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Blennerhassett Mansion

Constructed by a wealthy Anglo-Irish couple named Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett, 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.  Thus the Blennerhassett Estate seemed like a jewel whose contrast with its crude frontier setting made it sparkle all the more.

            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.

            To the 18th-century European aristocracy, possessing a fine home was immensely important for it stood as the most outstanding symbol of the family’s social status, prestige and wealth.  Thus, the Blennerhassetts set out to build a palace in the wilderness, a showplace, and they had both the money and good taste to see their dream through to completion.

            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 United States’ largest homes.  It was designed in the Palladian style with walkways and attached wing buildings curving upstream from a central structure like arms welcoming the approaching river traveler.

            The mansion’s middle section measured 39’ x 54’ and contained twelve rooms; an entrance hall, dining room, two parlors, two drawing rooms, a library, four bedrooms and a winter kitchen.  The wing buildings housed a summer kitchen, servants’ quarters and Harman’s study.  The mansion was filled with fine furniture which its master and mistress had purchased in London, Philadelphia, Baltimore and from local cabinetmakers.  Oil paintings, prints, mirrors, many framed in gilt, hung on the walls.  Small sculptures, oriental rugs, alabaster lamps and vases and a gold-and-marble clock adorned the rooms.

            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.  The house burned to the ground in 1811 remaining only a romantic legend until reconstructed 1984-1991 by the State of West Virginia as the centerpiece of its new Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park.  Today over 50,000 visitors annually tour the recreated Blennerhassett Mansion to experience its beauty and to learn its story – one of the most unique in our nation’s past.   – Ray Swick, Historian.  Use with permission by author.







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