Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 148;
Hotel History: The Blennerhassett Hotel (1889), Parkersburg, West Virginia*
By Stanley Turkel, CMHS
The Blennerhassett Hotel opened for business in 1889. It was built by William Chancellor, a prominent Parkersburg businessman, as a majestic showplace that reflected the gaslight era. Grand for its time, the original hotel had 50 guestrooms around a central staircase. Restrooms were located on each of the four floors and the kitchen was located on the fifth floor. It was named after Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett, who settled on an island in the Ohio River in 1798 and built a Palladian mansion where they allowed former Vice President Aaron Burr to use the island as the base of operations for his controversial military operations. Labeled a conspiracy by some, the Blennerhassetts fled down the Ohio River when American militiamen invaded the island.
Parkersburg, West Virginia in many respects epitomizes the river town of the American frontier. Possessing a strategic site at the confluence of two rivers and an abundance of natural resources, Parkersburg has grown from a gateway to the west to a major West Virginia city. From its earliest settlement to its growth in the 20th century, the course of Parkersburg's history has been largely dependent upon the Ohio and Little Kanawha Rivers.
Parkersburg had several significant figures in its history. George Washington not only led an exploratory visit in 1770 but claimed 34,000 acres west of the Alleghenies and pledged to settle in the Ohio River valley should the Revolutionary War be unsuccessful. Alexander Parker, for whom Parkersburg is named, rose to captain during his eight years of service in the Revolutionary War, entitling him to a substantial amount of land in lieu of cash payment.
Today, many of Parkersburg's historic resources are conspicuous by their absence. One is reminded by the vacant lots surrounding some of its largest 19th century structures that the city's center was nearly lost to insensitive urban renewal in recent years. That there are no pre-1820 buildings left in the downtown is an ominous note underscoring the need for landmark preservation of representative buildings from later phases of Parkersburg's development. Nevertheless, its original layout remains intact, with some notable buildings in all sections. The Courthouse and the Blennerhassett Hotel, two particularly significant structures evocative of Parkersburg's varied history, could serve as the dramatic focus of an improved downtown core. Greater awareness and protection of Parkersburg's historic resources should result in an enrichment of the area's self-image and, hopefully, its economy. With the existing adjacent National Register district, the multiple resources of downtown Parkersburg comprise a significant collection of buildings recalling Parkersburg's past as a riverfront town on the American frontier and later, a burgeoning industrial town of the Ohio River Valley.
Staying true to the legacy of the Blennerhassett Hotel, many updates and additions have been made over the years, with a full restoration taking place in 1986. Registered on the National Register of Historic Places, the charm of the hotel is seen in the architecture and original antiques that have been part of Blennerhassett from its beginning. In 2003, new European-style decor, gourmet cuisine, and a return to personal service were introduced. The hotel's elegant decor reflects its late-1800s origin, including lavish crown moldings, extravagant light fixtures, a period library, and a third-floor atrium sitting area at the heart of the hotel, bathed in natural sunlight from a skylight two stories above. The hotel's attention to detail carries over to its signature guestrooms and suites, which are outfitted with granite vanities, marble showers, and exquisite linen. But its impeccable staff—attentive, informed and helpful—makes Blennerhassett the place where past and present merge.
*excerpted from my book Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (AuthorHouse 2013)
About Stanley Turkel, CMHS
Stanley Turkel was designated as the 2014 and 2015 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.
Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry and Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi). A third hotel book (Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York) was called "passionate and informative" by The New York Times. His fourth hotel book was described by The New York Times: "Nostalgia for the City's caravansaries will be kindled by Stanley Turkel's...fact-filled...Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf."
Built to Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi is available for purchase from the publisher by visiting bookstore.authorhouse.com.