Thursday, July 31, 2014

Traveling West Virginia: Henderson Hall

I had been promising myself for months that we would stop at Henderson Hall on day on our way to our Marietta booth. This past week I made it a plan instead of a promise and it was certainly worth taking the time to visit.

The Henderson family arrived in the Ohio Valley in the late 1700's and promptly established themselves as a primary force in the settlement communities along the river. With connections to many in power in the relatively new United States government, it stands to reason that this family would play a prominent role in the government of the frontier. they must have recognized that fact early on, for they saved every letter, receipt, diary, broken cup, school book, chair, and much more--all put away in a third floor attic room for the enjoyment, wonderment and edification of future generations
The exterior is imposing but not overly ostentatious. Larry, the retired bricklayer, enjoyed seeing the fine masonry work,
and we were both impressed by the carved sandstone columns and corners of the front entry porch.

The interior was like stepping back in time. This family, as I said, did not throw much away, and took good care of the things they owned so the decor is a mixture of eras and styles, but all tastefully blended and interesting as can be to anyone interested in antiques.

We went upstairs to the find...

and bedrooms...

and more bedrooms,

and even a wedding gown.

This is the third floor storage room, which I'm betting they called they "lumber room" since that was the English term and the USA was only recently separated from the mother country at the time Henderson Hall was built. Lots of treasures here!

And a view looking down the stairwell,

which is very similar to this view at the Louis Bennett house, built in 1875 in Weston, WV, which now house the public library. Henderson Hall (the new section) was built in 1836, but the style is certainly comparable.

 Wonder of wonders, you can even go up into the widow's walk on top of the mansion to see the view! I tried to imagine what it looked like in the early 1800's when the Hendersons were farming the fields around their home. What a sight it must have been.

Back to the second floor landing, where it was much cooler than the windowed widow's walk,

and then to the first floor to view the lovely parlor (can't imagine calling it a living room!),

and the gorgeous dining room, with the table set for ten guests,

and into the kitchen, where the last Henderson to live in the house uncovered and restored the original fireplace:

There is much more to see in Henderson Hall than what I have shown here. So many antiques, photos, artifacts that it boggles the mind, truly. The Hall is funded by the Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg, WV, and volunteers from that group do upkeep and are docents at the hall. A labor of love, certainly.

Our guide told us that the letters and other ephemera were currently being sorted and placed into archival boxes. I hope that these will be made available to researchers and historians, as 200 years of letters is really a treasure trove and a perfect insight into the way of life in bygone days.

This photo shows the original house at the rear and the later addition of the "hall." It's apparent that the family's fortunes continued to do well in the valley.

Henderson Hall is located at 517 River Rd, Williamstown, WV (Off WV 14 north of Parkersburg)

Call 304-375-2129 for information about group tours, hours, etc. Admission is $5.00 per person, and they usually open Noon to 5:00pm daily.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Traveling West Virginia: The Belle of Cincinnati

It was windy on board! My hair flew around so much
I probably looked like a wild woman. But who cared?
We've been doing a lot of sight-seeing in the past few weeks, and intentionally so. We have a lot of places on our bucket lists and it's time to start marking some of them off the list.

I have always wanted to take a trip on a riverboat. Not one of the smaller steamers but one of those big boats from the heyday of river travel when theaters, bands and other entertainment floated from town to town, bringing new shows and experiences to the rural population. Most such trips, like those offered on the American Queen or the Delta Queen, are out of our financial reach, but then I read about a dinner cruise being offered by the River Museum of Point Pleasant (WV) aboard the Belle of Cincinnati. Now this was something we could do! So I called, bought tickets, and we waited for the big day.

We drove down to Point Pleasant Monday evening, and had no trouble finding where the boat was loading. Those tall stacks gave away the location pretty easily, as did the droves of people heading toward the levee. (The Point Pleasant levee, by the way, is worth a visit all by itself with its stunning, long mural that depicts the history of the area. You can see a bit of it here, in an earlier post.)

We ran into friends as soon as we arrived. Poet Kirk Judd and his wife were taking the trip too, as was old-time musician, author and square dance caller Mack Samples and his wife. West Virginia really is just one small town--we almost always see someone we know wherever we go. There were hundreds of people boarding, a good sign, I thought, for the River Museum since they put on the cruise as a fundraiser.

Boarding was relaxed and casual, and dinner was served buffet-style on two levels of the boat, so we had choices of places to sit. Every table had a view of the river. Dinner was leisurely and as the wait staff began to clear the boat left the dock, heading downriver.

