Blennerhassett marks W.Va.’s 151st birthday

PARKERSBURG – Visitors to Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park were able to commemorate West Virginia’s birthday as well as the state’s historical ties to the American Civil War over the weekend.

The park marked the state’s 151st birthday over the weekend with activities that ranged from an 1860s-style baseball game, a barn dance, riverboat rides, West Virginia musicians, cake and ice cream to Civil War re-enactors conducting a period camp throughout the weekend culminating with battle re-enactments on Saturday and Sunday.

“We have been very busy this weekend,” Pam Salisbury, activities coordinator for Blennerhassett Island. “We had a lot of visitors and families coming over to enjoy the West Virginia Weekend, the period baseball game and the Civil War re-enactment.”

Park officials estimated about 700 visitors came to the island Saturday and about 350 on Sunday.

In addition to the special activities, the park still conducted its regular tours of the Blennerhassett Mansion, Maple Shade was open and the horse-drawn wagon rides were conducted throughout the weekend.

Through the efforts of the re-enactors, the park volunteers and others, people had a real taste of West Virginia history, Salisbury said.

“It has just been a great weekend for living history,” she said.

Civil War re-enactors from the 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, the 17th Va. Cavalry, Kanawha Artillery Battery D, Carlin’s Battery D and others conducted battlefield demonstrations with cannons and single-shot muzzleloaders on Saturday and Sunday to give visitors a glimpse of how battles were conducted during the Civil War.

There were around 50-75 re-enactors participating in the period camp over the weekend and the battles. Many were in authentic uniforms and using equipment that was period specific.

“This why they call us ‘Living Historians,’ we studied the four-year period that was the Civil War,” said Captain Don Van Meter of the 105 Ohio Volunteer Infantry. “The American Civil War was the most important part of American history.”

Had things turned out differently, the whole political structure of the world would have been changed drastically, Van Meter said.

“We retained the Union of the states,” he said. “Because of the Civil War, we were able to go on and make the most powerful nation in the world.”

Following Sunday’s battle re-enactment, Van Meter talked to those gathered about how things were done during the period in battle, how people stayed in contact with home, family responsibilities and more.

A lot of people asked where they get their costumes, Van Meter said.

“These are not costumes,” he said. “They are authentic from the bottom of our shoes to the tops of our hats.

“If you have someone who knows what they are doing, they will be as authentic as they can be.”

Owen Headley, 10, of Zanesville, Ohio, was part of the Ambulance Corps of the 1st Ohio Infantry. During the battle re-enactment he was helping to tend to the wounded and helping to carry them off the battlefield on stretchers.

This weekend was his first time participating in a Civil War Re-enactment. He learned about it from someone with his local Boy Scout council and wanted to try it.

“It was very fun and interesting,” Headley said. “Even if you are just waiting, you get to talk and find out more (about the Civil War) than you already know.”

He learned about the different designations on a battlefield in dealing with wounded from a dressing station to an actual field hospital and how those different areas were marked.

The people who came out to watch learned a lot.

Eric Lyons, of Panama Beach, Fla., had never seen a Civil War re-enactment before. In listening to Van Meter and others speak, he got an idea of how things were done back then.

“It was really cool,” he said. “I really learned a lot.”

Lyons commented on the authenticity of the uniforms.

“They would have to have a lot of money put into those uniforms,” he said.

Michelle McLendon, of Parkersburg, commented on the re-enactors’ dedication to what they do.

“It is really neat that they do that,” she said.

Mark Nicholls, of Charlotte, N.C., was in the area visiting relatives.

“They said this was a pretty good show,” he said. “It was terrific, very historically accurate.”

Nicholls was out Sunday enjoying himself and what the area had to offer.

“It was inexpensive,” he said. “It is a beautiful day to be out in the country, we got to go on a boat ride, got a little bit of a history lesson and got to do a little bit of shopping.”

The Mid-Ohio Valley has a lot of history that many people are not aware of.

“We want to bring the history out. They aren’t teaching a lot of this in the schools,” said Robert Neff, co-organizer of the the weekend event and a Captain with the 17th Virginia Cavalry. “West Virginia – our state – was born out of the Civil War.

“We wanted to show that there is history here that hasn’t even been touched. That history needs to be put out there.”