- Last Updated on 03:43 PM 02/20/12
- BY Paula I. Bryant
Successful public art draws people to it, makes them want to interact with it and opens them up to conversations with others, helping create a sense of community.
And Destination Downtown South Boston officials are banking on its new Fire Hydrant Walking Tour to attract many casual walkers and exercise enthusiasts to the town.
A recently published Fire Hydrant Walking Tour brochure boasts colorful photos of 17 of the town’s fire hydrants found on the 1.54-mile walking tour.
And walkers who go and come on the walking tour can boast a 3-mile plus walk.
Beginning with the Ida Rogers Vaughan fire hydrant on Fenton Street, the tour winds walkers, joggers and runners down Broad Street onto Seymour Drive, up Main Street onto Arch Street and back onto Broad Street for a block.
The tour continues along Charles Street to Main Street to North Main Street and then back down Main Street, along Seymour Drive again and around the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center to Factory Street, Ferry Street and ends on Ragland Street at fire hydrant #17, painted a tribute of Dollye Kent Ragland.
Sprinkled throughout the town between hydrants 1 and 17, are painted hydrants that have taken on appearances of someone you may have seen before including painted personifications of:
• Ida Rogers Vaughan painted by Chawn Cliborne-Bego
•Dr. Henry Grant Wood painted by Karen Robertson
•Captain Edwin Jeffress painted by Nelly Zamora Jones
•Carroll Headspeth painted by Kay Lewis
•William Sutphin painted by Catherine Womack
•E. Nash Hardy painted by Karen Robertson
•Wiley Waddill Ward painted by Kay Lewis
•William A. Kent painted by Ron Miller
•Lowell Strickland painted by Rebecca Rodgers
•William Munford Tuck painted by Kay Lewis
•John Hamilton painted by Susi Robbins
•Dr. J. M. Mason painted by students at Carlbrook School
•The Tobacco Man painted by Veronna Barksdale
•Dr. Alexander Trent Clarke painted by Betty Caldwell
•Nathaniel Green Terry painted by Margaret Covington
•Dollye Kent Ragland painted by Kay Lewis
Three board members from Destination Downtown South Boston, Inc. got the idea for bringing town fire hydrants to life after attending a North Carolina Main Street Conference in January of 2010.
They came home very excited about New Bern, N.C.’s fire hydrant project where volunteers had painted fire hydrants in New Bern to represent their city’s historical characters.
So the design committee set off to work on the same type of project in Downtown South Boston.
Destination Downtown first got permission for the project from the Halifax County Service Authority, and then mapped out where all the fire hydrants were in downtown.
They enlisted the help of the Halifax County Historical Society to develop a list of South Boston’s characters of historical significance and do a 50 – 75 word narrative of why this person was significant to South Boston’s history and obtained permission from the families of the historical characters.
They also contacted the person who spearheaded the New Bern project to learn the do’s and don’ts and to get guidance.
Tamyra Vest, DDSB’s executive director, said, “We feel that this is a project that adds unique visual interest as well as having unique connections to the heritage and culture of South Boston. It is a wonderful addition to our downtown historic district,” she added.
“All in all, this project is great because public art projects are the result of community partnerships that bring groups together toward the common goal of enriching the community. Dazzling art-on-the-street projects turn downtown business districts into neighborhoods. Everyone benefits from fire hydrants that are whimsical and amusing as well as learn more about the people important to South Boston’s history.”
Two years later and the town now has 17 painted hydrants and a colorful printed walking tour brochure that includes the characters’ names and biographies along with a photograph of each personified fire hydrant.
Copies of the brochures may be picked up at the Main Street office, tourism office, chamber of commerce, The Prizery and various downtown locations including Southern Plenty and Caffe Peroni.
Nat Baggett, who spearheaded the New Bern project, said it best, “This project is first and foremost the most rewarding, most easiest and most fun!”
So, Vest suggests going for a walk next time you’re in downtown South Boston and visiting with the town’s historical characters portrayed on the 17 decorated fire hydrants.