Historic Parkersburg: A Journey Through Time

Step back in time and explore the rich history of Parkersburg, West Virginia. From the days of early settlers living in block houses to the grand Victorian homes that still stand today, Parkersburg is a town filled with stories of determination and pride. Discover the architectural beauty of local churches, learn about the town’s role in the Civil War, and visit historic sites like Blennerhassett Island and Henderson Hall. Each chapter of Parkersburg’s history offers a unique glimpse into the past, making it a fascinating destination for history enthusiasts.

Key Takeaways

  • Parkersburg’s history is rich with stories of early settlers and their challenges and triumphs.
  • The town is home to beautiful Victorian architecture, including the Julia-Ann Square Historic District.
  • Parkersburg played a significant role during the Civil War, with key landmarks like Fort Boreman.
  • Blennerhassett Island and Henderson Hall are must-visit sites for their historical significance.
  • The Ohio River has been a lifeline for Parkersburg, influencing its growth and development.

The Pioneer Days: Early Settlers of Parkersburg

Life in Block Houses

Join us on a delightful tour that explores the early pioneer days of Parkersburg, Virginia, to the vibrant and bustling small town that sits proudly on the great Ohio River today. Embark on a journey through time, exploring everything from the humble beginnings of block houses to the grandeur of Victorian homes. Throughout Parkersburg’s rich history, one can find echoes of determination.

Challenges and Triumphs

Experience the Parkersburg built on grit, courage, and determination with one of our expertly guided tours. Behind the charming riverfront community of today is a history filled with adventurous pioneers, men seeking their fortunes in salt (before oil and gas!), and Union soldiers and Confederate sympathizers fighting for control of the Ohio and Little Kanawha Rivers. Thousands of

Legacy of the First Settlers

Using early news items and recorded history, the next few weeks of Look Back will chronicle the formation and growth of the town of Parkersburg, Va.

The item that follows is an excerpt from “The Parkersburg Story,” published by Union Trust and Deposit Company in 1953:

unyielding resilience; for Parkersburg, it heralded the dawn of the original wild west. Come rain or shine, the tales of this historic era await you.


As one of West Virginia’s most historic cities, Parkersburg is steeped in the memory of days gone by. Originally dubbed Newport in the late 18th century, Parkersburg was officially renamed in 1810 as it was gifted to Captain Alexander Parker for his service in the Revolutionary War.

Today, this river city celebrates its past through unique attractions, engaging museums, and preservation of architecture.

Victorian Grandeur: Architectural Marvels

Walk through the halls of splendid Victorian homes owned by influential figures in West Virginia’s history at the Julia-Ann Square Historic District. This collection features over 120 houses built between 1850 and 1910. Visit during the holidays for a special Christmas tour or enjoy the Annual Spring Garden Tour in warmer weather. Experience the diverse architectural styles like Queen Anne and Colonial Revival. The neighborhood’s mature trees, friendly locals, and blooming flowers create a charming atmosphere. The Julia-Ann Square is a delightful place to explore and appreciate the rich history and architectural significance.

Churches and Cemeteries: Echoes of the Past

Every community starts with a common place to gather, whether it is a public building, park, or church. Parkersburg is no different. The local churches are not just places of worship but also stunning examples of architectural beauty. These buildings tell the story of the town’s growth and the people who built it. From intricate stained glass windows to towering steeples, each church has its own unique charm.

The lives of those who built these churches are woven into the fabric of Parkersburg. Many of the town’s founders and notable figures were involved in the construction and upkeep of these sacred spaces. Their stories are a testament to their dedication and love for the community. Walking through these churches, one can almost hear the echoes of the past and feel the spirit of those who came before.

Every community ends with a similar place to gather, the local cemetery or churchyard. Parkersburg’s historic cemeteries are peaceful places where the town’s history is etched in stone. These cemeteries are the final resting places of many of the town’s early settlers and notable figures. They offer a quiet place for reflection and a tangible connection to the past.

Visiting these churches and cemeteries is like taking a step back in time. It’s a chance to appreciate the beauty, history, and stories that have shaped Parkersburg into the vibrant community it is today.

Civil War Era: Parkersburg’s Pivotal Role

Fort Boreman and Its Significance

Fort Boreman, perched above the Ohio River, was a key site during the Civil War. Its strategic location provided commanding views of the train terminus, making it a crucial outpost. The fort’s presence marked the beginning of Parkersburg’s journey through this tumultuous era.

Union Soldiers and Confederate Sympathizers

Parkersburg served as a transportation and medical center for Union forces. The city was filled with Union soldiers and Confederate sympathizers, all fighting for control of the Ohio and Little Kanawha Rivers. Thousands of men, women, and children crowded the streets, contributing to the city’s rapid growth.

Civil War Landmarks

Today, the stories of this era are embedded in the foundations of Market Street and buried in the cemeteries throughout the city. These landmarks serve as a reminder of the city’s pivotal role during the Civil War and the resilience of its people.

