A day at the museum

PARKERSBURG – While Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park is closed during the winter, visitors can browse the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History year-round.

Through the winter, the museum is open from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children ages 3-12 and more information on the museum at Second and Juliana streets is available online at www.blennerhassettislandstatepark.com or by calling 304-420-4800.

The past year was a good one for the island and museum, despite the problems caused by the derecho in June, park Superintendent Matt Baker said.

“It seemed like this year we had good weather almost every weekend. The rain always seemed to hit on weekdays and we had good weather on the weekends, so we had good numbers on the island,” he said.

The reopening of the renovated Point Park also was a positive event for the island and museum, he said. It allowed the sternwheeler to return to its traditional boarding location, bringing more people to downtown Parkersburg to visit the island and museum, he said.

Planners are considering ideas and programs, special summer events and new activities and programs to attract previous visitors to return to the island and the museum, Baker said.

“We want to give people reasons to come back,” Baker said.

Museum exhibits range from prehistoric Indian tools, jewelry, weapons and household items to oil paintings, old clothing, guns and military paraphernalia, furniture belonging to West Virginia’s first governor, automobiles, farm implements, 19th century jewelry and glassware from 60- to 200-years old. A section is devoted to Blennerhassett relics.

But the museum acquired a number of interesting and rare items and artifacts during 2012 through purchases and donations, park historian Ray Swick said.

In June, weaponry and tools from the 18th and 19th century were acquired by the museum. An especially rare find was a 16-foot skiff, or boat, circa 1890-1900, which may be the only surviving one of its kind exclusively used in Wood County.

Waverly residents David and Kimberly Arnold donated the skiff used by the Corbitt family of Waverly.

A collection of 18th and 19th century relics was donated by Linda Milhoan of Vienna in memory of her husband Paul at the same time.

“These are Indian trade items and weapons from the frontier Ohio Valley and the trans-Mississippi Far West,” Swick said.

New display cases were installed on the first floor near the reception desk for the Milhoan collection. The skiff is on the second floor.

In August, the museum purchased a rare photo of Hattie Blackford, AKA Fanny Lear, a Parkersburg woman who scandalized 19th century Russia and became famous in Europe.

In the photo, labeled “Le Belle,” Blackford is dressed in a musketeer’s costume with boots, cape and sword. The costume was likely for a masquerade, Swick said.

Swick discovered the photo on the Internet. It was purchased for $300 by the Friends of the Blennerhassett from a collector of 19th century photographs in London, England.

Harriet Clarissima Ely Blackford was born in 1848 and was a member of a prominent Philadelphia family. In 1864, she married Beale S. Blackford, a railroad clerk who eventually came to Parkersburg.

Following her husband’s death in the 1860s, Blackford left Parkersburg and traveled in Europe. Less than a decade later, Blackford was involved in a tempestuous relationship with a Russian grand duke and embroiled in a royal scandal involving the theft of jewels from his mother.

The duke was declared insane and banished. Blackford was expelled from the country and relocated to France.

In what Swick considers a jewel in the collections, the museum in September obtained an 1885 self-portrait of Lilly Irene Jackson, one of Parkersburg’s most acclaimed artists.

“She’s the most famous woman to live in Parkersburg,” Swick said. “And Parkersburg’s most famous painter.”

The museum acquired the painting with a $2,500 grant from the Wood County Commission.

Officials sent the artwork to the Bonfoey Gallery in Cleveland to restore both the frame and canvas. The painting is on display in the museum lobby next to the gift shop.

The restoration cost $7,500 and was paid by an anonymous donor, Swick said.