Visiting this sliver of land in the Ohio River is like stepping back into the past. Hop aboard one of the horse-drawn carriages, and you’ll traverse tree-lined paths dotted with a smattering of period buildings. The star structure is a replica of the mansion from where Former Vice President Aaron Burr allegedly plotted to build his own empire.
The island was first inhabited by Native Americans. It was the last home of Nemacolin, chief of the Delaware Nation, who died there in 1767. After the United States gained its independence, European settlers bought the island. In the 1790s, Harman Blennerhassett, a wealthy Irish aristocrat who had fled from his native country to escape persecution, had a fabulous Palladian-style mansion constructed there.
That mansion witnessed an intriguing chapter in early United States history. Burr stayed on the island a few times, making it the headquarters for the faction of supporters he allegedly schemed to establish an empire out of the conquered Mexican territory with. President Thomas Jefferson ordered Burr arrested for treason, prompting the local militia to raid the island. The Blennerhassetts, along with Burr’s other followers, fled the estate. Burr was acquitted of treason, though his reputation—already marred by his fatal duel with Alexander Hamilton–never recovered.
The family never returned to their once-grand home, as it burned in 1811. In 1992, a reproduction of the original mansion was completed and opened to the public for tours. Many of the former outbuildings have been rebuilt as well.
Know Before You Go
Parkersburg, West Virginia is easily accessed by using either Interstate 77 or US Route 50. Tickets for the island tour are purchased at the museum, which is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum phone number is 1-304-420-4800. It is advisable to call in advance in case river conditions prevent the ferry boat from running. Multiple events are scheduled for the summer and fall months.