Portsmouth was once a scenic city with beautiful views of the Ohio River, but after a catastrophic flood in 1937, the city’s flood stage did not hold up to the river’s overflow. Following the ruinous flood, the city began to build what is now the Portsmouth floodwall.
The wall, constructed of concrete and enforced steel, is about 20 feet tall and stretches almost seven miles long. The original idea for the murals was formed by Portsmouth’s own Louis and Ava Chaboudy, after they visited the outdoor murals in Steubenville. From 1992 until 2002, the Portsmouth view slowly became scenic again due to Portsmouth Murals Inc. and muralist Robert Dafford.
The Louisiana native was hired by Portsmouth Murals Inc., a company formed specifically to make the floodwalls less of an eyesore to the city and its visitors. Dafford also hired Herb Roe to assist on all the murals.
When the mural project was agreed upon by Dafford and Portsmouth Murals Inc., they decided to make the floodwalls into a timeline of the city’s history. The tour starts with a mural of the Mound Builders, indigenous people who build mounds in the earth for burial, and ending with a depiction of the U.S. Grant Bridge.
Five more paintings have been added since 2002, and Dafford continues to add more every summer. He plans to finish his mural of the early days of the riverfront scene in summer 2021 and start work on a mural of York Park at the turn of the century.
“I wanted them [Portsmouth Murals Inc.] to decide what the subjects needed to be and then it was up to me to decide how to design and paint that subject which is what I enjoy doing,” Dafford says.
Portsmouth Murals Inc. has even created an app that can be downloaded to give anyone a virtual tour of the murals. The app can track a tourist’s location and will know what murals are nearby and will give information about the painting.