We had a wonderful trip to Parkersburg, WV yesterday with our Conestoga group to visit the Blennerhasset Island and Museum. Conestoga is a "friends" type group that supports Ohio History Connection (aka Ohio Historical Society). It was founded in 1986 and has raised over $530,000 to support the mission of preserving Ohio's history.
We had a tour of a museum, the Blennerhasset mansion, a carriage ride and a paddle boat ride on the river to get to the island.
Our transportation to the island was via a paddle boat, Island Belle, which made the crossing about once an hour. By the time we returned in the afternoon, we had bright sun light.
The home burned down in 1811, and was restored by a foundation that used archeology and old family letters to restore it. Harman Blennerhassett was from a wealthy Irish family and appointed the home with silver hardware, gold leaf trim, and expensive oriental rugs. The family had left before the fire when they experienced financial and political challenges so most of the furniture had been sold locally. Some has been repurchased by the foundation. Most of the furniture is authentic to the period, but not the family. It was considered the most beautiful home in Virginia (was part of Virginia before the Civil War.)
In 1806 Harmon Blennerhasset became involved with Aaron Burr financially; Burr was accused of treason and Blennerhassett went to prison for awhile. They didn’t live on the island even a decade and the rest of their family history is just loss and financial ruin.
The tour group was divided, and here we're waiting to see the kitchen which was separated from the main house. The family came from Ireland and brought servants with them. Even with a lot of servants, food preparation in 1800 was extremely challenging on an open hearth. The other small building connected to the house was the owner’s study.
Haflinger horses are very hardy, a breed from Austria and northern Italy. They stay on the island all during the season, then the owners take them to West Virginia to winter at the family farm where they do various winter season events. The driver also acted as a tour guide with some history of the other buildings on the island and told about the crops that were raised there.
“After leaving the island, “Harman Blennerhassett purchased a small cotton plantation and moved his family to the Mississippi Territory. Their stay at the plantation was short-lived, however, when declining cotton prices and crop failures forced this once proud family to return to Ireland and survive only by the grace and pity of an older sister of Blennerhassett. Harman Blennerhassett died a devastated man on February 2, 1831 from a series of apoplectic strokes. Margaret Blennerhassett survived her husband by eleven painful years, only to give way to poverty and disease in the summer of 1842.
The Blennerhassetts, once the inhabitants of an impeccable island paradise and the toast of the Ohio Valley, had witnessed the destruction of their nearly Utopian existence, and had resorted to living off of the incomes of various family members, including their two eldest sons. In all, the Blennerhassetts conceived five children, although they adopted another. Two sons and a daughter were born on Blennerhassett Island, but only the sons survived infancy. Once settled onto their Mississippi plantation, Margaret Blennerhassett bore two more children, a son and a daughter. Once again, however, the daughter died in infancy. Of the Blennerhassett sons only the youngest bore children, none of which reached adulthood, and when he himself passed in 1862, the Blennerhassett name died with him.” Source.