The Ohio deserves her name, "beautiful river." This night she was in showcase form, with light clouds scudding in the sky, the water rippling gently and the sun's last rays sending gentle gold across the scene.

We identified landmarks we recognized,

and I particularly enjoyed seeing bridges from a new perspective--the underside. It was surprisingly rusty under there. Hmmm. I wondered if this was cause for alarm, particularly since this bridge is the replacement for the doomed Silver Bridge that collapsed into the icy river in December 1967.

It surprised me how loud the bridges were. The smokestacks were lowered as we passed under. Pretty cool.

There was even royalty on board--Miss Tourism, I believe her banner said. I was delighted to see a red-haired queen; it seems to me that redheads get short shrift in beauty contests, something that really puzzles me. This young lady was stunning and gracious.

It was almost full dark by the time we returned. I'd explored pretty much every inch of the boat during the trip.

We did not partake of the offered dancing--the singer was the typical lounge singer, doing 60's and 70's numbers but I was more interested in the water, the scenery and the boat.

All in all, it was a fine trip, and I'd like to go again. I hope the museum continues to offer this opportunity to travel the river in the old-time way. It was a real treat.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Traveling West Virginia: The Mortuary Museum, Continued

I suppose technically I should not title these two posts as "Traveling West Virginia" since the Peoples Mortuary Museum is in Marietta, Ohio, but since it's just across the river, and since Bill Peoples, owner of the museum, is a cousin of Don Knotts (the famous Barney Fife of Andy Griffith fame), I'll let it stand.

The museum had more than just hearses. Mr. Peoples has been collecting for years and his museum reflected his good eye:

First is this pretty wood bed, actually called a funeral board. It can be folded up neatly into a suitcase shape, and that was how it was stored because it was re-used as needed. The pretty netting was a necessity in warm weather when doors and windows might be open or there were many people coming in and out, letting in insects.

This looks like a wicker coffin, doesn't it? It's actually a basket used for the wake or visitation period of someone whose remains were not fit for viewing. The basket would be closed and placed on the funeral board. At the time of the funeral the body would be removed from the basket to the actual casket. These baskets were also stored and re-used. And this, I learned, is the origin of a term we sometimes use when someone is in really bad shape: we might refer to them as a "basket case."

The harness in the above photo was donated by a man from Waverly, WV, who found it hanging in his barn, where it had been for many years. It was originally harness used for a horse drawn hearse. Mr. Peoples sent the old, dirty leather to the Amish to be restored. They cleaned it very well, but the leather is too dried out to actually be used again.

 Mr. Peoples also has an early embalming table on display. He is holding an early electric pump for embalming fluid. On the shelf above is a brass cylinder that was an experimental model using air pressure.

At the opposite end of the embalming table is a large, early hair dryer. Really. And here we thought those were an invention of the 60's! 

Babies sometimes had to be placed in baskets as well. The ribbons on the basket would be pink or blue, depending on the child's gender. These were also stored away, and it is sad to think how often they might have been used in the days when disease took so many children.

 It was customary until the 1920's or later for the deceased to be laid out in private homes rather than in funeral parlors. In the photos below you can see an elaborate setup that would be brought into the home by the funeral director, and set up in the parlor. Even the heavy drapes were brought in and placed across picture windows to block out the light and heat. Large fans were brought in during hot weather. At the time of the funeral the body would be placed in its casket, and the trappings would all be stored away for the next use. Mr. Peoples noted that young people did not like going into the parlor because everyone connected that room of the house with death, and so when the use of funeral homes became the norm the term used for the room became the "living" room, and funeral parlor became another term for the funeral home.

In the photo above left you can see a wood box. That was a casket made to hold the body of someone who had died from something that was thought to be infectious. A glass-paned door allowed people to look in at the deceased, and could be opened if needed. Another small door in the center of the lid could also be opened so flowers and other items could be placed in the coffin. Obviously, the size of this one indicates it was for a child.

I asked Mr. Peoples about the story I had heard about houses, particularly in the south, that had two front doors. I was told that one of those doors was for the living, and one for bringing the dead out of the home in the coffin. That door would open directly into the parlor, making transport of the large box easier. Mr People's said that he had not heard of the two doors before, but he did know that some large Victorian houses were built with one larger window on the side of the parlor to be used for taking the coffin out of the house.

Death is not a happy topic, but this museum was fascinating for its look at changing customs. Touring the museum gave me a new perspective on the funeral industry and I learned some interesting history and lore, and I was not one bit depressed when we left. As with anything, the more we know, the better equipped we are to understand.

And I'll think hard before I refer to anyone as a basket case again!

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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