The Blennerhassett Hotel

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Discover the The Blennerhassett Hotel with its Queen Anne architecture and European glamour and personal service.

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The Blennerhassett Hotel, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 1991, dates back to 1889.

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Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, The Blennerhassett Hotel is a landmark to the economic vitality of America’s Gilded Age. In the wake of the American Civil War, the city of Parkersburg, West Virginia, had undergone something of a commercial renaissance due to the proliferation of several high-profile oilfields nearby. Money subsequently flowed into the community, fueled by numerous oil refineries that had started operating in Parkersburg itself. The city grew exponentially, with its population exploding in just a matter of years. Inspired by Parkersburg’s newfound prosperity, a prominent local businessman named Colonel William Chancellor decided to construct a brilliant hotel downtown. He specifically hoped that its luxurious services and amenities would entertain the many new middle and upper-class people who had moved into the area. Chancellor spared no expense constructing his beautiful facility. The colonel installed approximately 50 guestrooms throughout the building, which he outfitted with then-state-of-the-art plumbing, heating, and electrical systems. He placed an ornate common area on the second floor, surrounded by two glorious parlors and a spacious restaurant suitable for 80 people. Furthermore, Chancellor commissioned the creation of a magnificent grand staircase that guided guests to their accommodations. Spectacular décor abounded from a local distributor called “Bentley and Gerwig Carpet and Furniture,” while other companies applied the gorgeous window treatments. And Chancellor made sure that the entire building displayed awe-inspiring Queen Anne architecture, although certain areas inside contained design elements inspired from the contemporary Romanesque Revival movement.

When the new hotel finally opened in 1889, Colonel Chancellor christened the structure as “The Blennerhassett Hotel.” Interestingly, he had initially hoped to name it the “Argyle,” but settled on the final moniker after the well-known, albeit controversial Blennerhassett family. (Two members of the Blennerhassett family—Harman and Margaret—had gained their infamy for supposedly conspiring with Vice President Aaron Burr to organize a military expedition against the United States during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency.) Nevertheless, The Blennerhassett Hotel quickly emerged as a grand showplace during an era that many residents referred to as Parkersburg’s “Gaslight Era.” For the next several decades, The Blennerhassett Hotel entertained all kinds of upscale guests from across the nation. In fact, the prosperity proved to be so great that Colonel Chancellor’s grandson—Nelson C. Burwell—greatly expanded upon the building’s facilities during his own run as general manager. Nelson specifically installed a series of electric elevators throughout the building and attached more space via the former local branch headquarters of the First National Bank of Virginia. Unfortunately, the hotel fell on hard times during the 1970s, especially after a structural accident affected much of the building’s interior floorplan. Undeterred, dozens of concerned residents came together and sponsored the building’s complete renovation. Along with some much needed cash from a few Pennsylvania-based investors, the community eventually finished its restoration of The Blennerhassett Hotel in 1986. A member of Historic Hotels of America since 1991, this fantastic historic hotel has since continued to serve as one of West Virginia’s most luxurious destinations.

  • About the Location +

    Located in West Virginia’s Ohio River Valley, the city of Parkersburg is among the most historic communities in the state. The city itself dates back to the late 18th century, when the first settlers arrived from Virginia’s Tidewater to found a town. They specifically chose an area at the confluence of the Ohio and Little Kanawha rivers that future U.S. President George Washington had surveyed as a young man. Calling their new settlement “Newport,” the pioneers set about establishing a rudimentary street grid along the waterfront. However, the residents quickly ran afoul with the descendants of a man named Alexander Parker, who had obtained legal titles over the whole region after the American Revolutionary War. Following years of litigation, Parker’s heirs eventually won the right to administer the town, which they renamed as “Parkersburg” in 1810. Despite the political turmoil, the town had attracted scores of additional settlers due to its proximity to other emerging urban centers near the Ohio River. Among the most prominent people to settle in Parkersburg at the time were a few members of the influential Blennerhassett family.

    In 1799, Harman Blennerhassett purchased a small island in the middle of the Ohio River. He subsequently constructed a magnificent mansion on the northern section of the island and moved his wife, Margaret, into the massive structure when it finally opened a year later. Even though Blennerhassett referred to the site as the “Isle of Beau,” locals nonetheless took to calling it “Blennerhassett Island.” Nevertheless, Blennerhassett Island soon became the center of controversy when Harman allegedly hatched a treasonous plot with Vice President Aaron Burr inside his home in 1806. The two men intended to organize a military expedition into the southeastern United States, where they—along with a group of other co-conspirators—would found a separate country. Even though hard proof of the plot was never found, President Thomas Jefferson nonetheless decided to arrest the supposed plotters on charges of treason. Orders were eventually issued for the apprehension of the Blennerhassetts, too, although they family later escaped further down the Ohio River. (Chief Justice John Marshall eventually exonerated the criminal charges due to a lack of evidence.)

