This Saturday morning found us headed for my last Ohio county, Scioto, and it’s county seat, Portsmouth, which like many Ohio River towns has seen better days. Portsmouth once had a population close to 50,000 and now it is down to 20,000. Apparently to live there many turn to meth and heroin as the drive down passed about 10 billboards advertising how to get help.
The city itself actually looked better than expected, and when we arrived at the riverfront we were blown away by the History of Portsmouth Murals on the floodwall.
These murals portray the history of Portsmouth, Ohio from the mound building Indians to the present day, and use a 20ft. high, 2000 ft. long floodwall as a canvas.
Topics include; The Portsmouth Earthworks; a Shawnee village; The 1749 ‘Lead Plate Expedition’; Tecumseh; Henry Massie, a founding father of the town; A Civil War unit from Portsmouth; Jim Thorpe, a who was the player/coach of the semiprofessional Portsmouth Shoe steels in the late 1920s; The Portsmouth Spartans, a charter member of the NFL that later moved to Detroit to become the Detroit Lions;
Branch Rickey; Clarence Carter, an American Regionalist and surrealist painter; Local photographer and historic photo collector Carl Ackerman, from whose collection many of the murals draw their imagery;
The disastrous Ohio River flood of 1937; Transportation – stagecoaches, riverboats, railroads and the Ohio and Erie Canal; Local notables including Roy Rogers; the local history of education; the first European settlers; industry; sister cities; the local Carnegie library, firemen and police, period genre scenes of old downtown and other localities, a memorial to area armed forces veterans, Portsmouth’s baseball heroes and the Tour of the Scioto River Valley.
The murals are extremely well done, with minute detail and vivid images. Despite the morning cold, we thoroughly enjoyed walking and driving the length.
We crossed over into Kentucky and continued on to Huntington, West Virginia. Once in town we found our way to the Museum of Radio and Technology, located in an old school high up on a hill on the south end of town.
This museum has a number of room dedicated to commercial adios over the decades, as well as military radios, ham and short wave radios, a vintage hi-fi room, and a computer display.
Once back into town, we went to Taylor’s Auto Collection. Jimmie Taylor made his money in auto parts and salvage, and over the years has amassed an impressive collection of vintage automobiles, where he now displays them in a garage in Huntington.
The day we arrived there were a few volunteers around how explained a bit of it to us, then just let us wander. A few minutes later Jimmie came in, apparently just returning from winter in Florida.
Jimmie proceeded to show us his favorites, including a 1936 Chrysler Convertible and a 1930 Cadillac Limousine that belonged to JP Morgan.
Nearby was a railyard that had a couple of restored rail cars, including one for the Marshall University Thundering Herd, and another that said it was JP Morgan’s personal railcar. Who know Huntington had such a passion for JPM.
It was time to move on and I had plans for lunch, Hillbilly Hot Dogs in Lesage, West Virginia. This hot dog stand had been featured on numerous TV shows, and as such is amazingly busy. When we arrived they were lined up out the door with a 45-minute wait, so we didn’t.
We continued up the river to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, the home of Chief Cornstalk and the Mothman. Chief Cornstalk Cornstalk was a prominent leader of the Shawnee nation just prior to the American Revolution. His name, Hokoleskwa, translates loosely into “stalk of corn” in English,
Cornstalk opposed European settlement west of the Ohio River in his youth, but he later became an advocate for peace after the Battle of Point Plesant. His murder by soldiers after being taken hostage by American militiamen at Fort Randolph during a diplomatic visit in November 1777 outraged both Natives and Virginians. It is reputed that as he died he put a curse on the area, and that since then many tragedies have befallen the area.
The Mothman arrived in Point Pleasant in November 1966 in classic style, scaring couples in parked cars and eating farmers’ dogs. He was described as seven feet tall with a barrel chest and a piercing shriek. His most memorable features were his ten-foot batlike wings and his huge, red, glowing eyes.
Some people thought that Mothman was a mutant, spawned from local chemical and weapons dumps. Some thought that he was the the curse of Chief Cornstalk.
Mothman remained an obscure bogeyman until 2001 when the lame movie starring Richard Gear came out, and the town realized that this was its one chance to make something good out of its monster. In 2003, Gunn Park was renamed Mothman Park, and a 12-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture of Mothman was unveiled.
In 2005 the Mothman Museum and Research Center opened across the street from the statue; it display some of the props from the film, and sells an assortment of Mothman souvenirs.
Even Chief Cornstalk has a memorial in Point Pleasant. A four-ton stone obelisk, marked simply “Cornstalk,” stands in Point Pleasant Battlefield State Park down by the river. The Chief’s surviving remains — three teeth and a few bone fragments — are sealed in the center of the obelisk, perhaps to ensure that his curse is safely locked away.
The Point Pleasant flood wall also has murals painted by the same person as those in Portsmouth, just not nearly as many. They do have though statues of Chief Cornstalk and Lord Dunsmore, along with Daniel Boone and Mad Anne Bailey, whose “mad” exploits in thwarting the Indians earned her the nickname, after her first husband, Richard Trotter, was killed in the battle.
Located in the southern end of the town is the four-acre Tu-Endie-Wei State Park commemorates the 1774 engagement. The park’s centerpiece is an 84-foot granite obelisk that honors the Virginia militiamen who gave their lives during the battle, while the statue of a frontiersman stands at the base., as well as the Cornstalk Memorial.
Also located on the park is the Mansion House. Erected in 1796 by Walter Newman as a tavern, it is the oldest, hewn log house in the Kanawha Valley.
The Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center focuses on river life and commercial enterprise on the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers. The museum has many displays and video demonstrations on the great floods, boat construction, sternwheel steamers, river disasters and the local river industry’s contribution to World War II. The museum also offers a pilot house simulator, aquarium and a research library.
Of particular interest is an extensive display on the Silver Bridge Collapse. This bridge fell into the Ohio River taking 46 lives into the river. The museum has a display of the bridge, as well as one of the infamous eyebars that failed, leading to the collapse. Sadly the only memorial to the victims are small bricks that are difficult to see near where the entrance to the bridge once was.
But one can only have so many curses and legends in one day, and soon we had to head back to Columbus. On the way back we stopped at the Leo Petroglyphs near Jackson, Ohio.
There are reported to be 37 sandstone petroglyphs, however they are very difficult to see, except those that someone has enhanced with sharpies (at least that is what it appears to be). While the rest of the ride home should’ve been in quiet thought it was not, instead it was discussion of the variety of sights we saw that day.