Exploring the Portsmouth Flood Wall Mural

portsmouth flood wall mural

Have you heard of the Portsmouth flood wall mural? Thanks to a bit of chatter and some recommendations of friends, it’s been on my radar for a little while now. Faced with a free weekend, we set out to explore, not sure of what we’d find.

Getting to the Flood Wall Mural

The flood wall isn’t hard to find. It’s just one street away from the downtown area and on the river. GPS will take you right to the location, just request “flood wall.” Mine took me to the center of the wall, which is great if you’re going to walk it. If you’d rather just drive by, you’ll need to adjust your directions a bit.

A section of the Portsmouth flood wall mural in Ohio. The panels illustrate local industry.
The wall tells the story of Portsmouth. There are panels that show local businesses, famous residents and the history of the area.

The entire downtown area is charming. There are a number of antique stores, cafes, studios and even a farm store. Even on a weekday, on-street parking was both plentiful and free. If there aren’t any spots remaining on the street with the murals, you can park nearer to downtown or even take the street through the flood wall and park on the other side, next to the river.

Walking the Flood Wall

I started by parking in the middle of the wall. I walked to the beginning of the flood wall, that way I could see the murals more or less in order historically.

There is a break in the wall near the beginning. If you walk through, you’ll find that there are a few murals on the other side of the wall, along with names of notable Portsmouth residents. You can also view the Ohio River, the bridges and Kentucky on the other side. There is a large observation platform over the river.

History of the Flood Wall Mural

The flood wall actually got its start on the other side of the wall. In 1992 the city began honoring Portsmouth residents and natives with their name and star. This became known as the Portsmouth Wall of Fame.

In 1993, artist Robert Dafford was commissioned and began work on the flood wall mural as a tourist attraction. Together, with his assistants, he painted 60 panels that are each 20 feet high. The length of the work all together is just over three-quarters of a mile. Which means, of course, that if you‘re walking the whole thing and back to your car you’ll get in a mile and a half of your daily exercise.

The Wall Tells the Story of the City

The subjects of the panels tell the history of Portsmouth and the surrounding area. The first few panels deal with the ancient Hopewell and Adena mound building cultures. On the next panel, you’ll see Europeans dealing with local natives as they pushed westward. And so it goes throughout the history from the days of horse and buggy, through the canal and railroad days, then eventually on to automobiles.

A panel of the Portsmouth flood wall mural illustrates the interaction between native Americans and early European settlers. The Ohio River is in the background.
This panel shows the interaction between native Americans and some of the first European settlers.

Interspersed within the historical procession are interesting figures and events in Portsmouth history. The period of the 1937 flood was especially moving. I also enjoyed the period works of downtown Portsmouth, complete with the original business names.

I learned a good bit about the history of the city. They were mostly just little tidbits, but still things I didn’t know. For instance, while I was aware that Roy Rogers, the “King of Cowboys” was from Ohio, I was unaware that he called Portsmouth home. A mural of him on his horse, Trigger, graces the wall.

I didn’t however know that Portsmouth was once home to an NFL team. The Portsmouth Spartans called this city their home. In fact, they played the first night game in the NFL in 1930 and the first indoor game in 1932. Then, in 1934, the Spartans became the Detroit Lions.

A panel from the Portsmouth Flood Wall Mural illustrates early football accomplishments in the area.
The wall presents interesting facts about sports in the Portsmouth area as well.

There are panels devoted to education, healthcare and sports. Other panels honor the men and women who serve in the armed forces. And another portrays views of Portsmouth sister cities in Mexico, Germany and England.

Touring the Flood Wall

While there is come signage available, you’ll get the complete experience by downloading the Portsmouth Murals App. The app supplies both audio and visual information to provide history of the mural and also the subject matter for each panel. You can access the link by clicking through to the Portsmouth mural website.

Portsmouth: Beyond the Flood Wall

Beyond the mural, Portsmouth is a sleepy little town on the Ohio River. Turn of the century houses feature beautiful lawns and gardens. You can stroll along the river or visit the downtown.

If you’re interested in Ohio history or the ancient cultures, you can visit Mound Park. The park is centered around a horseshoe shaped mound, which is fenced off for protection. The mound is a holdover from the Adena or Hopewell cultures and is all that remains of approximately eight miles of mounds that were positioned along the Ohio River on both the Ohio and Kentucky sides. There is a small play area at the park and a number of sport courts and fields as well.


Thanks for FindingOhio with us today and reading about the Portsmouth Flood Wall. It was definitely more interesting than I’d expected.

If you enjoy history and are looking for more things to discover in southern Ohio, you’ll want to visit Chillicothe and see the outdoor drama Tecumseh. It’s currently in its 50th season and tells the story of the Shawnee chief who joined together several tribes.

Check back often as we explore something new at least once each week. And, as always, we appreciate you sharing our content to your social media. It helps us get out the message that Ohio is a great place to live and explore.