Pieces of History

PARKERSBURG – Ray Swick is proud of the acquisitions at the Blennerhassett Museum in 2013.

The year brought new historical findings on the island, a redesign of the island and museum gift shops and more than double the public events than previous years, said Swick, historian of the Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park.

The museum and island finished 2013 with truck-loads of antique furniture, paintings, glassware and silver pieces and other additions to the physical musuem, said Swick.

A historical marker was placed on the site of the Blennerhassett’s pleasure garden after its location was determined by historians, said Swick. The pleasure gardens were purposely positioned away from the food and herb garden, Swick said.

It served a purely pleasurable purpose on the island.

At the time, the pleasure garden was surrounded with a fence and featured winding paths, a fish pond, hothouses, a maze and a summer home, Swick said. It would have been used to entertain guests and was used extensively by the Blennerhassetts as well, he said.

One of the new acquisitions at the museum hangs just beyond the front desk, said Swick. A painting referred to as “The Butler,” painted by local artist Rebecca Nunn-Noble, who passed away in 2012, has been given center stage.

“We believe it is important to preserve the work of local artists in the area,” Swick said. “If they aren’t collected together and preserved, how will future generations know about them.”

The Henry Logan Children’s Home Foundation Board of Directors last year donated much of the furniture and art to the Blennerhassett Museum, Swick said. The foundation’s headquarters had been collecting furniture and art since the 1960s, Swick said.

This donation included a conference table, more than a dozen matching wooden chairs with cushions, three glass lamps and a small side table, Swick said.

The Children’s Home also sent portraits of the group’s founders, Henry Logan and Lavinia Logan, Swick said. They also sent a bust of Henry Logan, he said.

Among the items yet to be displayed is a 1780s English Darby white china serving dish with a scalloped edge.

These were the most popular style of china when the Blennerhassetts settled the island, although it is unknown whether they personally owned any, Swick said.

An 1820s silvered pitcher was next on the list. This piece was polished to a mirror-like finish, then etched with the design of a curious bird, Swick said.

A white German sauce boat from 1758, decorated with delicate flowers, is being purchased by the museum, Swick said. It will eventually be featured near the 1790 sterling silver sauce boat of Scottish origins that the museum obtained in 2013 as well, he said.

Delicate touch marks on the bottom of the silver sauce boat identify its origins, its creator and the date it was made in three tiny marks, Swick said.

The museum was fortunate to obtain seven late-19th century Parkersburg and Blennerhassett Mansion china souvenirs in 2013, Swick said.

Two of these items were made in Wheelock, Germany, specifically to be sold at McCrory’s Five-and-Dime in Parkersburg in 1890, said Swick. The dark blue glass items, a ring dish and a small vase, both featured paintings of the Blennerhassett Mansion against a white background.

Another souvenir item features a hand-painted image of the old Parkersburg City Building that once stood at Fifth and Market streets, Swick said. The area is now a parking lot, he said.

An unassuming clear shot glass with the words “Buy River Mills Whiskey” printed in white is one of the rarest items the museum obtained in 2013, said Swick. Grouped with the souvenirs, it was made for the Third Street Bar operated by Joe Reitzenberg. The whiskey brand was once brewed locally and very few items with the whiskey name survived the decades, Swick said.

The museum also obtained a crock from a Roseville, Ohio, company featuring the Blennerhassett mansion on it.

Finally, a donor provided the museum with a 1930s piece advertising Berman’s Jewelry Store on 614 Market St., said Swick. The Leigh Ware pottery piece, rarely found today, features the “Royal Delight” pattern, and is inlaid in 22-karat white gold around the edges, Swick said.

The Blennerhassett Island Park added scores of new events during 2013, many of which quickly sold-out, said Matthew Baker, superintendent of the Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park.

The creation of the sternwheeler dinner cruises in 2013 was a major success for the park, Baker said. Held with the summer concert series sponsored by Downtown PKB on the first Friday of the month, each of these cruises sold out all summer long, said Baker.

The cruises treated passengers to an hour-and-thirty-minute cruise on the Ohio River with dinner served, Baker said. The cruise ended by dropping its passengers off at Point Park just as the summer concerts were about to begin, he said.

“The cruises were such a success that we will be repeating them, and adding more, in 2014,” said Baker.

The number of chartered river cruises increased in 2013, too, Baker said. The cruises are becoming popular with church groups and private parties, said Baker.

“There were more private charters in 2013 than in any year previous,” Baker said. “We even held a high school prom on the sternwheeler last year.”

Multiple naturalist programs were added to the island in 2013, including a variety of programs that the public seemed to enjoy, Baker said.

These nature-hike style programs each had their own theme in 2013, Baker said. These themes included topics such as insects, wildflowers, and even kid-friendly themes such as building birds nests.

Several living history weekends planned across 2013 were a large success, Baker said. Pioneer Days, Civil War re-enactments and Rendezvous Days all proved popular with tourists and locals alike, he said.

Throughout 2014, the park plans to repeat the dinner cruises, two Rendezvous weekends, another Civil War re-enactment and Pioneer Days, with even more entertainment planned during each event, Baker said.

Blennerhassett Island plans to double its special events in 2014, Baker said.

In the newly redesigned gift shop, a record-breaking $119,000 in sales were made in 2013. Tom Hardman, gift shop manager, cites re-vamping of the shop toward a more tourist-based crowd as the reason for the record-setting sales last year.

Among the items added to the gift shop was a large collection of locally written books and local history books, Hardman said.

The gift shops, both on the mainland and on the island, are actively searching for new items to add to their offerings for tourists, Hardman said.

The cost of admission to the Blennerhassett Museum, and for the sternwheeler ride to the island, will increase by $1 this year to help cover rising costs of maintaining the facilities, Swick said.