Day 7, October 13, 2011
An Island in the Stream
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Blennerhassett Island has been on my to do list for a very long time. It was starting to look like my traveling schedule would be accommodating but I wasn't sure that things would even be operating in mid-October. I called the museum but the West Virginia hills made communication from a moving vehicle next to impossible. When I pulled over to try the call, I managed to pick a spot where I got absolutely no signal. I was about to just forget it when I discovered that the museum was less than a mile away. I stopped by and learned that the island and the boat to it were indeed still operating. Then I found a motel and made plans to ride over in the morning.

The museum opens at 10:00 with the first boat departure at 11:00. One of the museum three floors of displays is devoted to prehistoric items, many from Blennerhassett Island. There are some more modern items from the island, such as gate stones from the original Blennerhassett Mansion, and plenty of items with litte or no connection to the island. Pictured are a couple of Model Ts and weddings from 1895 through 1988.

In some minor sense, Blennerhassett Island could be called a poor man's Mackinac but that man would have to be extremely poor. There are similarities. They are both islands and accessible only by boat. State parks fill much of both islands and the primary forms of transportation for both are horses and bicycles. But the boat ride to Mackinac Island is several miles long over open water; The one to Blannerhassett Island is over maybe 300 yards of river. Mackinac has a city filled with century old buildings and a well preserved fort; Blennerhasset has one reconstructed mansion and a sign where a blockhouse once stood.

But, even though it's a feather to Mackinac's cannonball, Blennerhassett Island is a good place to visit. The ride to the island is on a real sternwheeler that Captain Harry Batten built himself in 1994. And the good Captain doesn't just shoot across the river. We cruised down stream a bit while he provided on everything we passed including a couple of upstream barges. We saw wildlife on the river and on the island though I was disappointed to learn that I'd photographed a pair of deer and not Dr. Dolittle's pushmi-pullyu. I don't know what story Captain Batten is telling in that last picture but I know it's a good one. They all were.

First up was a wagon ride around the island behind brother and sister Billy and Belle. Alnog the way, we passed the Putnam-Houser House and the Neale House. The white Putnam-Houser House was built in 1800 and moved to the island in 1986. The ruins of the brick Neale House are one of the few authentic remaining links with the island's past. The house was built in 1933 and was still in use into the 1930s. Walt Whitman visited it in 1849.

There were a few other structures, including a relocated log cabin, that I didn't get pictures of. There is also a very real and very valuable walnut grove that was planted in the 1930s. Then there are several signs where things, such as the 1792 blockhouse I mentioned and a giant sycamore tree, used to be. At the end of the wagon ride, I headed to the mansion for a tour.

Dulcimer music, much like what might have been heard when the original mansion was in its glory, greeted us when we entered. The original mansion was completed in 1800 and abandoned in 1806 when the Blennerhassetts fled in the aftermath of the still not fully understood Aaron Burr affair. It burned in 1811. The current mansion was built in 1984-85 and is supposedly quite authentic. Some auctions took place between the fleeing and the burning so many items from the house survice and several have been returned. The octagonal table in the middle of the downstairs drawing room is an original piece and the polished black walnut paneling looks like the original although this is veneer and that was not. The pianoforte in the next picture is also an original piece. There is nothing of the Blennerhassetts in the cooking equipment arrayed in fron of the fireplace. It is, however, one of the most complete set of eighteenth century kitchen "appliances" around. The large disk hanging on the far wall did belong to the Blennerhassetts. It is a serving tray that was originally painted red with gold leaf trim.

A light drizzle had developed by the time I exited the mansion and I'd failed to tuck a plastic bag in my pocket. I stuffed the camera under my shirt and headed to the picnic shelter to await the boat. The wait wasn't long but, by the time we'd boarded, crossed back over, and I was headed out of town, the drizzle had become a steady rain. It would continue, with a couple of brief breaks, for the next three hours. Then, at 4:45, as I drove through an area west of Hillsboro named Fairview, some patches of blue sky appeared and I saw the sun for the first time in more than two days.

Somewhere in the middle of all that rain, it occurred to me to have dinner at Terry's Turf Club. It's on Eastern Avenue which I believe was once US-50. It's still signed as "TRUCK US 50" although the signs are kind of faded and I don't recall seeing anything bigger than an F-350 on it. But it's on some sort of Fifty and I decided that eating there as part of a road trip would be good. It was. TTC is known for its signs and its 'burgers. Its owner, Terry Carter, once owned a downtown bar named "Neons". Yep, the decor was similar.

I sat at the bar and a couple from Georgia, who had sought out Terry's partly because of its Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives exposure, sat next to me. They were visiting Cincinnati for the first time and, not surprisingly, the conversation turned to chili. After days of being the visitor talking with locals, my situation was suddenly reversed. I was so distracted that, when my burger arrived, I took a couple of bites before thinking of a picture. At least that's my excuse. Dusk arrived while I dined so that there was a gentle glow behind me when I continued west.

Downtown Cincinnati was also starting to glow and I grabbed a shot looking west across a loop in the Ohio River. Near where Truck Fifty rejoined Regular Fifty, I declared the trip over and headed home.

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