseph's School in 1911. In 1884, the Southern Normal School, which had been founded in 1875, moved to Bowling Green from the town of Glasgow, Kentucky. Pleasant J. Potter founded a women's college in Bowling Green in 1889. It closed in 1909 and its property sold to the Western Kentucky State Normal School (see below, now known as Western Kentucky University). Other important schools in this era were Methodist Warren College, Ogden College (which also became a part of Western Kentucky University), and Green River Female College, a boarding school.
In 1906, Henry Hardin Cherry, the president and owner of Southern Normal School, donated the school to the state as the basis of the Western State Normal School. The school trained teachers for the expanding educational needs of the state. This institution is now known as Western Kentucky University and is the second-largest public university in the state, having recently grown larger than the University of Louisville.
In 1906, Doctors Lillian H. South, J. N. McCormack, and A.T. McCormack opened St. Joseph Hospital to provide around-the-clock medical and nursing care to the residents and students in the area.
In 1925, the third and last Louisville and Nashville Railroad Station, now a museum, was opened. About 27 trains arrived daily at the depot. Intercity bus lines were also a popular form of travel. By the 1960s, railroad travel had dramatically declined in the face of competition from airlines and automobiles.
In 1940, a Union Underwear factory built in Bowling Green bolstered the city's economy significantly. During the 1960s, the city's population began to surpass that of Ashland, Paducah, and Newport.
Downtown streets became a bottleneck for traffic. In 1949, the U.S. Route 31W Bypass was opened to alleviate traffic problems, but it also drew off business from downtown. The bypass grew to become a business hotspot in Bowling Green. A 1954 advertisement exclaimed, "Your business can grow in the direction Bowling Green is growing – to the 31-W By-Pass".
By the 1960s, the face of shopping was changing completely from the downtown square to suburban shopping centers. Between May and November 1967, stores in Bowling Green Mall opened for business. Another advertisement said, "One-stop shopping. Just park [free], step out and shop. You'll find everything close at hand." Between September 1979 and September 1980, stores in the larger Greenwood Mall came on line. The city's limits began to stretch toward Interstate 65.
By the late 1960s, Interstate 65, which runs just to the east of Bowling Green, was completed. The Green River Parkway (now called the William H. Natcher Parkway), was completed in the 1970s to connect Bowling Green and Owensboro. These vital transportation arteries attracted many industries to Bowling Green.
In 1981, General Motors moved its Chevrolet Corvette assembly plant from St. Louis, Missouri, to Bowling Green. In the same year, the National Corvette Homecoming event was created, becoming a large gathering of Corvette owners, car parades, and related activities in Bowling Green each year. In 1994, the National Corvette Museum was constructed near the assembly plant.
In 1997, Bowling Green was designated a Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation.
In 2012, the city undertook a feasibility study on ways to revitalize the downtown Bowling Green area. The Downtown Redevelopment Authority was formed to plan redevelopment. Plans for the project incorporated Bowling Green's waterfront assets and historic center and streetscape around Fountain Square. It also proposed a new building for the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce, construction of a Riverwalk Park where downtown borders the Barren River, creation of a new public park called Circus Square, and installation of a new retail area, the Fountain Square Market.
As of spring 2009, the new Chamber of Commerce, Riverwalk Park, and Circus Square have been completed. The Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center, a facility for arts and education, broke ground in October 2009 and celebrated its opening night on March 10, 2012, with a concert by Vince Gill. Ground was broken for the Fountain Square Market in 2012.
In 2005, an effort was made to incorporate a Whitewater Park into the downtown Bowling Green riverfront at Weldon Peete Park. Due to the recession, the project was not funded. In 2011, the project evolved into the Bowling Green Riverfront Foundation, expanding its efforts to develop land on the opposite side of Barren River from Mitch McConnell Park (which is located alongside the U.S. 31-W Bypass and the riverbank, between Louisville Road and Old Louisville Road), all the way upriver to Peete Park. The new plans include use of the adjacent river for white-water sports—the stretch of river includes rapids rated on the International Scale of River Difficulty between Class II and Class IV—as well as a mountain biking trail, a bicycle pump track, and a rock climbing area. Some of this facility will be located on a reclaimed landfill which had served as Bowling Green's garbage dump for many years.
The Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport is 547 feet (167 m) above sea level. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 35.6 square miles (92 km2), of which 35.4 square miles (92 km2) is land and 0.2 square miles (0.52 km2) (0.45%) is covered by water.
Bowling Green has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cfa). The monthly daily average temperature ranges from 35.7 °F (2.1 °C) in January to 78.7 °F (25.9 °C) in July. On average, 41 days of 90 °F (32 °C)+ highs occur annually, and 11 days occur each winter when the high fails to rise above freezing. Annual precipitation is 47.51 in, with spring being slightly wetter; snowfall averages 8.4 inches (21.3 cm) per year. Extreme temperatures range from −21 °F (−29 °C) on January 23 and 24, 1963, up to 108 °F (42 °C) on July 28, 1930.
As of the census of 2010, 58,067 people and 22,735 households resided in the city. The population density was 1631.1 people per square mile (630.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 75.8% White, 13.9% African American, 0.3% Native American, 4.2% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 2.16% from other races, and 2.7% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 6.5% of the population.
Of the 22,735 households, 24.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 33.1% were married couples living together, 14.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 48.3% were not families. About 35.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 19.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.28, and the average family size was 2.99.
The age distribution was 20.1% under 18, 28% from 15 to 24, 25.6% from 25 to 44, 18.8% from 45 to 64, and 10.6% who were 65 or older. The median age was 27.6 years. Females made up 51.7% of the population and males made up 48.3%.
