Blennerhassett Island lies in the middle of the Ohio River just downstream of Parkersburg, West Virginia. Named for the Blennerhassett family who settled there in the late 18th century, it is now a state park site which draws in plenty of visitors to tour the reconstructed mansion or hike through the woods. It was in the mansion where I saw something I can’t explain; something paranormal. But before I tell my tale, here’s a bit of history about the family and island to put things into perspective.
Disclosure: A tour was provided by the Parkersburg CVB. Opinions, as always, are purely my own.
Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett came to the newly formed United States of America in in the 1790s looking to start a new life for themselves. They headed to the western frontier, following the Ohio river from Pittsburgh to Marietta where they learned of an island for sale. The Blennerhassets moved to the island with their slaves and servants and began construction on a large home in 1798. They enjoyed the first few years on the island, running a farm and entertaining guests. The idyllic life did not last long.
1806 Aaron Burr, recently disgraced after his infamous duel with Alexander Hamilton, hatched a plan to liberate part of Mexico and set up his own government. Looking for support, he met with the Blennerhassetts and they worked with him to organize supplies and military forces. It was a short lived effort as President Thomas Jefferson was alerted to the plot and accused them of treason. Harman fled before local militia arrived. Margaret and the children followed later to join her husband in Louisiana territory and abandoned their home. The mansion burned to the ground in 1811.
Blennerhassett Island Today
Archaeologists uncovered the foundation of the Blennerhassett home in 1973 and , after years of research and planning, the mansion was reconstructed as an historical site in the mid-1980s. Today thousands of visitors come arrive on the island via the stern wheeler Island Belle from Parkersburg to explore the rebuilt mansion. Docents in period costume provide a very informative tour of the mansion, including the the two wings. Visitors can also enjoy the peaceful surroundings by foot or horse drawn wagon ride. The mansion tour, wagon rides, and bike tour are at additional cost. (See below) There is a snack bar, gift shop, and bathrooms located on the island for visitors.
It was inside the mansion where I saw something unusual. At the beginning of a tour, I was standing near the front door listening to the docent relate the history of the house and family. My eyes wandered around the room as I took it all in, then I saw what looked like a woman in a large, flowing dress begin to descend the stairs. Within the first few steps she faded away! I broke into a cold sweat and quickly glanced around to see if anyone else had noticed the woman, but nobody was looking in that direction. Minutes later, I headed upstairs with the rest of the group only to find a woman in period costume, but it was nothing like what I had seen. There was nobody else up there and it was clear to me then what I had seen; an apparition!
The Ghost of Margaret Blennerhassett?
Back to Margaret. The Blennerhassetts started a plantation in the South during what turned out to be an extended drought and failed. Next, they moved to Montreal, then eventually back to Europe where Harman passed away. Margaret and one of her sons eventually moved to New York, where she died in a poor house in 1842. The Blennerhassetts had six children, three born on the island. There was also a girl named Margaret who died on the island in infancy. She is buried in an unknown location on the property, possibly in the gardens.
This was the first time I had seen a ghost. I’ve spoken with friends who have had paranormal experiences in their travels or at home, and looked into a bit about hauntings in order to process what I had seen. I have two ideas. First, it may be a residual haunting, which is a bit of time stuck on repeat indefinitely. The other is that maybe, after all the bad luck and losing everything, Margaret’s spirit has come back to the island where she had lived happily and to be with her lost daughter. It’s an experience I’ll never forget and something to keep in the back of my mind during future travels. Have you ever had a paranormal encounter while on vacation? Tell your own tale in the comments section below.
Planning a Visit to Blennerhassett Island
Blennerhassett Island is accessed by boat from Parkersburg. Tickets can be purchased at the Blennerhassett Museum. Prices at time of writing are $10 adult and $8 children. Wagon rides are about $6 per person. Bicycles are also available for rent on the island.
The island is primarily wooded with some fields, so dress appropriately. The island is prone to flooding from the Ohio river and may be muddy in the Spring or after periods of heavy rains. Special events, such as the Colonial military encampment I visited, add even more fun to an island visit. Check the West Virginia State Parks website for current listings and information.
Parkersburg, West Virginia is a place full of history. Read more about some of the interesting locations below and plan your own adventure.