Visit 7 historic Parkersburg gems you can’t miss!May 5, 2016 9:34 pm
Wondering what to do outside the hotel? Thanks to Parkersburg’s vibrant past, there’s lots of history right in town! Explore a mysterious island; visit an Art Deco theater; scout 3 floors of fascinating artifacts in a historic museum; and much more!
Here’s a list of a few of our favorite historic places, and a brief preview of their unique past:
1. Fort Boreman State Park
It’s the view that launched a thousand soldiers— and picnickers: Parkersburg, seen from atop Mount Logan. Union soldiers during the Civil War recognized its tactical value and erected a fort in 1863.
The fort’s cannons never fired at enemy forces. In fact, they probably shot rounds for ceremonial reasons, like when West Virginia’s first governor— and the fort’s namesake— paid a visit after the soldiers settled in Parkersburg.
Much later, the hill became a popular picnic site. Families during the late 19th century prized this refreshing spot with its view of the sleepy town and its 2 rivers, the Ohio and Little Kanawha.
Today, Fort Boreman State Park honors its historic roots. A stylish reconstruction of the fortress gives you an idea of the original encampment, and informative signs describe life at the fort.
You can also pack a lunch like those picnickers from long ago, since the park has sheltered tables. As you feel cool breezes and survey the rivers, it’s hard not to appreciate Fort Boreman’s legacy.
2. Blennerhassett Island
Do you relish mysteries and historical conspiracies? The serene state park that sits in the middle of the Ohio River has intrigued history buffs for centuries.
Harman Blennerhassett, an Irish aristocrat, and his wife, Margaret, built an elegant Palladian mansion on the island in 1798. Shortly thereafter, the couple became entangled in a conspiracy with Aaron Burr. Supposedly, the former vice president wanted to establish his own territory in the southwest. In fact, he traveled to the island in 1806 with a military escort and used the house as a base.
President Jefferson caught wind of Burr’s suspicious activities and charged him with treason, although it fell through because of lack of evidence. Some historians believe the former vice president just wanted to snatch Texas from Spain. No one knows for sure.
Did the Blennerhassetts sympathize with Burr? Lawyers couldn’t pin charges on them, either. But the whiff of conspiracy followed the family for decades.
What do you think? Visit the island and decide for yourself. A recreated mansion mirrors the original Blennerhassett masterpiece with typical Palladian architecture: symmetry, crisp lines and balance. Costumed interpreters give tours, so sign up if you want to see the splendid home.
You should also walk the grounds. Centuries ago, visitors hailed the island as an “Eden,” and it’s hard not to disagree. Hardwood trees, crisp lawns, soft beaches and quiet lanes create an idyllic setting. You can also go for a carriage ride— a perfect historical touch— or rent a bike.
Eager to set out? Just board a sternwheeler, and you’ll be there in 20 minutes.
3. Blennerhassett Museum
Just blocks from the hotel is one of the state’s most unusual museums.
Built in 1902, the towering, wedge-shaped building has 3 floors of Ohio Valley history. Browse the antique cars, guns, prehistoric bits and bobs like arrowheads, vintage toys and steamboat memorabilia.
Other odd attractions include furniture owned by West Virginia’s governor. His stout piano, large Persian carpet and elegant sofas flesh out his story. A mourning fan, a so-called “burning glass” and unexpected trinkets from local history fill the walls.
4. Smoot Theater
Art Deco mystique surrounds this historic building from top to bottom. Built in 1923 as a vaudeville house, the Smoot Theater has entertained audiences for generations.
At one point, Warner Brothers bought the theater in the 1920s. A photo from that era shows elephants, ponies and circus performers standing out front. Then, the Smoot Theater switched gears and showed movies.
After a few decades passed, the building went down at the heels. Locals wanted to preserve it, though, so they quickly rallied a team of volunteers. Their hard work and cultural sensitivity turned the Smoot into a landmark once more. Original Austrian chandeliers twinkle and shine from the ceilings, and Art Deco mirrors hang on the walls.
Visit the Smoot’s plush theater setting for dances, bands, a cappella groups, classical music, seminars and more.
5. Oil and Gas Museum
Did you know West Virginia’s fuel history traces back to the 1700s? One of the first Americans to dabble in this young industry was no other than George Washington!
Intrigued? Step inside the Oil and Gas Museum and watch the film that connects local energy lore with the Ohio Valley. You’ll appreciate how the Little Kanawha Valley, Parkersburg and the overall industry put West Virginia on the map.
Unusual attractions include an oilfield office replica, a 19th-century oil well and old drilling equipment and machinery. But you can also see valuable documents and smaller artifacts, too.
6. Actors’ Guild Playhouse
Parkersburg’s connection to acting reaches decades into the past. Local thespians first banded together in the 1940s. They performed wherever they could, like at a school and a laundry house.
Despite those humble starts and stutters, the Parkersburg actors put on quality performances. An outpouring of public support helped them buy and restore the current Actors’ Guild Playhouse, a stately building that’s more than 100 years old. Its grand architecture has plenty of atmosphere. Even the lobby is a gallery for local artwork.
The theater seats 264 people and puts on a regular series of professional plays, like The 39 Steps, Arsenic and Old Lace, and Monty Python’s Spamalot.
7. Blennerhassett Hotel
The Blennerhassett Hotel’s quaint Queen Anne architecture tucks lots of history and ambience in its walls. In fact, this late 19th-century building is a proud member of the National Register of Historic Places!
Check out the library, which used to be the First National Bank of Parkersburg. Sink into a chair, read and sip coffee.
The Atrium is another nifty detail, thanks to the Blennerhassett’s old bones. A skylight illuminates spaces below with soft, natural light.
Original antiques add to the hotel’s rich European look. Keep your eyes peeled for other historic features, too— like friendly ghosts, which supposedly haunt the place.
Many more historical sites are right downtown, too!
What’s your favorite? Be sure to share your fondest experience with us!