Blennerhasset Island, a Novel Idea

I love history so my vacations always include visits to any historic site or museum I can locate in the area. On one of my treks to West Virginia, I had the opportunity to visit

Blennerhassett Island located across the Ohio River near Parkersburg, West Virginia. My first stop was the Blennerhasset Museum where I snapped pictures like crazy. Most of the artifacts are from the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. What a treasure trove of artifacts.

After the museum visit, I rode the Island Belle ferry across the Ohio River where I stepped onto Blennerhassett Island. The day included the ferry ride, a tour of Blennerhassett Mansion, the Putnam Houser home, and a horse-drawn wagon tour of the upper end of the island. Our group returned to Parkersburg at 5:00 p.m. for a wonderful dinner at the Blennerhassett Hotel.

I learned a bit of history about Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett, the island, and an unexpected connection to Aaron Burr. If I’d ever heard about the Aaron Burr conspiracy in history class, I had forgotten, so I was captivated by the story.

The mansion was constructed by Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett, a wealthy Anglo-Irish couple. The Blennerhassett Mansion became known during its brief existence as the Ohio Valley’s most beautiful private residence.  Beyond its extravagantly landscaped lawns and gardens lay a dark wilderness broken only infrequently by scattered log cabins and a few small settlements.

Harman and Margaret sold their 7000-acre County Kerry estate in 1795 and emigrated to America, landing the next year in New York City.  By the spring of 1798, they had located on the upper end of the Ohio River island two miles below the present-day Parkersburg, West Virginia, and started the construction of their new American home.

When they moved into their house in the late summer, 1800, it contained 7,000 square feet of (daily living) interior floor space and a frontage of 186 feet, making it one of the largest homes in the country.  It was designed in the Palladian style with walkways and attached wing buildings curving upstream from a central structure like arms welcoming approaching river travelers.

The Blennerhassett estate appeared so splendid it was nicknamed “paradise,” “Eden,” and “the Enchanted Island.”  But it proved a tragically short-lived haven for those who created it.  Harman and Margaret became entangled in the ill-fated Aaron Burr Expedition to the Southwest (1805-1807) and fled their island home December 1806. Burr had been arrested and charged with treason. The prosecution alleged Burr intended to take New Orleans by force and make it the capitol of his new western empire. Though later exonerated, Blennerhassett was considered suspect because Burr had visited the island on several occasions during the planning of his conspiracy.

The house burned to the ground in 1811 remaining only a romantic legend until reconstructed by the State of West Virginia as the centerpiece of its new Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park.

So there you have it—a man-made creation of beauty laced with tragedy—fine fodder for a book, don’t you think? I’ve placed it in my “idea folder” for a future project.

May you find joy as you explore God’s creation. ~Judy

Judy’s most recent novel, Chapel Car Bride, is now available online or at your favorite bookstore.

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