Painted on the floodwall at the foot of the Roebling Bridge are eighteen stunning murals by artist Robert Dafford and his team. The images depict the rich history of Covington, Northern Kentucky and the Roebling Bridge and range from 8000 B.C. to 2008 A.D. These murals were a project of Legacy, a group of young Northern Kentucky leaders. The incredible details depicted in each mural are definitely worth seeing!
If you would like to do a scavenger hunt based on these murals, you can see it here.
From east to west, the murals are as follows:
The Great Buffalo Road
This mural depicts prehistoric buffalo crossing the Ohio River from what is now Cincinnati to what is now Covington. The Licking River is shown to the left of center, flowing into the Ohio. In the painting, a group of aboriginal hunters are stalking the herd.
The Meeting at the Point
In November of 1782, General George Rogers Clark convened his Meeting at the Point to muster militia troops at the confluence of the Licking and Ohio Rivers. Although the Revolutionary War was essentially over, the meeting was to organize raids against the Native Americans in Ohio. Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton are also shown at the meeting.
You are just a block or so away from George Rogers Clark Park, where a statue of Simon Kenton stands. When you are done with this tour, click here to see the Riverside Dr. Statue Tour.
In 1791, Thomas Kennedy, built a modest log home on what is now the corner of Second and Garrard Streets (where George Rogers Clark Park is located). Kennedy subsequently sold a major portion of his land to be used for the future city of Covington. He ran a ferry across the Ohio River to what is now Cincinnati. Covered wagons and horses could walk right onto the ferry and be rowed across the river. There is still an operating ferry in our area, called the Anderson Ferry, that makes this trip from Hebron, KY.
The Flight of the Garner Family
Margaret Garner (called Peggy) was a slave on a farm in Boone County, KY. Peggy married a fellow slave, Robert Garner, in 1849 and their son was born in 1850. Peggy had three other children after that, although they were likely to have been fathered by the plantation owner.
The winter of 1856 was the coldest in 60 years and the Ohio River had frozen. As you can see in the mural, a river doesn’t freeze into a smooth surface like that of a pond. It provides rough and treacherous footing. Robert, Peggy, their children and several other slave families took the opportunity to escape from Kentucky to Ohio, which was a free state. The group separated after crossing to avoid capture.
Robert and Peggy’s family hid out at the home of a former slave. The rest of their party eventually escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. Slave catchers and US Marshalls found the Garners, however, and stormed the house. Peggy was so intent that her children not be returned to slavery that she tried to kill them all, along with herself. She was able to kill her two-year-old daughter with a butcher knife and wound her other children before she was subdued and arrested.
Peggy’s trial was unusually long and complicated. The central issue was whether the Garners would be tried as persons and charged with murdering their daughter or tried as property under the Fugitive Slave Law. The Garner’s attorney argued that Ohio law and its right to protect its citizens should take precedence, but the slave catchers and owner argued that federal law should supersede state law.
The defense attorney wanted her charged with murder so the case would be tried in the free state of Ohio, knowing the governor would later pardon her. The trial attracted over 1,000 people to watch the proceedings each day, with 500 men deputized to maintain order.
The judge ruled that federal law had precedence and Peggy, Robert and their infant daughter were returned to their owner in Kentucky. Ohio did get an extradition warrant for Peggy to try her for murder, but her owner kept moving her around and the Ohio authorities couldn’t locate her. They learned that she had been sent by boat to a plantation in Arkansas. While being transported, their boat collided with another boat and began to sink. Peggy and her baby were thrown overboard and the baby drowned. Peggy was reportedly happy the baby had died and tried to drown herself, as well. However, she was rescued and eventually sent with Robert to be household servants in New Orleans. Peggy contracted typhoid fever and died in 1858.
The story of the Garners was the inspiration for Frances Harper’s 1859 poem “Slave Mother: A Tale of Ohio” and Tomas Satterwhite Noble’s 1867 painting “The Modern Medea”, which can be seen at the Freedom Center, located across the Roebling Bridge in Cincinnati. The book and movie “Beloved” were also inspired by Peggy’s life.
