Established in 1858, Adath Israel is one of Kentucky's earliest Jewish congregations and is a charter member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Adath Israel's founders were primarily immigrants from the German states of central Europe. Between 1858 and 1877, land was purchased for a cemetery and services were conducted in temporary locations around town. In 1877, when Owensboro's Jewish community numbered over 200, a house of worship was erected at the corner of Fifth and Daviess Streets.
Many of the first Jewish settlers in Owensboro were peddlers and shopkeepers; but by the time the Temple was built, enough prosperous Jewish business families were in the town for the Owensboro Examiner to state, "...the city owes much of its commercial reputation to the vim and enterprise of this class of people."
While they were accepted as a part of Owensboro's society, the Jews maintained a sense of religious and cultural distinctiveness evidenced by the design of the Temple. Although the basic design made it much like other houses of worship in the area, with beautiful stained glass windows and a pipe organ, the miniature Moorish domes that grace the top of the building evoke the Near Eastern origins of Judaism and also bring to mind the medieval "golden age" in Spain.
Throughout the late nineteenth century, the Jewish community in Owensboro thrived. At the beginning of the 20th century, the community supported not only a rabbi but also a synagogue school with four classes, a Jewish social club, and a chapter of B'nai B'rith.
Unfortunately, as the years progressed, the Owensboro Jewish community went into decline. Children grew up and left home, seeking both educational and other opportunities elsewhere; and fewer new Jewish families moved into the area. After World War II shopping malls, expressways and chain stores brought about much of the demise of the downtown businesses on which the Jewish community's economic viability depended. Soon, from a population of over 200, only a couple dozen members of Adath Israel remained. .