Historical mural scenes are breathing new life into Clinton Street located in downtown Hickman
A total of 76 murals now adorn the floodwall depicting memorable moments from the little river town. Many buildings, once filled with people who worked to bring Hickman to fruition and provide a home for many along the Mississippi River, also helped shape the lives of generations with ties to the area. Several churches that provided places of worship, with long histories rich in faith, have also been featured on some of the floodwall spaces.
Over the course of about two and a half years, Hickman Chamber of Commerce Director Martha Campbell has watched as Lake County, Tennessee, artist Karon Griffin turned the once blank floodwall into colorful, one-of-a-kind paintings worthy of drawing people to the area. Hickman’s downtown park is the perfect place to sit and view the floodwall murals that now decorate and add historical value to the river town perched on the bluff along the mighty Mississippi River.
Campbell and Griffin began collaborating on the project in June 2015. “We met with the thought of painting 16 murals,” says Campbell. “That first phase quickly grew into twice as many with Karon painting 30 murals during phase one in 2015.”
Before Griffin could begin painting the scenes chosen by individuals, families, churches, and area businesses, the wall had to first be primed.
As a true grassroots effort, many people contributed to the successful project. Members of the U.S. Coast Guard, work crews from the Fulton County Detention Center, and other volunteers helped prime the walls, coming together to make the project possible.
Volunteers like Paul Henderson contributed equipment and Jane Voorhees faithfully brought cold water and tea on hot summer days as Griffin painted.
Another volunteer, Phyllis Bryant, helped out by painting words and other things on some of the murals, as did Vicky Waller. Artist Jerri Whitman traveled all the way from Maine to help out with the project back in 2015 and she returned again in 2016. Don “Buzz” Blincoe helped seal the murals after they were completed.
The second phase of the floodwall mural project began in August 2016, after the base coat was applied in July.
“The heat was relentless,” says Griffin. “We would have to start before 7 a.m. and would sometimes only make it to 10 or 10:30 a.m., it would just get too hot for us to paint.”
All the murals, which took approximately 12 hours each to paint, are designed from photographs or drawings that people submitted. Sponsors of the mural could choose the scene they wanted on their mural space as long as it had historical relevance to Hickman and the people who reside here or once made a life along the river.
Some of Griffin’s favorite ones to paint include Hickman Hardware and the LaClede Hotel, which were painted in 2015. Some of her favorites from 2016 include the Cemetery Arch and the USS Taylor.
The USS Taylor mural, sponsored by Joe Taylor and family in honor of the men who served on the USS Taylor, depicts a Fletcher-class destroyer of the United States Navy. It was named for Rear Admiral William Roper Taylor (1889). The Taylor was the first destroyer to anchor in Japanese coastal waters at the end of World War II. After four years of inactivity, the Taylor moved to San Francisco on May 9, 1950, and days later began an extensive conversion to an escort destroyer headed to her new home port, Pearl Harbor. The Taylor earned 15 battle stars during World War II, two battle stars for the Korean conflict, and six battle stars for Vietnam War service.
Each mural represents something special to someone and Griffin added her own personal flair to them all, making them just as unique as the town perched on the bluff in western Kentucky along the mighty Mississippi River.
Some of the phase three murals painted during 2017 include the grocery store chain that opened its first store in Hickman, E.W. James and Sons Supermarket; the old service station now owned and operated by Roger Gordon; and a mural for a Missouri man who wanted to feature his grandfather’s plumbing business. Phase three also included murals of Riverview, Western, and Graves schools.
With each stroke of her brush, Griffin and the many people who worked behind the scenes have imprinted the history of Hickman for the future. The memories of long ago are brought back to life once again, impacting the town that Mark Twain called “the prettiest little river town perched on the hill.”