The Historic Blennerhassett Hotel
By Linda and Scott Shalaway
Even if there weren't dozens of good reasons to visit Parkersburg, anyone could justify the trip just to experience the historic Blennerhassett Hotel. Located on the corner of Fourth and Market streets, the Blennerhassett is as much a museum as a thriving hotel. It is registered as a national historic landmark. And historic it is.
The elegant Victorian hotel was built in 1889 by Parkersburg businessman William N. Chancellor. Parkersburg bustled at the time with oil, gas, and lumber interests, and access to the ready transportation of the Ohio River secured many a
fortune. The time was ripe for a first-class hotel worthy of this wealth and the entrepreneurs it attracted.
Chancellor spared little expense. The hotel featured 50 lavishly furnished rooms on four floors, with the kitchen located on the fifth floor (for fire concerns).
The hotel was fully restored in 1986 and now features 104 guest rooms, a ballroom, atrium, lobby, dining room, and library, where Chancellor's portrait hangs.
Antiques abound. Among the more notable pieces are handcrafted German clocks, a brass chandelier, a 150-year-old English grandfather's clock, an original Steinway grand piano, handmade chandeliers, a 112-year-old Pennsylvania Dutch door, an early 18th century Hepplewhite desk and chair, an Edwardian slate fireplace mantel from England, a 90-year-old English ship clerk's desk, and much, much more.
Consistent with the hotel's Victorian heritage, the decor is decidedly English. Chippendale reproduction furniture graces the guest rooms. Prints of engravings depicting the English country life hang throughout the corridors and rooms. Grosvenor and Westminster lamps illuminate the exterior, and many of the antiques inside have been imported from England.
We visited on a weekend in late November and were delighted to find a Christmas Tree Festival in progress. Dozens of Christmas trees lined the hotel's main lobby and ballroom corridor, each decorated according to a specific theme. One was actually decked with miniature Fiestaware ornaments. Hotel general manager Larry Demmy says the festival is an annual event, and that similar events take place throughout the year. In August, for example, the hotel hosts a half-marathon that attracts runners from both the U.S and abroad.
One of the main attractions for many hotel guests, including business travelers from all over the world, is Harman's Dining Room. Named for Harman Blennerhassett, a wealthy pioneer who turned nearby Blennerhassett Island into his own personal estate, the restaurant has earned the AAA 4-Diamond rating for five consecutive years, and offers world-class dining. Our meals, a Saturday night dinner and Sunday brunch, exceeded even our loftiest expectations.
After viewing the selection of appetizers, salads, and main entrees artfully displayed by Rocky, our menu presenter, we opted for Mushrooms Dante (stuffed with seafood), Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail with homemade cocktail sauce, and entrees of Porterhouse Steak and Rainbow Trout served over seasoned rice Ñ all served most attentively by Ali, our waiter. Freshly steamed asparagus and cauliflower completed the feast. For dessert, with eyes larger than our stomachs, we chose the house specialty: Praline Tulipe, a scoop of praline ice cream and sauce in an edible shell of caramel, brown and white sugar, butter, and corn syrup. It was a delicious and delightful two hours.
The next day Sunday brunch was a virtual banquet. We couldn't begin to sample every item on the buffet. Suffice to say that the fresh fruit, freshly baked pastries, made-to-order omelets, tender roast beef, and succulent chicken breasts were outstanding. Our only regret is that we missed the weekday Pasta Bar and the weekly Friday night seafood buffet. Arnout Hyde, Jr., editor of Wonderful West Virginia, spoke so highly of the lunch time Pasta Bar we felt guilty our work schedules precluded us from visiting during the week.
The most economical way to enjoy the Blennerhassett is to take advantage of a "getaway package." Attractively priced getaways target everyone from golfers, wine lovers and mystery mavens to hikers, bikers, and history buffs. Or just relax for a few days with great food and luxurious accommodations. For more information or to make reservations at the Blennerhassett Hotel, call 1-800-262-2536 or visit its website at .
Before heading home after a restful night in an elegant and spacious suite, we toured downtown Parkersburg on foot and discovered two historic attractions. Just two blocks from the hotel, we found the Oil and Gas Museum. A short tour through this historic old building gives a real sense of the role that fossil fuels played in the economic development of West Virginia.
And just a block away on the corner of Second and Juliana streets, the Blennerhassett Museum houses three floors of intriguing archeological and historical exhibits. The Museum, part of Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, is open year-round. The Island itself is accessible only by sternwheeler May through October. For more information, call 1-800-CALL-WVA.
Professional writers Linda and Scott Shalaway from Cameron have collaborated on several articles for the Wonderful West Virginia magazine.
Getting there: From Interstate 77, take U.S. 50 west into downtown Parkersburg. Travel south on Market Street to Fourth Street, where you'll find the grand old Blennerhassett Hotel. Valet parking is available.
Copyright 2000 by Wonderful West Virginia magazine and the WV Division of Natural Resources. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Photos are the property of the individual photographer(s) and may not be reprinted or reposted to the web without their permission.
Click to view the latest edition of Wonderful West Virginia, the official magazine of the Mountain State.