Blennerhassett Island
Histroical State Park
Parkersburg, Wv.

July 21, 1999

In the Map namemiddle of the Ohio river, just a mile and a half west of Parkersburg lies yet another piece of American history that is so often overlooked by the passing crowds. Blennerhassett Island, as it is called now. is one of West Virginia's lesser known historical State Parks. With over 500 acres and 10 miles of shoreline, it is the 5th largest island in the Ohio. It is accessed only by a 20 minute ride on a sternwheeler that leaves Point Park in Parkersburg. Tickets are acquired at the Blennerhassett Museum located at 2nd and Juliana Streets in ferry to Blenerhassett IslandParkersburg. This is a wonderful place to start the tour as the history is laid out in quick and understandable fashion. The 20 minute documentary film, located on the basement floor, tells the story as a autobiographical narrative. The island has been inhabited for at least 14 thousand years as evidenced by the Indian relics found there. During most summer months, there is usually some kind of archeological dig going on, and much of what has been found can be viewed in the museum in Parkersburg. The sternwheeler is double decked with the top deck open. We rode out on the bow just forward of the lower enclosure. Harman BlennerhassettThe breeze was very cooling and we were just out of the sun's rays. The period of history we had come to see spanned only a few years in the life of this island. The time from 1798 when the Blennerhassett's built the beautiful mansion, until it burned 13 years later. But let me digress for a moment and describe the central characters in this story. Harman Blennerhassett was the son of a wealthy Irish aristocrat who owned his own town in County Cary, Ireland. His activities to free Ireland from English rule, made him unpopular in English circles. Margaret was born in England near the Scottish border on her Grandfather's estate where she was raised, having been given the best of education. She married Harman in 1794, when she was but twenty years old. The trip to America was prompted by the disapproval of their marriage, as Margaret BlennerhassettHarman was her uncle. In 1794, they sailed to New York and then over the next two years moved to Philadelphia before loading up all their valued possessions which had been carefully brought from Ireland, and crossing the Appalachian Mountains into Pittsburgh, which was known as the gateway to the west. Soon they had moved down the Ohio River to Marietta where they stayed. It was here that they first heard of an island that lay some 14 miles downstream that was for sale. They moved onto the island, buying it a year later and began construction on the Mansion which was completed in two years. It was designed in the Palladium style. A horseshoe shape with an outbuilding attached to ether end of the arch. The wing on the left was the kitchen, while the wing on the right was Harman's office, laboratory, and wine cellar. The central part of the house contained 12 rooms. The Blennerhassetts were very social, entertaining many famous guests. It would be this friendship that would bring about their downfall. In the spring of 1805, Aaron Burr visited and soon became entwined with the family. Burr convinced Harman to back him in his invasion of Mexico and convinced the Blennerhassetts to allow the use of the island to train his army. Soon the island began to the mansionbustle with military activities. This did not sit well with President Thomas Jefferson who had become suspicious of Burr's motives, and fearing that the "invasion" would end up far north of Burr's described location, ordered the arrest of both Burr and Harman on a charge of treason. Harman fled the island leaving Margaret and his two sons behind. He was soon caught and put into the Pennsylvania prison. Burr was subsequently tried for treason and acquitted. As a result Harman was released. He was finally reunited with his wife in the Mississippi territory where they tried to start over. Crop failure soon bankrupted them and they moved to Canada and then returned to Europe, where Harman eventually died. Margaret returned to America, to visit her son in New York, when she died some 11 years after Harman. Her body and that of her son, Harman Jr. were moved back to the island in late 1990 where they now rest next to the restored mansion they so loved. In 1811 a fire, believed to have been accidentally started by slaves in the right wing, burnt the mansion to the ground. It remained a ruin until archaeologists uncovered it in the 1970s and reconstructed it as a State Park shortly thereafter.

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