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After Years of Vandalism Ruined Display, Newport Takes a New Chance on Riverwalk Plaques

Twenty years ago, the City of Newport was in the midst of celebrating its bicentennial when it was decided to commemorate important pieces of the river city's heritage by placing plaques along the newly created Riverwalk along the Licking & Ohio Rivers.

These were the days pre-Newport on the Levee, and the path and accompanying plaques were created as a recreational, leisurely attraction.

The plan worked, but not how city leaders expected.

Instead, the markers, which boasted of Newport's past industries, architecture, and historical figures and events, were covered in graffiti, or removed altogether and used as sleds on the nearby slopes in the wintertime.

Though Newport's riverfront is no longer short on development, with the Levee and the Aquarium serving as major tourist attractions, condos and apartments in place, and two new hotels and more apartment units on the way, it was determined that the city would give the Riverwalk plaques another shot. The Major League Baseball All-Star Game's arrival across the Ohio in Cincinnati served as an opportune chance for the second go-round.

"In light of the All-Star activities and the tourist attractions, it shows our history and what we're all about," said Bev Holiday, with the City of Newport. 

In all, there will be ten new plaques with an eleventh serving as an introductory message for those taking the walk. Holiday said that because the original plaques were damaged or removed, the project had to start from scratch. This time, all Newport businesses were used. Rolf Monument engraved the text and images on granite supplied by MK Stones. The Think Shop and Contemporary Images helped with design.

Tim Rolf shows off a plaque to The Think Shop team

Newport's historic preservation officer, Scott Clark, obtained some of the original files used and was able to track down images from sources such as local libraries, the Museum Center in Cincinnati, and the website NKY Views. "It's an incredible mixture of everybody just doing a phenomenal job getting it all together," Clark said. And it all came together swiftly, with plans to begin installation on Friday.

Clark wrote the text based on the original messages, missing only a couple words, Holiday said. "We were going on stuff that was done twenty years ago but we adapted some of it and used some of the text and added some new stuff," Clark told The River City News. "We didn't have a lot to work with. They had pretty much disappeared over the years."

The timing to show off Newport's history is also appropriate as The Think Shop continues its work on the city's new branding. Rob Sudduth, the firm's creative director, worked closely on the project's design. "This is a nice counterpart to the branding," Sudduth said. "This was a fun little side project to work on for the city. It's incredible to see all the different aspects and areas and to see the history of the city to give you a little bit of insight as we work on the branding."

The Think Shop team joined Holiday at Rolf Monument this week to see the plaques as they neared completion. "It's not going to be as susceptible to damage," said Tim Rolf, a fourth generation operator of Newport's second oldest business which was founded in 1895. 

Rolf may get another order soon as Clark said that there are early plans to create additional plaques down the road.

"It's a celebration of the heritage of Newport and the important of Newport and it's really a shame that all the work that went into it to celebrate Newport when we had our bicentennial, it ended up kind of deteriorating over time," Clark said. "It's important because it's about the identity of the city. Not just the past, but also our future."

As for the physical plaques, Rolf said that they will be better protected from theft and will be easier to clean if vandalized by graffiti, but it's not the granite that really matters.

"There is no inherent value to stone," Rolf said. "It's only as good as what it's being used for."

Story & photos by Michael Monks, editor & publisher