Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park- Parkersburg, West Virginia
I mentioned before that my wife grew up near this area, and she has been saying that we needed to visit for some time. The place sounded cool and interesting, but it is the sort of place that you really don't get it until you actually visit.
So, we finally made the trip.
You can buy tickets from the Blennerhassett Museum of Natural History in Parkersburg. We swung by at about 10 minutes to the hour, and the boat to the island goes out every hour. I asked if we would have time to make the boat ride, and the very sweet lady at the counter said it was worth a try.... she helped us get the process moving.
It was $10 each for the boat ride to the island. We paid in cash and ran the two short blocks to the riverboat landing as the boat was loading passengers.
It was a very relaxing 25 minute or so ride to the island. The captain allowed us to get a photo at the wheel which was very cool. I think everyone on the boat took advantage of this offer.
We got off the boat and went to the easy to find ticket area to buy tickets for the buggy ride, and the home tours. We could have purchased a combo ticket at the museum, but, as we needed to rush to catch the boat, we just paid for the boat ride.
Anyway, I think it is about $10 a person for each attraction, if I remember correctly.
So, we were able to catch one of the buggy rides around the island right after that.
The horse drawn buggy ride was a lot of fun. Our driver/guide Jarod told us about the island, the Mansion, and it's history. Jarod was funny and informative, and we really liked him. He totally looked the part, and some casting agent needs to sign this guy to play a stage coach driver in a western movie.
After our ride around the island, Jarod told everyone about his horses, who are siblings. They were very sweet, and we all got to pet them and thank them at the end of the ride.
Many people took a moment to get their photo with the horses, and with the entire buggy. There were several young children there who obviously loved the experience.
There are other buildings on the island besides the mansion. Jarod pointed one out specifically that was in ruins. It was an old brick building. We were told that Walt Whitman had stayed there at one time, and he wrote a poem about the island!
Oddly, the island is named for the family who built a mansion on it, but only lived there for a short period of time.
Herman Blennerhassett bought part of the island in the late 1790s, and constructed his impressive pad there in 1798. Herman would pretty much be forced from the island in 1806, and his home would be destroyed in 1811.
The story is a fascinating one that gets a bit complicated, and is centered around US Vice President #3, Aaron Burr. Yeah, the same Aaron Burr who seems to pop up in history and cause all sorts of bad things to happen (just ask Alexander Hamilton).
VERY long story short- Aaron Burr convinces Herman Blennerhassett to support his military expedition which probably involves a plot to take over Spanish ruled Texas. Burr's rival Thomas Jefferson seems to think the plot involves trying to take some of the West from the US, and he goes after Burr for this treasonous plan.
Aaron and Herman spend some time in jail, and Blennerhassett's fortune and reputation were damaged forever. He would never return to the island, and he would die decades later after working different jobs here and there. He would never again have the kind of upper class life style he once knew.
After leaving the island, the Virginia Militia (West Virginia was still part of Virginia at this time) would loot and destroy the Blennerhassett home.
Fast forward to the 1980s, and the state of West Virginia decided to reconstruct the mansion. As photography was still a few decades from being invented when the house was destroyed, they had no photos of the original. There were written descriptions though, and foundation remains. Still, some guessing was involved in the reconstruction.
After the horse and buggy ride, we did the tour of the home. Impressively costumed guides told us about the home, and its history.
From there, we casually walked around the island some. There is a snack bar near the ticket area. There is also a very nice and well stocked gift shop. I had to get a patch and some postcards.
Luckily, several interesting books about the island were available. I picked up a nice, small book (50 or so pages) called, "An Island Called Eden" by historian Ray Swick. It is a very easy to read volume about the island. The book was only $5 and I am glad I made that purchase!
Boat rides back off of the island go out on the half hour. After we felt like we had really experience everything, we took the ride back to Parkersburg.