Located along Front Street in downtown Portsmouth, the murals play an important role in the towns vitality. But despite being a staple in the history and culture of Portsmouth, the murals remain a mystery for some and their details are often overlooked.
The murals tell the story of Portsmouth in chronological order, starting with the mound building Indians to the present day and use the 20-foot high, 2,000 foot-long flood wall as a canvas. The murals serve as a popular attraction for visitors and natives. The murals are ever-changing and growing, with new additions and touch-ups being added frequently. The project runs the length of the historic district and includes over 55 different scenes.
In 1992, the planning stages of the Flood wall Mural Project began with the formation of an ad hoc committee, which later registered as a nonprofit organization – Portsmouth Murals, Inc. (PMI). Robert Dafford, an internationally known muralist from Lafayette, Louisiana, was contracted for the project.
Each Thursday, the Daily Times will focus on a specific section of the murals, discussing its history and role in the community.
The third week in January marks the 80th anniversary of the 1937 flood. On Jan. 5, 1937, the rain began to fall and continued for 22 days. On Jan. 27, the Ohio River crested at 74.23 feet, exceeding the flood stage by more than 12 feet. More than 35,000 residents were left homeless due to the disaster.
The center panel of the mural looks North on Chillicothe Street as a lone row boat surveys the damage. Along the top border, lines of people wait for water at the Kinney Spring and residents patiently await rescue from their rooftops. Sea Scouts, in the bottom border, were pressed into service where needed. On the left, a boat moving the Tomlin family to higher ground capsized. Everyone was pulled to safety, except Bessie Tomlin, seen holding her 18-month old baby, Alberta Tomlin (Parker). The story of Bessie and Alberta has since been turned into a song, featured on the “Welcome to P-Town,” CD compiled by the Boneyfiddle Project.
If you’d like to see the murals for yourself, follow the green mural signs posted in the city on Washington Street (Rt. 23 South) leading to the murals on Front Street. Many of the buildings along the tour have historic markers, indicating water levels from the flood.
If you would like to tour the murals from your car, you can take an audio tour by dialing 740-621-8031. After the introduction, each mural is a “stop.” You can also go online to www.portsmouthmurals.oncell.com to access the audio clips for each mural.
Portsmouth Murals Inc., is a nonprofit, all-volunteer organizations. If you wish to contribute to the project, you can do so by mailing contributions to Portsmouth Murals Inc. at P.O. Box 207, Portsmouth, Ohio, 45662.
For more information about the murals, you can visit the Scioto County Visitors Bureau at 342 Second Street in Portsmouth.
Reach Ciara Conley at 740-981-6977, Facebook “Ciara Conley - Daily Times,” and Twitter @PDT_Ciara.
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