Blennerhassett Island slated to begin season

PARKERSBURG – Beginning May 1, the Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park will open for the 2013 season as visitors begin taking sternwheeler rides to visit the restored mansion and tour the historic island.

Park superintendent Matt Baker said the 2012 season was a positive one for the island, despite weather-related problems that kept attendance down.

Late spring rains delayed the island’s opening from early to mid-May and the late-June derecho caused enough damage on the island and throughout the region to keep Blennerhassett Island closed for a week during one of its busiest periods, he said.

“This winter and spring have been very nice to us,” Baker said as the island prepares to open for the 2013 season.

With the opening of the island on May 1, visitors can board the Island Belle Sternwheeler at Point Park in downtown Parkersburg for the trips to and from Blennerhassett Island.

Boat ride tickets will be sold at the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History at Second and Juliana streets in downtown Parkersburg, two blocks from the docking area at the city floodwall. For information or directions, call 304-420-4800 or online at

In a new addition this year, Baker said the former ticket booth near the floodwall entrance has been leased out as a concession stand. The stand will sell food items and refreshments during the island’s hours of operation and may also be open during special events downtown like the Point Park Music Series, depending on the concessionaire’s plans and abilities, he said.

The main feature of Blennerhassett Island is the reconstructed Blennerhassett Mansion, which is furnished with many artifacts owned by Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett or coming from that period.

Other artifacts and items can be seen on display at the Blennerhassett Museum, which features three stories of exhibits, a video display telling the story of the Blennerhassetts and a gift shop.

Visits to the island provide visitors with the opportunity to take mansion tours guided by docents in period clothing and take narrated wagon rides. There are also bicycle rentals, a gift shop and a concession stand. A volunteer-operated golf cart is also available for those with mobility issues.

The Hardly Able Carriage Co., owned by John Smith of Ellenboro, W.Va., will return for another year of offering the wagon rides on the island. The company also provides wagon rides at North Bend State Park using wooden wagons hand-built by Smith and his family.

The Island Belle is also available for charters when not involved in transporting visitors between Parkersburg and the island.

The rates are: museum admission $4 for adults and $2 for children ages 3-12; boat ride, $9 for adults and $7 for children ages 3-12; mansion tour, $4 for adults and $2 for children ages 3-12; and wagon ride, $5 each for all ages.

In a program that began in 2012, a couple of discounts will be available to visitors. Sundays are “Senior Sundays” with seniors age 60 and above getting $1 off boat tickets and $2 off museum admission.

A military discount will give $1 off boat tickets every day for active military members, as well as $2 off museum admission.

Beginning May 1 and running through early June, the island will be open from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday and noon-5:30 p.m. on Sunday. The museum will be open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sunday.

The hours will change at various times throughout the season. The island is usually closed on Mondays, but will be open on Memorial Day and Labor Day. The museum will be open on Mondays by appointment only.

The first special event of the season will be the annual Rendezvous on the River from May 8-11. Pioneer reenactors will set up camp on the island and show how early settlers and pioneers lived with authentic camps, demonstrations and period dress.

Beginning in June, Blennerhassett Island will also bring back some popular programs, including the Island Frolic, the Sundae Sunday cruise and “Brunch with Margaret.”

In a new addition for 2013, Baker said the island will be adding nature hikes on the first Saturday of each month from June through October. The interpretive nature tours will be conducted a local chapter of the West Virginia Master Naturalists, he said. The tours will focus on a variety of things, including songbirds (June 1), trees (July 6), nature treasure hunt (Aug. 3), bugs (Sept. 7) and river ecology (Oct. 5.)

“We’re trying to add something different. Our primary focus is history and interpreting the history of the island, but we feel like there is are great natural things to offer to the public,” he said.

Over the past several years, park employees have been restoring the historic Putnam-Houser House, which was transported to the island from Belpre. The Putnam-Houser House was completed in 2009 and is open Fridays through Sundays this summer. Tours are free and will be guided by docents. A donation box is available with proceeds going to help maintain the historic home.

More volunteers are always needed on the island and in the museum. Volunteers can work in the gift shops in both places or learn to be docents and give tours of the mansion.

For mansion docents, training and period clothing is provided.

The Friends of Blennerhassett will hold an information session for prospective volunteers from 2-3 p.m. April 28 at the museum at Second and Juliana streets in downtown Parkersburg.