How History and Art Are Reviving a Town

by Connie Ackerman and Roger Roberts

Big Walnut Area Historical Society will explore the effect art and history is having on a dying industrial town at their meeting at 7:30 Tuesday evening September 12 in the Myers Inn Meeting Room. A film, "Beyond These Walls," shows how a devastated industrial community pulled together to bring hope and pride to their residents. Admission to the program is free.

Following the 1937 flood which filled the area with high water but luckily only killed one person in Portsmouth, the Army Corps of Engineers build a 20 foot high flood wall 2090 feet long to protect the city from future floods.

Portsmouth became a thriving industrial town with steel mills, shoe factories but eventually cheaper labor in foreign countries closed the companies leaving no jobs, empty buildings no one wanted, and a depressed economy.

"This program shows how history and art teamed together to bring pride back to a community that was devastated economically by the demise of the steel industry, the shoe making industry, and the uranium enrichment plant. Portsmouth, Ohio, once a thriving industrial town, lost its major industries leaving joblessness and poverty. Through the efforts of an ambitious group of citizens an amazing program to paint the town’s history on the flood wall was formed and fundraising was started," states Roger Roberts.

In 1992, Dr. Louis and Ava Chaboudy visited the murals on buildings in Steubenville and thought this would be a good thing to do on the flood wall.

A van of community leaders went to Steubenville, saw their murals and pledged $5,000 to seed the project. In only a year, artist Robert Dafford of Louisiana was hired to do the first mural. The plan was to paint 3 to 4 murals a year for 10 years. Each mural features a significant event in the local history. The original project was completed in 2002 with 2,200 feet of art along the Ohio River. Since then even more murals have been added.

BWAHS members and former Portsmouth residents, Connie Ackerman and Roger Roberts hope you will enjoy this emotional film made by Lorentz Productions in 2014. As retired teachers they want you to watch the highschool students look at a dismal future then change as they study their history on the murals.

"The project took ten years to complete and ranks with some of the great paintings of Renaissance Italy in its beauty and impact. It has united business, schools, government, many organizations, and regular people as nothing else could do. The entire south-central region of Ohio feels pride in this project," notes Roger.

Photo from Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce
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