When we left our cozy cottage in the Hocking Hills we had to go to Georgetown, Ohio, to pick up our son, Andy. He had spent his relaxing vacation week with his Grandma Kennedy. Instead of heading cross-country through Ohio we headed southwest to Portsmouth, Ohio, specifically to see the famous Portsmouth Ohio Murals, painted on the city’s flood walls along the Ohio River.
Most of our southern Ohio family have been to see the murals and told us how beautiful they are. Nothing could prepare us for just how beautiful they are. I never imagined how many there are! The section of flood wall included in the project is 20 feet high and extends for 2,090 feet along Front Street in the historic Boneyfiddle District of downtown Portsmouth. The artist, Robert Dafford, painted amazing detail on each mural, sometimes using local people as models. Keep in mind as you view this slide show that where ever there is block or brick, animals or people, they are not real – with one exception! See if you can spot it in the slideshow.
A sobering thought occurs as you stand admiring the artwork on the wall – it was built for a purpose. The Ohio River has flooded several times in the history of Portsmouth, nearly wiping out the lower section of the town in 1937 and taking many lives. That’s when the flood walls were begun, so that it would never happen again. The flood walls protect the city to a level of 79 feet. In case you think that is extreme consider this: flood stage is at 50 feet. Historical crests have been –(1) 74.23 ft on 01/27/1937 (2) 67.90 ft on 03/31/1913 (3) 66.26 ft on 02/12/1884
(4) 64.90 ft on 03/09/1945
(5) 64.10 ft on 04/17/1948
(6) 61.20 ft on 01/03/1943
(7) 60.80 ft on 03/12/1964
(8) 60.60 ft on 03/09/1955
(9) 59.80 ft on 03/04/1997
(10) 59.70 ft on 03/09/1963
Floods are no joke to those who live and work along the river. Portsmouth has found a way to beautify a necessary public work. The first mural was completed in 1993. They are arranged chronologically from east to west, starting with the depiction of the Mound Builders, who are ancestors of the Shawnee Indians. The series of murals are a visual history of the Portsmouth area.
Across from the flood wall there is a very nice visitors center with free parking, restrooms and a gift shop. I want to thank the very nice lady from the visitors center who, even though she was closing up, went back in and opened the gift shop for us and four other visitors. This poor woman had spent a very hot, sunny day at a charity golf outing, was tired and sunburned, but still made time just for us tourists. That’s southern Ohio hospitality! She also told us that the mural artist, Robert Dafford, was in town, and we saw a mural in progress on the side of the visitor’s center. This project seems to just keep growing.
Update: I was contacted by Lisa Carver who told me she is the “nice lady” who so graciously stuck around for us. Thanks again Lisa! See Lisa’s comment below.
If you wish to learn more about the murals content and history, head over to the official web site, Portsmouth Ohio Murals. There you can see a slideshow of all the murals, read about their topics and learn about the artist. Be sure to stop and see this landmark if you are anywhere near Portsmouth, Ohio.
Bonus info: We were starving by the time we finished viewing the murals. We headed for the nearest restaurant listed on our GPS which was Toro Loco, at 701 Washington Street. It was a typical American Mexican restaurant but the salsa was fresh, the food delicious and reasonably priced, the beer cold, the service friendly and efficient. We knew we were in the right place when 1) we had to search for parking and 2) on a Friday night people were streaming in. ¡Olé!