    Parkersburg remained a vibrant, yet rustic community along the Ohio River for years until the arrival of the railroads in the 1850s. Travelers who desired to reach places like Wheeling or Cincinnati often stopped in Parkersburg by way of the famous Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Its prominence as a transportation hub even attracted a small Union army under the command of General George B. McClellan during the American Civil War, who invaded into western Virginia through the town’s various turnpikes and railroad bridges. (The future residents of West Virginia would eventually secede from Virginia via a plebiscite in 1863.) The city’s infrastructure also helped drive industrialization once the conflict had subsided, specifically the emergence of a prosperous oil and natural gas industry. Various entrepreneurs had actually discovered rich oilfields nearby, leading to the creation of many refineries inside Parkersburg that made effective use of its railroad network. As such, the size of Parkersburg exploded over the course of the Gilded Age, with all kinds of new beautiful residential and commercial structures debuting. In fact, many locals even referred to the prosperity as the city’s heralded “Gaslight Era.”

    Parkersburg’s local economy remained strong for generations thereafter, emerging as one of West Virginia’s most diversified industrial communities. Among the many products that the factories in the area produced included textiles, tools, plastics, metals, and even complex polymers. But Parkersburg also became home to a thriving tourism industry that draws upon the region’s rich cultural heritage. Contemporary travelers have since enjoyed visiting such cultural attractions like the Campus Martius Museum, the Oil & Gas Museum, and the Julia-Ann Square Historic District. Guests have frequently traveled to the Blennerhassett Island Historical Park, as well, which was once the home of Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett. Open seasonally from May to October, the park features a renovated version of their gorgeous mansion that now serves as a historic site that some 40,000 people tour every year. Come experience this fantastic history first hand with a memorable trip to Parkersburg, West Virginia.


  • About the Architecture +

    Today, The Blennerhassett Hotel stands as an outstanding example of historical Queen Anne-style architecture. Considered a successor to Eastlake architecture, Queen Anne became a widely popular architectural style at the height of the Gilded Age. Named in honor of the 18th-century British monarch, Queen Anne, the architectural form started in England before migrating to the United States. But its name is misleading, as it actually borrowed its design principles from buildings constructed during the Renaissance. While the appearance of Queen Anne-style buildings may differ considerably, they are all united by several common features. For instance, they are typically asymmetrical in nature, and are built with some combination of stone, brick, and wood. Those buildings also feature a large wrap-around porch, as well as a couple of polygonal towers. Those towers may also be accompanied by turrets along the corners of a building’s exterior façade. And structures designed with Queen Anne-style design principles may also have pitched, gabled roofs that feature irregular shapes and patterns. Intricate wood carvings are a common sight throughout their layout, too, and are often designed in such a way to resemble different objects. As such, guests viewing the architectural features of Queen Anne architecture many feel as if they had been staring at an illusion! Clapboard paneling and half-timbering are a few other forms of woodworking that are regularly found within a Queen Anne-style structure.

    Nevertheless, The Blennerhassett Hotel also showcases some of the finest elements of Romanesque Revival architecture, too. Romanesque Revival-style architecture is a wonderful architectural style that first appeared in North America in the middle of the 19th century, just as design principles from both Rome and medieval Europe were fiinding a popular audience. Architects interested in specializing in Romanesque Revival-themed architecture specifically studied the works of Norman and Lombard engineers who were active in the 11th and 12th centuries. Structures created with the aesthetic are commonly defined by their pronounced round arches and round towers. Yet, those grand archways and towers were far less ostentatious than their historic counterparts located on the other side of the Atlantic. Romanesque Revival-style architecture also implemented squat columns, decorative wall carvings, and the extensive use of masonry. But architects would sometimes favor wood over bricks or stones due to financial concerns.

    The first wave of Romanesque Revival-style architecture impacted North America in the 1840s and 1850s, appearing in such cities like Washington, D.C., and Toronto. University College at the greater University of Toronto is one such example of a brilliant Romanesque Revival-inspired structure to emerge at the time. But the general public in both the United States and Canada did not fully embrace the aesthetic, preferring the tastes of Italianate and Gothic Revival architecture at the time. It was not until an American architect named Henry Hobson Richardson started using the form in the late 1800s that Romanesque Revival style finally became popular. A graduate from the renowned École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Richardson developed numerous designs in places like New York City, Boston, and Detroit. His approach to Romanesque Revival style was somewhat different, as it also incorporated elements of medieval Mediterranean design principles. His vision of Romanesque Revival-style architecture was soon embraced by other architects, including those in neighboring Canada. Historians today largely refer to Richardson’s design philosophy as “Richardson Romanesque” architecture.


Image of Historian Stanley Turkel, Historic Hotels of America Image of Stanley Turkel's Book Built To Last: 100 Year Old Hotels East of the Mississippi, Historic Hotels of America.

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Nobody Asked Me, But...


