A Courteous and Genial GentlemanJanuary 31, 2013 6:25 pm
If you spend even a little time at the Blennerhassett Hotel, you are bound to hear the name William Nelson Chancellor. You may even find yourself gazing at his portrait above the fireplace in the hotel library, wondering about the life of a man who lived long ago. Chancellor was a prominent local businessman who built the hotel in 1889. He started life as the son of a tanner in remote western Virginia, but with his business acumen, work ethic and a sense of civic duty, he achieved great success and a lasting legacy.
William Nelson Chancellor was born in 1830 to Thomas and Prudence Chancellor in Harrisville in what is now Ritchie County, West Virginia. He was the second of 7 children. The family moved to Parkersburg around 1840 and by the age of 20, William and his younger brother Edwin were assisting their father in his tannery business. William also worked as a clerk at a dry goods store and as a bank teller at the Northwestern Bank of Virginia.
By all accounts, Chancellor was a talented businessman and had diverse investments. He started his own oil refining business and also went into partnership in 1866 with the Johnson N. Camden & Co. oil refinery. When this company was sold to the Rockefellers’ Standard Oil Company in 1875, he retired from oil, no doubt having made a substantial profit. He also invested in railroads, river transportation, electric power and real estate, and helped to organize the First National Bank in 1863, becoming its vice-president in 1872.
Chancellor was also deeply involved in politics and served as mayor of Parkersburg in 1874 and 1886. He also was a delegate from Wood County to the West Virginia legislature in 1875 and 1886. According to some sources, he was encouraged to run for governor of West Virginia several times, and was asked to become the compromise candidate during the disputed gubernatorial election of 1889. He declined, choosing instead to focus his energies at home in Parkersburg.
His real estate interests led to the construction of many downtown Parkersburg buildings, and the city’s two finest hotels, the Blennerhassett (1889) and the Chancellor (1900-1901). In fact, a biography of him written in 1913 states “During his residence of seventy years in Parkersburg, Mr. Chancellor contributed as much, if not more, than any other one man in building the city up to what it is today.”
The Chancellor family home, built in 1878, is still standing at 904 Juliana Street in the Julia-Ann Square Historic District, just a short walk from the Blennerhassett Hotel. William and his wife Ellen Charles King, whom he married in 1855, lived here with their five children. It is one of West Virginia’s best examples of a home in the Second Empire architectural style.
Although William Nelson Chancellor was a powerful and wealthy figure, he was respected in the community as “a courteous and genial gentleman, and was highly esteemed as the best type of citizen, a man of high sense of honor, integrity and uprightness.” Although he died over one hundred years ago in 1908, his legacy lives on in the Blennerhassett Hotel and his many contributions to Parkersburg.
Sturm, Philip W. Wood County Reflections: A Pictorial History. Virginia Beach: Donning, 2005.
Miller, Thomas Condit and Hu Maxwell. West Virginia and its People. Vol. 2. New York: Lewis Historic Publishing Co, 1913. Google eBook edition. 609-610.
Brown, Katherine L. and John A. Martin, eds. “Historic Walking Tour: Julia-Ann Square, Parkersburg’s Historic District.” Rev. ed. Parkersburg: Chapman Printing, 2011.
Ancestry.com. United States Federal Census, 1840-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.