The median income for a household in the city was $33,362, and for families was $45,287. Males had a median income of $35,000 versus $28,916 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,302. About 19.4% of families and 27.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 30.9% of those under age 18.
Bowling Green is shifting to a more knowledge-based, technology-driven economy. With one major public university and a technical college, Bowling Green serves as an education hub for the south-central Kentucky region. In addition, the city is the region's leading medical and commercial center.
General Motors Manufacturing Plant, Holley Performance Products, Houchens Industries, SCA, Camping World, Minit Mart, Fruit of the Loom, Russell Brands, and other major industries call Bowling Green home. It has also attracted new industries, such as Bowling Green Metalforming, a division of Magna International, Inc., and Halton Company, which chose to expand their worldwide companies into Bowling Green.
Commonwealth Health Corporation, Western Kentucky University, and Warren County Board of Education are the biggest employers for Bowling Green and the surrounding region. Other companies based in Bowling Green include Eagle Industries and Trace Die Cast. The third-largest home shopping network, EVINE Live, has its warehouse fulfillment center located off Nashville Road. EVINE Live also recently moved a large amount of its customer service call center operations to its Bowling Green location. EVINE Live's corporate headquarters are located in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, although the largest part of its day-to-day operations are in Bowling Green.
Compared with Elizabethtown and Owensboro MSAs, Bowling Green has experienced the largest post-recession employment gain. From November 2001 to April 2006, total payroll employment increased by 13%. Bowling Green has experienced a 5% increase in manufacturing employment, a 5% increase in professional and business services, and a 6% increase in leisure and hospitality since April 2005.
Bowling Green's high income and job growth combined with a low cost of doing business led the city to be named to Forbes magazine's 2009 list of the "Best Small Places for Business". In an evaluation of 179 cities across the nation, Forbes ranked Bowling Green 19th best city in which to do business, finishing ahead of Elizabethtown and Owensboro. The list ranked Bowling Green 34th nationwide for the lowest cost-of-living and 22nd for highest job growth.
In March 2009, the Bowling Green metropolitan area was recognized by Site Selection magazine as a top economic development community in the United States for communities with populations between 50,000 and 200,000 people. The Bowling Green metro also received the same recognition by Site Selection in 2008.
The Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce received the 2009 Chamber of the Year by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives and a 5-Star Chamber by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
According to the city's 2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the top employers include three public-sector employers:
E.A. Diddle Arena, located on the campus of Western Kentucky University, is a multi-purpose arena with a seating capacity of 7,500 persons. Built in 1963 and renovated in 2004, the arena has hosted college sports such as basketball and volleyball. It also hosted the KHSAA Girls' Sweet Sixteen state championship event in high school basketball from 2001 to 2015, after which it moved to BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky University. The arena has also played host to various traveling rodeos and circuses. In 2006, Diddle Arena hosted the first WWE event to be held in Bowling Green in over ten years.
The city and surrounding area is home to the Warren County Inline Hockey League. It also is home to the Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers team, which competes in the NCRHA, and has several members in the Bluegrass Hockey League and Central Commonwealth League.
Bowling Green Ballpark is a new stadium currently in use in Bowling Green. It is primarily used for baseball, for the Single-A Bowling Green Hot Rods organization of the Midwest League. The Hot Rods began play in the spring of 2009 in the South Atlantic League, transferring to the Midwest League for 2010. They are a farm team for Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays.
The Bowling Green Hornets of the Central Basketball League are based in Bowling Green, although they play their home games in Russellville. The Hornets are coached by Russellville native Nathan Thompson.
Bowling Green has six golf and eight disc golf courses.
The Bowling Green Parks and Recreation Department administers 895 acres (3.62 km2) of public land for recreational use.
Public education is provided by the Warren County Public Schools system and the Bowling Green Independent School District. Several private schools also serve Bowling Green students.
All of these schools are operated by the Warren County district except Bowling Green Junior High.
All schools are operated by the Warren County district except Bowling Green High and Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science.
The Warren County Public Library has four permanent locations. The Main Library, which opened in 1956, is in downtown Bowling Green. The Smiths Grove Branch, the system's first branch location, is located in the nearby community of Smiths Grove, Kentucky. The Graham Drive Community Library is a neighborhood branch located in a residential area of the Housing Authority of Bowling Green; it opened in late 2007 and replaced the branch formerly located in the Sugar Maple Square Shopping Center. The system's newest location is the Bob Kirby Branch Library, located off Interstate 65 close to Greenwood High School, which opened spring 2008. The Mobile Branch is a 28-foot (8.5 m) truck that travels across Bowling Green and Warren County carrying a variety of library materials for adults and children. The Depot Branch, which opened in 2001, was located in the historic, renovated Louisville and Nashville Railroad Depot and housed a technology and early childhood center, as well as traditional library materials; it closed in late 2007. On July 27, 2007, the Warren County Fiscal Court voted to create a county-wide taxing district to benefit the public library. The library system, formerly known as the Bowling Green Public Library, became the Warren County Public Library on July 1, 2008.
The city is served by Bowling Green–Warren County Regional Airport.
Community Action of Southern Kentucky operates GO bg Transit, which provides public transportation to Bowling Green. Intercity carriers that serve Bowling Green include Greyhound and Tornado Bus Company.
Nearby communities include: Allen Springs, Alvaton, Blue Level, Browning, Cavehill, Drake, Oakland, Petros, Plano, Plum Springs, Richardsville, Rich Pond, Rockfield, Smiths Grove and Woodburn.
Bowling Green has two sister cities, as designated by Sister Cities International:
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