Blennerhassett Island

Blennerhassett Island is one of my favorite places on earth. Blennerhassett is a small island in the Ohio River and the way there is via a stern wheeler riverboat from Parkersburg, West Virginia.

The island is operated as a state park for recreation and tours of a reconstructed mansion but what makes it truly special is the history of this place

You see, the island was settled in 1789 by Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett. As wealthy Irish aristocrats, they built what became known as the most beautiful home in the West. Remember, back then this area was vast wilderness.

The island gained national attention in 1806 when the Blennerhassetts allowed Aaron Burr to make it headquarters for his military expedition into the southwest. This decision was the beginning of the end of the idyllic life they had built for themselves.

That’s because this is where the Burr conspiracy was born. They are suspected to be involved in a treasonous plot to create a new country. There has been a fair amount of academic research and writing about this footnote in American history. If you’re a musical fan, you might know about Burr from the Broadway musical Hamilton.

Things came to a head for the Blennerhassetts when the Ohio governor became suspicious of the stockpile of weapons and growing numbers of men on the island. The state militia raided the island and the Blennerhassetts were forced to flee. They never returned to their home which was burned in 1811.

This is the 30,000 foot view of this historic series of events but there is so much more to know. You can learn these stories and more if you visit.

As I mentioned, the house was burned but not before the Ohio Militia and lots of souvenir seekers took what they wanted of the beautiful possessions the family had accumulated here.

Archeologists discovered the original foundation and the State of West Virginia began reconstructing the home in 1984. It was finished in 1991.

My earliest memories of visiting here as a kid involve a tour of the outside of the house. The interior wasn’t finished but someone would walk you around the exterior and tell the story.

Today the inside tours offer a glimpse of how these aristocrats lived. You can also see some artifacts that actually came from the home, salvaged by lookie loos all those years ago.

You can take a wagon ride tour, rent bicycles or just go for a walk. There’s a snack stand with simple foods like sandwiches, drinks and ice cream but you’re welcome to pack a picnic and take advantage of the outdoor picnic areas.

I have toured the home plenty over the years but my favorite thing here is to take the wagon ride. Don’t miss out on that.

Back on the mainland, where you buy your tickets and catch the ferry, the Blennerhassett Museum gives you more about the family and the island as well many more artifacts, artwork and technology that tell important stories.

Want to learn more about this place? Click here for more!

Mary B’s Diner

Mary B’s Diner has been on my list for some time. It’s in Parkersburg, West Virginia in an unassuming building on a busy corner.

They specialize in home cooking and, while their menu is broad, it isn’t at all fancy. From burgers and grilled cheese to meatloaf and homemade soups, it seems there’s something for everyone. People at a neighboring table ordered enormous taco salads that looked amazing.

They have a few daily specials and offer breakfast all day. I opted for a veggie omelette that came with hash browns and toast. My mother also opted for an omelette with bacon and cheese.

Their vast menu of homemade pies was too much to resist but I must admit that there were so many to choose from it felt a little overwhelming. By the time our waitress had finished naming them all, I couldn’t remember the beginning of the list. I chose the peanut butter cream and my mother went with chocolate cream. Both were delicious.

The pictures really don’t do justice for the food and certainly don’t tell the tale of the great service. The place was hopping and our waitress made sure we wanted for nothing.

I would absolutely go back. Find Mary B’s Diner at 2212 Pike Street, Parkersburg. If you go, take note that instead of waiting for someone to come and ask how many, there’s a list that you sign your party to. I have never seen this done but it seems to work for them. Find Mary B’s and their menu online by clicking here.

Parkersburg Carnegie Library

For the second time in less than a month I found myself standing before a Carnegie Library that is empty and unused. This one is in downtown Parkersburg, West Virginia.

Built in 1905 with some funds from Andrew Carnegie, this classical style building is imposing on its corner lot. Sadly, it hasn’t been a library since 1975.

For several years though it was the Trans Allegheny Book Store. I read once that it was the largest used bookstore in West Virginia.

It had a good run in this capacity from 1985 through 2010. It’s closed now and I couldn’t tell what’s going on. There’s a chain link fence that wouldn’t keep anyone out on one side of the building and a gate in front of the entrance. Some lower windows have been boarded up. It looks like someone is preparing to do something but I couldn’t tell what.

There’s a new Marriott Hotel next door and I couldn’t help but think about this building’s possibilities while worrying for its future. It would make a magnificent restaurant, bookstore, boutique hotel, fancy store – any of number of businesses could find it a perfect home. It sure is a shame to see it sitting empty given all that potential.

If you’re in downtown Parkersburg, swing by 725 Green St. and have a look. If you have a bundle of cash sitting in the way, maybe buy it and and breathe new life into the place!