Hotel History: The Blennerhassett Hotel (1889), Parkersburg, West Virginia*



By Stanley Turkel, CMHS



The Blennerhassett Hotel opened for business in 1889. It was built by William Chancellor, a prominent Parkersburg businessman, as a majestic showplace that reflected the gaslight era. Grand for its time, the original hotel had 50 guestrooms around a central staircase. Restrooms were located on each of the four floors and the kitchen was located on the fifth floor. It was named after Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett, who settled on an island in the Ohio River in 1798 and built a Palladian mansion where they allowed former Vice President Aaron Burr to use the island as the base of operations for his controversial military operations. Labeled a conspiracy by some, the Blennerhassetts fled down the Ohio River when American militiamen invaded the island.



Parkersburg, West Virginia in many respects epitomizes the river town of the American frontier. Possessing a strategic site at the confluence of two rivers and an abundance of natural resources, Parkersburg has grown from a gateway to the west to a major West Virginia city. From its earliest settlement to its growth in the 20th century, the course of Parkersburg's history has been largely dependent upon the Ohio and Little Kanawha Rivers.



Parkersburg had several significant figures in its history. George Washington not only led an exploratory visit in 1770 but claimed 34,000 acres west of the Alleghenies and pledged to settle in the Ohio River valley should the Revolutionary War be unsuccessful. Alexander Parker, for whom Parkersburg is named, rose to captain during his eight years of service in the Revolutionary War, entitling him to a substantial amount of land in lieu of cash payment.



Today, many of Parkersburg's historic resources are conspicuous by their absence. One is reminded by the vacant lots surrounding some of its largest 19th century structures that the city's center was nearly lost to insensitive urban renewal in recent years. That there are no pre-1820 buildings left in the downtown is an ominous note underscoring the need for landmark preservation of representative buildings from later phases of Parkersburg's development. Nevertheless, its original layout remains intact, with some notable buildings in all sections. The Courthouse and the Blennerhassett Hotel, two particularly significant structures evocative of Parkersburg's varied history, could serve as the dramatic focus of an improved downtown core. Greater awareness and protection of Parkersburg's historic resources should result in an enrichment of the area's self-image and, hopefully, its economy. With the existing adjacent National Register district, the multiple resources of downtown Parkersburg comprise a significant collection of buildings recalling Parkersburg's past as a riverfront town on the American frontier and later, a burgeoning industrial town of the Ohio River Valley.



Staying true to the legacy of the Blennerhassett Hotel, many updates and additions have been made over the years, with a full restoration taking place in 1986. Registered on the National Register of Historic Places, the charm of the hotel is seen in the architecture and original antiques that have been part of Blennerhassett from its beginning. In 2003, new European-style decor, gourmet cuisine, and a return to personal service were introduced. The hotel's elegant decor reflects its late-1800s origin, including lavish crown moldings, extravagant light fixtures, a period library, and a third-floor atrium sitting area at the heart of the hotel, bathed in natural sunlight from a skylight two stories above. The hotel's attention to detail carries over to its signature guestrooms and suites, which are outfitted with granite vanities, marble showers, and exquisite linen. But its impeccable staff—attentive, informed and helpful—makes Blennerhassett the place where past and present merge.



*excerpted from his book Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi



*****



About Stanley Turkel, CMHS



Stanley Turkel is a recognized consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel consulting practice serving as an expert witness in hotel-related cases and providing asset management an and hotel franchising consultation. Prior to forming his hotel consulting firm, Turkel was the Product Line Manager for worldwide Hotel/Motel Operations at the International Telephone & Telegraph Co. overseeing the Sheraton Corporation of America. Before joining IT&T, he was the Resident Manager of the Americana Hotel (1842 Rooms), General Manager of the Drake Hotel (680 Rooms) and General Manager of the Summit Hotel (762 Rooms), all in New York City. He serves as a Friend of the Tisch Center and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. He served for eleven years as Chairman of the Board of the Trustees of the City Club of New York and is now the Honorary Chairman.



Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. More than 275 articles on various hotel subjects have been posted in hotel magazines and on the Hotel-Online, Blue MauMau, Hotel News Resource and eTurboNews websites. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry and Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi). A third hotel book (Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York) was called "passionate and informative" by the New York Times. Executive Vice President of Historic Hotels of America, Lawrence Horwitz, has even praised one book, Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry:



  • “If you have ever been in a hotel, as a guest, attended a conference, enjoyed a romantic dinner, celebrated a special occasion, or worked as a hotelier in the front or back of the house, Great American Hoteliers, Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry is a must read book. This book is recommended for any business person, entrepreneur, student, or aspiring hotelier. This book is an excellent history book with insights into seventeen of the great innovators and visionaries of the hotel industry and their inspirational stories.”

Turkel was designated as the “2014 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America,” the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.



Works published by Stanley Turkel include:



Most of these books can be ordered from AuthorHouse—(except Heroes of the American Reconstruction, which can be ordered from McFarland)—by visiting www.stanleyturkel.com, or by clicking on the book’s title.



Contact: Stanley Turkel



stanturkel@aol.com/917-628-8549

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