Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Posts tagged ‘Aaron Burr’

Visit Henderson Hall Plantation 19th Century Hoarders

Henderson Hall

Henderson Hall

Look for a hidden treasure across the river from Marietta, Ohio along the banks of the Ohio River. Here a Victorian plantation mansion from nearly two hundred years ago seems to watch over the river between Williamstown and Parkersburg, WV.

Even before Henderson Hall came into being, the Henderson family played a vital role in the Ohio River Valley. Vice-President Aaron Burr and Harman Blennerhassett thought that perhaps the Henderson brothers would help in their attempt to set up a separate nation west of the Alleghenies. Hendersons would not be coerced, called their father’s friend President Thomas Jefferson, and testified in the Burr-Blennerhassett trail in 1807.

Henderson Hall was built shortly thereafter in 1835 by George Washington Henderson and Elizabeth Ann Tomlinson Henderson, grand-daughter of original claimant of Williamstown. This merger of estates encompassed 2600 acres on the eastern bank of the Ohio River. It seemed that everything they touched turned to gold, from the land they purchased, to breeding fine horses, to owners of an oil field boom.

Henderson Indian Mound

Adena Indian Mound

Walking to the house, one of the three Indian mounds on the property is clearly visible. Dating back 2,000 years, Adena mounds appear in several places in the Ohio Valley. Inside the mounds were found skeletal remains and artifacts.

Even though the Henderson family supported the efforts of the Union during the Civil War, they did themselves keep thirty slaves. Some of those slaves actually left through the Underground Railroad, which the Henderson family supported, in Marietta, Ohio.

This well preserved Victorian plantation propels visitors into the past with twenty-nine rooms to explore. All the rooms overflow with memorabilia from the 18th century to the present. It seems the Hendersons kept everything. 250 years of letters and diaries were found in the home – what treasures! Even more impressive is the trail of famous historic figures, who visited frequently.

Front Parlor

Front Parlor

In the front parlor with its gold leaf wallpaper, pictures of Elizabeth and George hang over the mantle of the fireplace. In the picture she wore a hair broach, which was considered mourning jewelry. Having twelve children during their lifetime, six of them died before the age of ten. Elizabeth took a lock of hair from each of those six children to weave into an intricate pattern for her broach, which she always wore. The broach remains on display today in their small museum.

Collections from these 19th century hoarders give visitors a chance to see the changes made in many areas of life. The overwhelming amount of treasures saved, ranges from toys to wedding gowns to beautiful dining room settings. A winding staircase curves up to the third floor ballroom, making the mind wonder how those ladies managed these steep stairs in their flowing gowns.

The original kitchen

The original kitchen

The 1836 kitchen holds household cooking utensils and crockery dating back a couple centuries. This was part of the original smaller house before the 1859 impressive addition. Many of the rusted kitchen utensils can be found stored in the basement today.

When the last family member died in 2007, the historic house was deeded to the Board of West Virginia Oil & Gas Museum. Today they keep the place in repair and have great guides to share the Henderson story.

First school houe in West Virginia

First school houe in West Virginia

The earliest school in the area was here behind Henderson Hall in 1836. Note the teacher’s desk with candle and switch – for pointing and for correcting. Several old books from that time period have been placed on the students’ desk along with slates to practice writing and mathematics. Original equipment includes:  slates, blackboards, and seats. What a thrill to gently touch the slates, which were used by youngsters from the 1800’s.

The Carriage House contains different buggies. Among them is the actual buggy used by the original founders, George and Elizabeth, on their honeymoon to Niagara Falls.

Henderson Hall overflows with treasures too numerous to mention. Hopefully you have now received a taste of history that will whet your appetite for more. Johnny Chapman, John James Audubon, and Stephen Foster always enjoyed their visits here.  Shouldn’t you?

Henderson Hall Plantation is just a few miles off I-77 at the Williamstown, WV exit. Follow Route 14 South, then turn right on Old River Road. Summer hours are noon- 5 p.m. daily.

