Porstmouth, Ohio: The Movie
Peerless City documentary delivers vibrant view of evolving Appalachian city
by Sarah Diamond Burroway
Since its early formation as a community in 1803, the city of Portsmouth was rooted at the confluence of the Ohio and Scioto Rivers. With these mighty waters at its foundation in the Appalachian mountains of southern Ohio, Portsmouth is vibrant and ever changing: rolling, adapting, and re-visioning its identity to the world.
A new film about Portsmouth, Peerless City (Peerless City Productions, 2022), chronicles the city in three acts, transporting viewers through the stories behind the slogans which have identified Portsmouth through the 20th century.
The film begins with the titular moniker, “Peerless City,” which highlighted Portsmouth’s rich industrial economy and culture until a period of decline in the wake of the 1937 flood of the Ohio River. Next followed the slogan “Where Southern Hospitality Begins,” a mid-century nod to the city’s proximity to Kentucky. The final stop serves as an open door: “the Comeback City,” perhaps a tagline for today following the harsh impacts of economic downturn, opioid and heroin epidemics, and perpetual negative stereotypes.
“Where Southern Hospitality Begins,” a slogan adopted by Portsmouth, Ohio in the 1960s, adorns
the city’s famous murals along the Ohio River. (All photos supplied by Peerless City Productions.)
The making of Peerless City explores how city slogans serve in crafting the narrative and identity of
Portsmouth, Ohio through a series of personal outlooks by citizens. The film also provides scenic
observations of places, culture, and everyday life of the city.
Peerless City was directed by Amanda Page (writer, historian, Portsmouth-area native, and debut documentarian) and David Bernabo (artist, musician, filmmaker, and Pittsburgh native). Their travelogue through time is marked by vintage-inspired graphics.
One of Portsmouth’s monikers, “the Comeback City”, is seen in renovations like work at the former Mitchellace
factory. Once the largest volume producer of shoelaces in the world, the 360,000 square foot structure was
purchased in 2022 by a counseling and drug rehabilitation center and is undergoing the largest redevelopment
in southern Ohio to serve the region’s comprehensive treatment needs.
Peerless City examines the evolution of city slogans of Portsmouth, an Ohio River town with a history
steeped in industry and culture in Appalachian Ohio.