The Pontoon Bridge
The construction of the suspension bridge (now called the Roebling Bridge) was begun in 1856, but stalled in 1858, largely due to lack of funding. You can see the partially completed bridge towers in this mural. The Civil War began in 1961 and by the fall of 1962, Confederate troops had invaded Kentucky and were threatening Cincinnati. The Union built a series of forts on the hills in Northern Kentucky but troops and supplies needed to be moved quickly to help with the defense of the region. Lining up coal barges created a temporary pontoon bridge across the Ohio River. In the mural, you can see the blue-suited Union soldiers crossing the river with supplies. The pontoon bridge was maintained from September through early November of 1862.
The needs of the war renewed interest in completion of the bridge and it officially opened in December of 1866. You can learn more about the bridge in this tour, which begins just a block west of this mural. Other murals in this floodwall series depict the completed bridge.
Jacob Price was a Baptist minister and African American community leader. He was born in Woodford County, KY in 1839 and moved to Covington when he was 20. He is listed in the 1860 census as a “free man of color”. At 24, he became pastor of the Black Baptist Church. Two years later, he helped to establish a school for African American children. The first classes were held in Jacob’s home, which is shown on the right side of the mural. He later worked to establish William Grant High School for African American students in Covington. Jacob’s daughter, Ann, was in the first graduating class.
In 1881, Jacob established a lumber business. Within ten years, sales had increased to $15,000 per year and he employed two delivery teams and two yardmen. The lumberyard is pictured to the left of Jacob on the mural and one of his building projects is pictured behind him. It was located at 426 Madison Avenue, a site that is now a parking lot for adjacent businesses. The business was in operation until around 1914, when Jacob was 75. Jacob died at the age of 83.
The buildings shown at the bottom right of the mural are the government-funded affordable housing project, named after Jacob Price. These were built in 1939 and have since been demolished.
Vision and Ingenuity
This mural depicts the Roebling Bridge (then called the Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge) shortly after it was completed. As shown in the mural, it was originally painted “Spanish Brown”. It was painted bright blue in 1976 to celebrate the centennial and its current "Roebling Blue" color in 2010.
Also pictured in the mural are John A. Roebling, the designer and engineer of the bridge, and Amos Shinkle, the president of the Bridge Company and chief financier. Shinkle’s home is located just a few blocks away at 215 Garrard Street. It is a private residence.
The bridge is also known as the “humming bridge” or the “singing bridge” because of the sound that is made when cars drive over the metal mesh surface. Roebling perfected his suspension bridge design here and then scaled it up when he took on a commission to build the Brooklyn Bridge.
For more information on the history of the bridge, visit the www.roeblingbridge.org website.
A statue of John A. Roebling is located just a block away from this mural and is part of the Riverside Drive Statue Tour.
Artists in Residence
Pictured in this mural are two famous Northern Kentucky artists, Henry Farny and Frank Duveneck. Farny is shown painting outdoors, since his primary subjects were the Native American landscapes along the Missouri River and further west. His painting “Song of the Talking Wire” is available to view at the Taft Museum of Art. There is a charming and unusual park at 209 W. Robbins St. in the Seminary Square neighborhood of Covington that is dedicated to Henry Farny. The artwork there is by David Rice and references several elements of Farny’s work.
Frank Duveneck, shown in his studio, was born in Covington. He developed a realistic style of painting, often using dark colors and slashing brushwork. By the age of 27, he was a celebrated artist. He opened a school in Munich and later taught at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.
A spin on Duveneck’s painting “The Cobbler’s Apprentice” (shown on the fireplace mantel in this mural) was turned into a baseball mural done through ArtWorks. It is located just across the Roebling Bridge at 120 E. Freedom Way. The original painting hangs in the Taft Museum of Art.
A life-size statue of Duveneck holding a painting of his beloved wife (featured in the mural) stands at the corner of Pike and Washington Streets in Covington (about half a mile from this mural). Duveneck’s paintings can also be seen locally at the Cincinnati Art Museum and in Covington’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.
In operation from 1883 until 1939, the Latonia Racetrack was a Thoroughbred horse racing facility. It was regarded as being among the top racing sites in the US, with more than 100,000 visitors annually. Latonia is one of Covington’s 19 distinct neighborhoods. The track’s best-known race was the Latonia Derby. In 1912, the silent film “Winning the Latonia Derby” was made, starring King Baggot.
The track was forced to close during the Great Depression, due to financial difficulties. In 1959, a new racetrack opened in Florence, KY and it was called the Latonia Race Course. It later changed its name to Turfway Park and is still in operation.
