Blennerhassett Island

Where I grew up, elementary school kids always took a field trip to Blennerhassett Island in Parkersburg, West Virginia. It's an island on the Ohio River that was owned by Harman and Elizabeth Blennerhassett. The history of the island and the Blennerhassetts themselves is pretty crazy: Harman and Elizabeth were both husband and wife and uncle and niece, they transformed the island into an oasis of sorts, and their lives were turned upside down after Harman became associated with Aaron Burr (yes, that Aaron Burr, the guy who killed Alexander Hamilton). The island is now a state park and a major West Virginia tourist attraction, hence the elementary school field trips there.

As a kid, I did not get the chance to go on that field trip with my classmates (c'mon, mom & dad!), but this year I finally got the chance to go. My friend Ryan, who was living temporarily in West Virginia, wanted to visit the island before leaving the Mountain State. So, back in May, a week or so before Ryan moved away, we journeyed to Parkersburg to fulfill our Blennerhassett dreams!

Blennerhassett Home

Since Blennerhassett Island is, you know, an island, we had to take a ferry ride to get to it. The ferry launches from one of two locations - one is in Parkersburg, & the other is in Ohio - I would advise you to call and check which location it will be launching from before making the trip. We drove to the Parkersburg site only to realize that the ferry was launching at the Ohio site, and this added about 15 minutes or so to our trip. Once we got on the ferry, it only took a few minutes to get to the island. You pay for your ferry ticket once on the island, which is pretty clever - unless you're a great swimmer, the ferry is the only way off the island. There are also horse drawn buggy rides that take you around the island, but we decided to walk. There's a trail around the island that we walked along, and we saw a lot of horses and a wide expanse of land.

Ferry 1

The tour of the house itself is done on a schedule. We had a little bit of time before our tour started, so we decided to roam around the island. There is a "new" house on the island, the Putnam-Houser House, that was relocated to the island in order to preserve it. An interesting thing we learned at this house was that, in the 18th/19th century, people would etch their names into their friends' windows, sort of like a guest book, and the goal was to etch it as uniquely as possible. Some names were done backwards, upside down, etc. in order to stand out among the rest.


Our tour of the Blennerhassett mansion finally started. All of the tour guides - there is a different guide for each leg of the tour - are dressed in period clothing. The introductory tour guide gives a history of the Blennerhassett family, while the other tour guides, located throughout the house, provide you with a history of activities held in the room as well as information regarding the furniture and decor in the room. The guide who welcomes you into the home plays a song on the hammer dulcimer which has a beautiful sound. We were not allowed to go into every room in the house; a few were blocked off, but you could see into them. Each room was very ornate in its decor because the Blennerhassetts would have spared no expense. Many of the Blennerhassetts' actual possessions were sold or lost after they left the island (pieces from the period have taken their place in the house), but a few original items remain in the house today.

Dining Room 2

Bedroom 2b

Summer Kitchen 2

Blennerhassett Island is a great stop for history buffs, & the gift shop has a plethora of literature about the Blennerhassetts, the area, and the period in which they lived. The island was stunning and incredibly educational. I'm glad I went at age 26 instead of age 6 because I was better able to appreciate just how amazing Blennerhassett really is.

What historical sites have you visited, Hipsters? Comment below!

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