The 17 painted fire hydrants of South Boston VA

We visited South Boston, Virginia, for the first time and on our to-do list was to visit every single one of the custom-painted fire hydrants. The town has a public art project where 17 of their hydrants were hand-painted into historical figures and notable people of South Boston, Va.

What we loved: These were all hand painted and the artist’s creativity shined through. The variation in painting style, as well as the curve and embellishment of the actual hydrant hardware, made for fun, unique combinations. You could see that the artists thought about the hydrant as a unique canvas space. The artist had to work with or work against the curvature of the metal. On some, the end cap became a hat, on others that was the person’s face. On one, the bolts of the cap created the illusion of dark, piercing eyes on an otherwise stoic countenance.

Many of them included thoughtful details on their outfits that helped tell the story of their historical significance. And another bonus: Fire hydrants are toddler sized. Our son could walk around them and look them right in the eye. I think this tickled him in ways other brightly-colored objects can’t relate.

Fun questions to ask:

  • Can you guess the person’s vocation based on the accessories or painted details?
  • What makes you think that?
  • When do you think the person lived based on the clothing style?

Logistics

The visitor center has a brochure & map for a walking tour so that you can see all of them. Be aware that the visitor center is not open on the weekends. Their online information is an “e-brochure” that is not very mobile-friendly. If you can’t stop by the visitor center the day you’re going, print out the brochure at home and bring it so you have a map with some information on the people depicted.

Since these are actual fire hydrants, after all, many of them are positioned at the edge of busy street corners. Be sure you have enough free hands to catch little ones from venturing off the sidewalk. The total distance of the walking tour is 1.54 miles. The walk is do-able for an almost three-year-old, but you may decide to use your car to see some of them. Be aware that several are on one-way streets, so you may need to re-calculate your route.

What we would change: There wasn’t a lack of parking, but we weren’t sure where to park. With a toddler in tow, you never want to be very far from your car (unless you’re lugging ALL of your stuff along, which can be a pain). We would have preferred a route that had our car parked in the middle, so that following the route would bring us back to our vehicle. As it is, you finish the route and then have to trek back to wherever you parked. The starting point is not next to the finishing point.

There were 17 hydrants total, but one of them had been vandalized, so we have included photographs of 16 of them.

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