West Virginia is bound by the Ohio River along its western border. Rising from the deep green water of the river is a 500 tree covered acre island. Blennerhassett Island is now a historical West Virginia State Park that is accessible only by ferry or personal boat. The island is home to a 200-year-old mansion, 17 horses,several old buildings,a refreshment stand and a gift shop. It is one of the most beautiful of West Virginia’s State Parks and we took a weekend trip to see its homes and woods.
We started our day trip in Buckhannon and drove north and arrived at the city of Parkersburg, West Virginia early in the morning near the Blennerhassett museum and the river side park. A wonderful four story building with displays from early stone tools and arrowheads found in the area to Victorian home furnishings and early cars. Tickets for the ferry ride to the island are purchased on the bottom floor of the re-purposed building.
My favorite portion of the museum was the collection of nautical items on the 4th floor. The miniature hand-made river boats and this ship steering wheel made me smile when Christopher had to stand on tippy toes just to see over its frame.
After about an hour in the museum it was time to head to the dock to board our paddle driven ferry. This day the boat was full but under normal trips there are open seats either in the cabin below and on the deck above. We rode over to the island on the top deck, enjoying the view, sun, and spray off the paddle wheel.
Once on the island visitors are welcome to take the tour of the Blennerhassett mansion, rent bicycles to ride around the island, take a horse-drawn wagon ride and do some shopping at a gift shop.
My family really enjoyed the covered wagon ride. Christopher liked the horses and the wind in his hair when the driver let the horses pick up speed along the 2 mile path around the black walnut grove. The island is known for its trees and they cover over 2/3 of the island’s land that is actually owned by the DuPont Company. The only open spaces visible are the yards at the mansion and two pastures that are kept cleared for the horses that live on the island all summer. The hundreds of trees shade keeps visitors cool even on a hot 86 degree day like ours.
The tour of the Blennerhassett house is a delight and costumed members of the staff show off the lavish life the family lived. The family lived only 6 years in the finished house. Construction of the house began in the late 1790 and was complete in 1800 with the family fleeing the island 1806 leaving almost everything they owned behind. Harmon and Margaret’s family history is filled with scandal and strange political dealings that made their lives turbulent. Harmon and his young wife ran away from their native Ireland due to his Irish political dealings and his scandalous marriage, to his niece who was decades younger than him. Harmon Blennerhassett later again becomes involved in secret political dealings here in the United States. Being connected with Aaron Burr (Vise President under Thomas Jefferson) and his military plans eventually caused Harmon to be charged with treason by the President. As troops invade the island,the family flees trying to keep Harmon from being captured. Harmon is later found and arrested spends time in prison before the government drops their charges and he is released. The family suffers more tragedy with the death of children, loss of their inherited wealth and the return to Ireland. Yet, their love survives all of this and house remained abandoned on the island until 1811 when it burned to the ground in an accidental fire.
During the tour you are only allowed to take photos without a flash so I chose to take very few of the inside of the main house and study which was very dark. But the kitchen wing of the house(which is the wing on the left in the photo) is bright and filled with windows without coverings I took a few of the large fireplace that was said to never grow cold. The island had a large amount of workers, slaves, family and guests to feed. Margaret is said to have fed everyone on the island from this single hearth.The fire was kept up around the clock to serve the 3 meals a day to the workers and sometimes seven coarse dinners to the family and guests.
The rest of our afternoon was spent eating at the island snack bar that serves hamburgers, hot dog and a variety of other easy to prepare foods. But one of the highlights of our day was getting a slice of birthday cake and a scoop of ice cream to celebrate the 153rd birthday of the creation of the state of West Virginia. It was a wonderful way to remind us of the power of the people of this state.They choose to become a state that was different and separate from the state of Virginia during some of the most turbulent times in our countries history.
The return trip back to the shore in Parkersburg was a great time to reflect on some of the famous people who also loved and visited this very unique island. I find it interesting that the list includes, people like Davy Crockett, Walt Whitman, Johnny Appleseed, Vise President Aaron Burr and even King Charles the X of France.The beauty of the Blennerhassett home and island was known throughout the large cities of the east coast.
As our ferry paddled its way back to the dock and I watched the barges move freight up and down The Ohio River, I finally understood Margret’s love for the island. It only took a few hours of our time to forget everything the did not happen on the island. We were lost in the beauty of her home and forest for hours. All three of us enjoyed a day along the Ohio River and would have enjoyed a much longer stay.