West Virginia. Up until last month, all I knew of this state was that it was 3 hours away and that John Denver wrote one of the best songs ever about it. WV has never been in my top 10 states to visit (California, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, Alaska, Montana, Massachusetts, Maine, Oregon, Washington if you’re interested), but when given the opportunity to visit, I jumped at the chance- I am an explorer!
As part of my journey to citizenship, and because I am my mother’s daughter, I am keen to learn as much about my new home country as I can, and what better way to learn that through full immersion into its culture and history than through food and historical reenactments? Parkersburg, just over 3 hours away from Cincinnati, is bursting with art, culture, friendly faces and lots of history, and in just under 48 hours, I was able to explore an incredibly vibrant town, with an incredible food scene.
Our first historical stop was Henderson Hall, “a living legacy to the pioneers and patriots who walked its halls, through an unbroken chain of five generations.” This stunning house, complete with antiquities and artifacts from as early as the 1600’s (ancient by American standards) is cared for by a sterling group of volunteers with exceptional knowledge of the families and house itself. Parts I particularly enjoyed: the last remaining flecks of 24 carat gold from the original wallpaper in the living room, and the pull-down lanterns dotted all around the property. With sweeping vistas down to the Ohio River, acres and acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, Henderson Hall is a must see, from the delightful furnishings to the proven connections to George Washington, this museum covers decades of American History in an intimate family home so well preserved, it feels like the lady of the house just stepped out the room. I fell for the floor to ceiling windows in the bedrooms that let in such glorious light, and the hand painted wooden furniture in the children’s room. Open March through December, and a steal at only $10 a ticket, I am looking forward to a return visit in the autumn.
Our second day took us out, by way of a stern wheeler riverboat, to Blennerhassett Island. Once I got over the panic and nausea of being away from dry land, I was swept up in the romance of the meticulously cut lawns and ageless trees, the character actors dotted around the island, especially the officers reenacting movements deep in the woods. This house, unlike Henderson Hall, is a replica…but you wouldn’t know it. Thanks to detailed notes scribbled in journals and sketches of the room set for dinners, the house has been decorated with the exact same colours and wallpaper patterns the once featured in the house that stood in the same spot decades ago. After falling into ruin, the house and it’s memory was almost lost to the ages. What stands on the island is a glorious testament to the legacy of the area and the family who once occupied the land.
What better way to end a trip than by enjoying a brunch buffet? And the Sunday Brunch menu at the Blennerhassett Hotel is AMAZING! A delicious selection of smoked salmon, oysters on the half shell, pastries, waffles, fresh fruit, mimosas, eggs Benedict, sausage gravy and biscuits…should I go on? I wolfed down two, or possibly three plates before I ventured home. The hotel, which has been refurbished several times and unfortunately losing a lot of the original features is a testament to the characters, passion and work ethics of this glorious little town.
Before I sign off, a quick shout out to the vendors and restaurants who were featured in this years Taste of Parkersburg. I was delighted to try more products from Holl’s Chocolates, tacos stuffed with blackened salmon and spicy coleslaw from The Coffee Bar, the BEST New York Style pizza from Maka Mia’s Pizza. But in true Phoebe style, I hunted down donuts, grabbing half a dozen from McHappy’s on my way home.
Thank you to the Visit Parkersburg team for their generosity, time, hospitality and knowledge. I can’t wait to venture back out to West Virginia later in the year, braving the stern wheeler to visit Blennerhassett Island by candle light.