The German Heritage of Northern Kentucky
This mural honors the huge impact that German immigrants had on Northern Kentucky, including architectural styles, many of the area’s churches, German cuisine and a fondness for brewing (and drinking) beer. In fact, the Oktoberfest celebration in Cincinnati is the largest in the world, after the one in Munich, Germany. Northern Kentucky had the first Hofbrauhaus outside of Germany. It is located right across from Newport at the Levee.
The central panel of this mural shows German craftsmen working on architectural details for the Mutter Gottes Church behind them. This distinctive Roman Catholic Church still stands at 119 W. 6th St. in Covington, about half a mile from this mural. The cornerstone was laid in 1870. The interior features murals by Johann Schmitt, an early teacher of Frank Duveneck, who is pictured in the Artists in Residence floodwall mural.
From top to bottom on the left side of the mural:
The top panel is of Covington’s former City Hall, which no longer stands.
The second panel depicts the Bavarian Brewing Company, built in 1877. It has been vacant for a number of years but is now being renovated to house the Kenton County Administration offices. It is at 522 W. 12th St. in Covington. In the “Play Ball!” mural on this floodwall, there is a building painted with an ad for Bavarian Beer.
The Germans were often lumber dealers and builders, so the third panel shows a frame house in the process of being built.
The bottom panel shows a row of buildings on Madison Avenue in Covington. The central one is at 611 Madison Ave (less than half a mile from this mural). It once was the German National Bank and now houses a bar and music venue, called Octave.
From top to bottom on the right side of the mural:
The top panel depicts a dairy farm, which was a common profession for German immigrants in the area.
The second panel shows people in traditional German costumes dancing in Covington’s Goebel Park, where a replica of a German Glockenspiel was built in 1979. Officially named the Carroll Chimes Bell Tower, the Glockenspiel features motorized figures that come out of the little doors above the arched doorway on the tower. The figures act out “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” story on the hour, from April through December.
The third panel is of a machine shop, another common German profession.
The center bottom panel is of MainStrasse Village, a charming Covington neighborhood that features homes, apartments, great restaurants, bars and stores, as well as Goebel Park. You can see this scene, as it looks today by standing in front of a local restaurant at 519 Main St., Bouquet and looking south. Many of the buildings shown in the mural still stand today.
The bier stein that appears to sit on the “ledge” next to the mural is a clever nod to the beer brewing and drinking culture that the Germans brought to our region.
Covington Religious Heritage
This stunning faux stained glass window features 7 local houses of worship, along with symbols from several different religions.
The church at the top left of the mural is the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, which is located at 1140 Madison Ave. in Covington. It is a stunning Roman Catholic building that is open for self-guided tours Mon.-Sat. from 10:00-4:00.
The bottom left panel shows the First African American Baptist Church. This building no longer stands. One of its first pastors was Jacob Price, pictured in the “Jacob Price” floodwall mural.
The top central panel depicts the Temple Israel Synagogue, which was originally built in 1911 for the 35 Jewish families who lived in Covington at that time. This building no longer stands.
The central panel is of the First United Methodist Church. Located at 501 Greenup St. in Covington, this building is in the process of being renovated to be a culinary school and dinner theater.
The bottom central panel shows the Western Baptist Theological Institute, which was built on a large piece of land in what is now Covington’s Seminary Square neighborhood. The three main buildings that made up the institute are shown in the mural. This site was chosen for the institute in part because of its proximity to the southern states. However, the issue of slavery divided the Baptists and so the Institute lost a lot of its southern students and benefactors and the Institute eventually closed. During the Civil War, the buildings were used as a convalescent hospital for wounded Union soldiers and remained a hospital until 1914. The main building was razed in 1916.
The church in the top right panel is Mutter Gottes (Mother of God), a Roman Catholic church built in 1870 and still standing today, at 119 W. 6th St. in Covington. This church is included in several other floodwall murals, including the German Heritage one, just to the east of this one.
The bottom right panel shows Trinity Episcopal Church, which is in excellent condition and located only a few blocks away from these murals, at 16 E. 4th St. It held its first service in 1844. It is the second largest parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington. The Gothic Revival building is stunning, with a timber and truss roof above a brick and stone masonry structure. In 1937, the Ohio River flooded (depicted in the “1937 Flood” mural here on the floodwall) and reached Trinity, which gives a good idea of how dramatic the flooding was.
