Portsmouth Flood Wall Murals
The Portsmouth Floodwall was constructed after the city of Portsmouth, Ohio faced its most devastating flood in 1937. The Army Corps of Engineers decided better flood prevention measures were needed, and the construction of a new floodwall began in 1940. The wall was completed ten years later in May 1950. In the year 1992 lifetime resident of Portsmouth Dr. Louis R. Chaboudy got the idea that the city should paint murals on the floodwall while on a AAA motor coach tour with his wife Ava. Later a committee was formed, and the decision was made to transform the floodwall into an art gallery depicting the history of Portsmouth and the surrounding area. These murals were completed in October 2002, and now the Portsmouth Floodwall stands as one of the crown jewels of the city. As a result, the wall now serves not only as a protective barrier between the city and the Ohio River but also as an artistic display of the city of Portsmouth’s history.
Backstory and Context
Although the City of Portsmouth is located on high ground, it has experienced flooding due to its proximity to the Ohio River. While flooding occurred in the city several times from the 1880s until the 1930s, it was the flood of 1937 that led to the construction of a floodwall by the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1964 and 1997, the wall was successful in preventing major flooding in the city.
In 1992, the Portsmouth Wall of Fame was introduced by the city. The Wall of Fame honors the accomplishments of people from the area by placing stars on the floodwall. Located on the riverside of the wall, these can be seen by passengers driving down U.S. Route 23 in South Shore, Kentucky.
That same year, Dr. Louis R. Chaboudy headed a nonprofit group that was formed to make the floodwall a tourist attraction. A year later in 1993, Robert Dafford, a mural artist, was hired to begin painting murals of Portsmouth’s history. Herb Roe, a local art student, was hired by Dafford to be his assistant. Roe then became Dafford’s apprentice and worked with him for fifteen years. The flood wall was completed in the October of 2002, with over 52 murals illustrating 2,000 years of history to the local area. The mural stretches 2,000 feet along Front Street and is walking distance from Shawnee State University.
The murals cover the history of the Portsmouth area. Viewing from the left to the right, the mural displays the growth and development of the Scioto River Area in a timeline. It begins with the local Native American history, namely the Mound Builders, and the Shawnee Tribe. It then illustrates the small town of Alexandria, Portsmouth's predecessor which was flooded due to the rising river levels. From there the mural displays images significant to early development of the City of Portsmouth: Henry Massie's official founding of the city, the influence of the Kinney Family (whose original home titled "The 1810 House" is now a local history museum), the early Boneyfiddle shopping district, and more. There are several murals dedicated to our local veterans, police and firemen, churches, and businesses. There are also images depicting the development of technology as it was first introduced to Southern Ohio, such as the automobile.
Important individuals were also given their own unique murals along the floodwall. One such individual is Roy Rogers. Also known as "King of the Cowboys", Roy Rogers was a radio singer/yodeler who grew up locally, and starred in over 93 films. Another individual who has been immortalized on the Portsmouth Floodwall is Branch Rickey, who signed baseball legend Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Indeed, the Portsmouth Floodwalls are a beautiful historical landmark and resource for learning more about the city's own history. It is no wonder that Portsmouth's citizens are so proud of the murals, as it is a showcase of how the city has grown and developed for over centuries. Even now, the murals continue to expand throughout the city, using art to convey the history of Portsmouth.
Feight, Andrew Lee. “Robert Dafford & the Portsmouth Floodwall Murals.” Scioto Historical, sciotohistorical.org/items/show/41.
"Portsmouth Ohio Murals... 2000 Years of History, 2000 Feet of Art." Portsmouth Ohio Murals. Web. 5 Dec. 2015.
Portsmouth-Scioto County Visitors Bureau, 342 Second Street, Portsmouth, Ohio, 45662
Image Obtained from Scioto Historical