 

 

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Margaret Blennerhassett Prosperity to Poverty

More is better! That was the feeling of Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett as they came to the United States from England in 1797. Their marriage was frowned upon by friends and family in England since Harman was Margaret’s uncle; therefore, their best chance at a happy life together would have to be in a far away country.  Having sold his castle in England, the Blennerhassetts arrived in the United States with lots and lots of money…$140,000! While this fortune seemed limitless at that time, the Blennerhassetts spent their fortune recklessly and unwisely, always wanting more.

The aristocratic Margaret Blennerhassett was the first historic character for  “When Ohio Was the Western Frontier”, the theme for  2012 Ohio Chautauqua in Marietta, Ohio on the campus of Marietta College.  She received a warm welcome as temperatures soared to near 100 in the red and white striped tent.

Margaret’s story continued with their search for a place to built their new home, and ultimate discovery of  a beautiful tree covered island in the middle of the Ohio River. Margaret thought this would be the perfect place for the elegant home she had in mind so they bought half of the island, approximately 180 acres, for $4500.

One corner of the island was cleared of the huge trees so the mansion would appear as a pearl against green velvet as the boats passed by on the Ohio River. Here they built a luxurious twelve room mansion that had thirty-six glass windows, something not common at that time of log cabins with tar paper windows. Two covered porticos flanked the main house leading to its two appendages: Harman’s office and the summer kitchen.

Not only was the house a beautiful spot but there were acres of gardens and a greenhouse where citrus fruits grew all winter long. There was even special shrubbery trimmed in the shape of the original thirteen colonies.  Margaret especially enjoyed riding her white horse, Robin, over the island appearing as an exotic bird in her scarlet riding cape and feathered hat. Yes, more was definitely better.

But their happy life was short-lived here on the spot they called Blennerhassett Island. Some compared it to the beautiful Garden of Eden, but both seemed to have a snake that spoiled their pleasure. This time it was a snake in the form of Aaron Burr that wanted something forbidden.

Margaret said that Aaron Burr was a genius who applied to college at the age of eleven and graduated from Princeton at an early age. Burr was a very handsome man who loved fine things especially when procured through other people’s money. After a tie in a presidential election between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, the recount made Jefferson the President, and the loser, Aaron Burr, the vice-president. Things did not start out on a good foot here, and Burr was more than a little dissatisfied.

In 1805, Burr visited Blennerhassett Island for dinner as he was curious about the eccentric foreigner … or perhaps he had heard of the money Blennerhassett had available to “invest” in his plans. Burr led them to believe that this was an easy way for them to increase their fortune.  These events took place at a time when the Blennerhassett funds were running low.

Margaret felt that Thomas Jefferson was the real serpent that crawled into their Garden of Eden in order to destroy them. There was a lot of animosity between Jefferson and Burr.  Margaret said that Jefferson was not the wonderful president that many thought he was.  She felt the Louisiana Purchase was illegal, and while considered an inventor said he only had invented two things: a wheel cypher secret decoder and a plow. Thomas Jefferson was said to even cut parts out of the Bible that he didn’t like or wish to follow in his life. It was quite obvious that Margaret did not have fond feelings for President Jefferson.

Jefferson tried to destroy Aaron Burr and by association, Harman Blennerhassett. He attempted to use his power to have Burr found guilty of treason.  However, Chief Justice John Marshall stood up to Jefferson, and the jury found Aaron Burr not guilty. Burr and Blennerhassett were both released from prison.

By this time, their house on the island had been looted with most of the fine things being carried off. The remainder of the items were sold at auction to pay off debts accumulated by the Blennerhassetts. In 1811, their beautiful mansion was burned to the ground. At this point, the Blennerhassett family fell into hardships and eventual poverty for the remainder of their lives.  Their hopes and dreams were shattered.

Debra Conner’s portrayal of Margaret Blennerhassett was outstanding. Debra actually spent much of her youth in the Marietta community and graduated from Marietta High School.  Often during the year, she presents similar programs to the area schools on both sides of the Ohio River as part of their Ohio or West Virginia history curriculum.

2012 Ohio Chautauqua continues throughout the summer with week long performances and workshops in Urbana (June 26-30), Gallipolis (July 17-21) and Warren (July 24-28).  Hope you find time to join them and learn a little more about “When Ohio Was the Western Frontier”.

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