The Federal Ball Park depicted in this mural was located just blocks from where this mural is now. The ballpark was built for the Covington Blue Sox, a franchise in the Federal League that was awarded to Covington in 1913. The playing field was possibly the smallest ever built for any professional baseball park and construction began only a month before opening day.
The Blue Sox’ first home game was May 9, 1913. It was a huge occasion, celebrated with an official half-day holiday for the city, bands and a parade. Messenger pigeons were released to spread the news of the opening game to all the teams on the circuit, as well as to President Woodrow Wilson. They sold out and even turned away thousands of fans. They won against the St. Louis Terriers with a score of 4-0.
However, the average turnout for the rest of the games that summer was 650 people. On 23, it was announced that the Blue Sox would move to Kansas City, where they were renamed the Packers. The ballpark was torn down in 1919. The team members are depicted in the center bottom panel of the mural.
The bottom left panel shows the 1939 Covington Boosters team, which won the World Championship in fast-pitch softball that year.
The bottom right panel is a picture of the Covington Ball Park, which was located at 9th and Philadelphia Streets. The construction of I-75 forced the demolition of the ballpark in 1958.
Covington’s centennial celebration in 1914 was quite an event, as you can see in this mural. Interestingly, the city was only 99 years old that year. A research mistake led city leaders to celebrate a year early. The week of events included citywide decorations, exhibitions, parades, boat races in the river, and a banquet in honor of President Woodrow Wilson (who unfortunately did not attend).
In 2015 (the correct year this time), Covington joined together to celebrate another 100 years. There are several murals around the city that celebrate this bicentennial and encourage everyone to “Love the Cov”. Many of these are included in the Covington Central Business District tour.
You can see how this mural’s view looks today by standing outside The Hannaford bar (619 Madison Ave.) and looking north toward the river. The Motch clocks, as well as many of the buildings pictured in the mural, still stand today.
Daniel C. Beard
Daniel Carter Beard is widely regarded as the founder of the Boy Scouts of America. In 1905, he started a group he called the Sons of Daniel Boone, after the American frontiersman. Beard wrote a column in several magazines, where he promoted his program to teach boys about nature and outdoor activities, several of which are pictured on this mural. The page numbers referenced on the mural are from Beard’s “The American Boy’s Handy Book”. The river in the mural is the Licking, shown as it flows into the Ohio. A statue of Beard stands outside his childhood home, which is just a couple of blocks from this mural and is included in the Riverside Drive Statue tour.
The Flood of 1937
This mural depicts the terrible flood of 1937. As you can see, the water was nearly up to the level of the bridge. Rain fell for nearly two weeks that January and the river crested at 79.99 feet. During this flood, the Roebling Bridge was the only one across the Ohio River that remained open within the 800-mile stretch between Stuebenville, OH and Cairo, IL. This was made possible by the placement of thousands of sand bags on the Covington side of the bridge to prevent the water from blocking the access.
Devou Park is a 700-acre park in Covington. It was established in 1910, with a gift of 500 acres of land from William and Charles Devou. The park offers many activities, most of which are depicted on the mural. The left panel shows the 18-hole golf course and joggers running past the stone picnic shelter. The top center panel shows a concert at the Bandshell. The bottom center painting is of fishers at Prisoner’s Lake. The lake was originally a stone quarry. In 1916, the Covington City Commission arranged for prisoners from the Covington Jail to be put to work crushing stones. Many prisoners realized that this was a good opportunity to escape and so, in 1924, the quarry was turned into an appropriately named lake. The right panel shows bikers on the trail to Behringer-Crawford Museum, which showcases Northern Kentucky’s heritage. At the top of the panel is Drees Pavilion, a lovely event center with stunning views of the river and Cincinnati skyline.
Those adorable children on the mural are enjoying a view of the present-day riverfront, as seen from the Cincinnati side. The fireworks are shown bursting over the Roebling Bridge, RiverCenter Towers and the Ascent, as well as other Northern Kentucky landmarks. The mural’s title block mentions Tall Stacks, which was a festival held here several times, starting in 1988. It brought historic riverboats, with their tall smokestacks, from up and down the Ohio River for festivities, historic reenactments and boat races.
These paintings are a clever juxtaposition of the same scene at very different times in history. The one on the left shows present-day people using laptops and writing on what might be a whiteboard. The painting on the right has a man painting on a stone wall and two other people making art by hand.