Blennerhassett Island History and Photographs
To the fair Isle, reverts the pleasing dream,
Again thou risest, in thy green attire,
Fresh, as at first; thy blooming graces seem;
Thy groves, thy fields, their wonted sweets respire;
Again thou’rt all my heart could e’er desire.
Oh! Why dear isle, are thou not still my own?
Thy charms could then for all my grief atone.
From “The Deserted Isle”
Blennerhassett Island, the largest in Ohio River, stands nearly two miles west of Parkersburg, West Virginia. This four-mile long island with a perimeter of eleven miles boasts sufficient size and beauty to be worth exploring by distant as well as local visitors—who often overlook the attraction. “People who get the most pleasure out of life—pleasure that lasts and grows over the years—are those who explore their own neighborhood to gain for themselves and their families knowledge and enjoyment of all the interesting places and things their area has to offer them,” says Larry Brian Radka—this Web site's Parkersburg-pages creator.
“Half the fun of knowing your own locality lies in digging things up for yourself, in reading history, perusing photographs like these on the Internet, and finally—in saving expensive gasoline by actively exploring local byways.
“The grass always seems greener over the hill, a distant place more romantic, a foreign country more picturesque, but it is equally true that the very place we live in looks just that way to a stranger. People come long distances to gaze at our historic buildings, to admire our picturesque scenery, to study our geology and botany, to explore our rivers and caverns, to relax and recuperate in our resorts, to picnic in the cool shadows of our lovely hills. But very often, we, who live here, know little or nothing of the history of interesting places about us—spots often only a few hours from our homes.
“A journalist who studied his own backyard wrote one of the most interesting books on botany. A professor who never went to China became the greatest European authority on the Chinese language. Our countryside is dotted with humble motorists who may never have had the time or the means to visit foreign lands but whose lives are nevertheless enriched by a vast fund of knowledge—historical, geographical, and scientific. They know their own neighborhood—so learn a little more about yours here.”
“Blennerhassett Island was a 507-acre wilderness paradise in 1805 when Harman Blennerhassett and Aaron Burr laid their plans for setting up an empire in the Southwest,” states a 1941 edition of West Virginia, A Guide to the Mountain State
“Hidden in the overgrowth of willow trees are three private dwellings, small garden patches, and a heap of foundation stones—all that remains of the once magnificent $60,000 Blennerhassett mansion, a model of which is in the State Museum at Charleston.”
All that has changed since the representatives of Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park and Friends of Blennerhassett, a volunteer group, have worked tirelessly to restore the old island paradise.
A visit to the Blennerhassett Museum in Parkersburg, trip down to the island via sternwheeler, ride around the island in a horse-driven Conestoga wagon, tour of the beautiful mansion, and return trip can easily be accomplished on some carefree afternoon in May through October.
A trip begins with a visit to the Parkersburg’s Blennerhassett Museum—where visitors are met cordially.
Viewing a brief video explaining Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett’s lives and a tour of its three floors of intriguing archaeological and historical exhibits will encourage Parkersburg as well as distant visitors to be on their way to this historic island.
The main floor displays many of the types of tools and funiture used in and around the Blennerhassett mansion, and the old clocks along one wall suggest the type of clocks the Blennerhassetts used to keep time.
A trip to the basement to see the remarkabel Stahl Collection of Indian artifacts, purchased for $5,000 and installed by the Wood County Board of Education from 1923 through 1924, gives the visitor an excellent idea of the type Indian implements found on the island and along the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. These old Indian artifacts bring to mind an old story of some mysterious people and places on the Kanawha River south of Blennerhassett Island, which tourists as well as locals are welcome to visit and pursue their history in more detail at their leisure. An old Standard Oil travel brochure published in 1925 describes them under The Mystery of the Kanawha, which reads as follows:
The chief mystery of the Kanawha lies in the fact that someone was there before the Indians. Who? No one knows, but whoever they were, they were different from the white men, the Indians, or even the mound-builders of the Ohio. On the west bank of the Kanawha, opposite Point Pleasant, are the remains of stone works which are unlike any handiwork of the three known occupants of these valleys.
Up the Kanawha, between Armstrong and Loup Creeks, is another unexplained stone work of these unknown inhabitants. High up on the ridge is a low stonewall, seven or eight miles long, enclosing an elliptical tract of land. In the center are the remains of two towers twenty feet in diameter. Who built them? For what purpose? No one knows. Nearby is a burial ground. The bodies are buried in a sitting position facing east—sun worshippers evidently.
In 1891, a party of boys exploring the woods near Lewiston, found a strange wooden figure in a narrow cleft high up on the rocks. It is three feet eight inches high and unlike anything that the Indians or Mound-men left. Who carved it? The unknown inhabitants of the Kanawha Valley? Maybe. The statuette can now be seen at Charleston in the Museum of the State Department of Archives and History. Only one other figure has been found like it—in John Bell County, Kentucky. There are still undiscovered clefts in the mountain fastness of the Alleghenies. Maybe you too will find some relic of this lost civilization.
Here are material proofs of the passage through the Kanawha of an unknown race. But these are not all. The first white explorers heard from the Indian legends of white men who lived in the Ohio Valley long before the days of Columbus. They were supposed to have been driven out and finally exterminated near the falls of the Ohio. There the first settlers found great piles of bones. Some day we may know who were the mysterious inhabitants of Kanawha. In the meantime, we can only visit their relics and wonder who they were.
George Washington referred to Blennerhassett island as a “cluster of islands,” in his diary in 1770, when he journeyed down the Ohio past the mouth of the Kanawha at Point Pleasant. Twenty-seven years later Harman Blennerhassett would discover otherwise. That’s when the wealthy and eccentric Irishman arrived in America with his young bride in search of a refuge where he could quietly carry on his experiments in the natural sciences—away from the critical tongues of his family. He then acquired 170 acres at the head of the island and proceeded to build his island paradise. He completed his long, semi-circular stone mansion, the show place of the Ohio Valley, in just three years—an impressive accomplishment, considering the bulk of the building materials and elaborate furniture imported and the lack of roads at the time. Nevertheless, when he finished the mansion, it was fit for royalty, and the Blennerhassetts proudly displayed their pride and joy when they entertained the wealthier and better educated families of the neighboring villages.
*Colonel Hugh Phelps led that body of Virginia militia to arrest Blennerhassett, and the sign below marks the spot (8 on the map) on the Southside of Parkersburg where his house once stood.
He built his house in 1800, one of the oldest homes in the vicinity. This crumbling redbrick residence stood along Central Avenue (now called Camden Ave. or Rt. 95) between George and Pike Streets in the 1940’s. The massive two-story rectangular structure, with inside brick chimneys, a paneled doorway, and square sash windows, still in the hands of a private owner at that time, was apparently razed sometime thereafter
Nevertheless, to continue with Col. Phelps, a tavern owner and ferry operator, we find that in 1823 he sold his house to Colonel Thomas Tavenner, also an officer in the militia. The house remained in the possession of the Tavenner family for many years thereafter, and its location in this section of town marked the area of Parkersburg known as Tavennerville.
Between the streets mentioned above still stands the Tavenner Cemetery, with its iron fences and gates protecting many tombstones and grave markers, some honoring veterans of the American Civil War.
Thomas Tavenner’s grave marker is still visible, but the oldest one I could find was that of Alexander Tavenner who was born in 1768 and died in 1848. Stop by sometime and pay your respects to some of the old-timers buried here in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
This page was last modified on Wednesday, January 20, 2016