Blennerhassett Island: A Historical Gem

Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park

A visit to Blennerhassett Island is like stepping back in time to America’s original Wild, Wild West. Ride the graceful sternwheel paddleboat, the Island Belle, down the Ohio River from Parkersburg to Blennerhassett Island. Here, you can learn about the tragic tale of Harman Blennerhassett and his wife Margaret. The Irish aristocrats settled on the island in 1798 and built the largest and grandest mansion of its time. Visitors can explore the charm of this historic site and imagine life in the early 1800s.

Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History

Before heading to the island, stop by the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History. This museum offers a glimpse into the past with local artifacts and exhibits. You can purchase tickets for the sternwheel ride to the island and other activities, including a mansion tour and horse-drawn carriage ride. The museum is a treasure trove of information about the region’s history and the Blennerhassett family.

Notable Events and Figures

In 1805, the island’s Palladian mansion became the headquarters for Aaron Burr’s military expedition to the Southwest and his plot to create a new country independent of the United States. This scandalous chapter in history adds to the island’s allure. Today, visitors can enjoy tours of the grounds and mansion, learning about the dramatic past and the people who shaped it.

Blennerhassett Island is not just a place to visit; it’s a journey through time, offering a unique glimpse into America’s early frontier days.

Henderson Hall: A Victorian Time Capsule

Henderson Hall Victorian mansion

During a visit to Henderson Hall, groups will journey back to the early American Victorian era. The hall is listed on the National Register of Historical Places as a historic district unto itself. The mansion encompasses 8,000 square feet of space with 29 rooms and contains priceless artifacts, antiques, and furnishings. Occupied by the Henderson family for five generations, the estate was a true home.

Henderson Hall is a perfectly preserved, Victorian-era Italianate-style home. It is one of America’s finest and most complete historic homes. The vast majority of everything inside has never left the house. This makes it a unique window into the past, offering a glimpse of the region’s pioneer heritage.

Visitors can explore the mansion through guided tours that showcase its rich history. The tours highlight the remarkable Henderson family and their contributions to the area. The home’s original furnishings and artifacts make each tour a step back in time, providing an authentic historical experience.

Oil and Gas Boom: Economic Transformation

Parkersburg oil boom

Early Salt Industry

The history of oil and gas in West Virginia actually started with salt mining. Initially without much practical use, “Old Greasy” (oil) was frequently directed towards the Kanawha River to facilitate salt mining operations. During these activities gas was unexpectedly unearthed, as individuals used lit candles near a salt deposit, leading to a flame transforming into a dazzling light.

Rise of Oil and Gas

A drilling boom began at Burning Springs when an 1861 well produced 100 barrels of oil a day. This discovery transformed Parkersburg into a transportation hub during the oil and gas boom of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Visitors can explore this fascinating history at the Oil and Gas Museum, which houses artifacts like pumps, tools, and engines, as well as historical photos.

Impact on Parkersburg’s Growth

The oil and gas boom had a profound impact on Parkersburg’s growth. The influx of workers and businesses led to rapid development, turning the town into a bustling center of industry. The economic transformation brought about by the oil and gas industry is still evident in Parkersburg’s infrastructure and community spirit today.

The discovery of oil and gas not only fueled the industrial revolution but also shaped the future of Parkersburg, leaving a lasting legacy on its landscape and people.

Exploring the Ohio River: Lifeline of Parkersburg

The Ohio River has always been the heart of Parkersburg, shaping its history and community. This mighty river has been a source of life, commerce, and recreation for generations. Parkersburg offers a variety of great outdoor recreation opportunities and family activities. It’s just a short two-hour drive from Columbus, OH, making it the perfect getaway for a weekend adventure.

Hidden Gems: Unique Attractions in Parkersburg

B&O Railroad Tunnels

There are so many hidden gems and unique things to do in Parkersburg! From historical sites to biking through rustic tunnels that were once part of the B&O Railroad. This area is such a great destination to explore.

Local Museums

Today, this river city celebrates its past through unique attractions, engaging museums, and preservation of architecture.

Outdoor Adventures

Parkersburg hosts a robust series of fun and unique events throughout the year, and the city is surrounded by endless outdoor recreation opportunities, including mountain biking, hiking, paddling, fishing, and more.

Festivals and Celebrations: Embracing History

historic Parkersburg festival

The Henderson Heritage Festival is a delightful event that brings the past to life. Visitors can explore historical sites and detailed museum exhibits, uncovering hidden gems of Appalachian American history. It’s a journey into the past that you won’t want to miss.

Parkersburg is rich in local traditions that celebrate its history and community spirit. From annual parades to seasonal fairs, there’s always something happening that brings the community together. These events are a testament to the town’s pride and unity.

Throughout the year, Parkersburg hosts a variety of community events that highlight its historical significance and vibrant culture. Whether it’s a lecture series at the Blennerhassett Museum or a candlelit tour of historic mansions, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Parkersburg’s festivals and celebrations are more than just events; they are a way for the community to connect with its rich history and with each other.

A Small Town with a Big Heart: Stories from Locals

Personal Anecdotes

Parkersburg is more than just a place on the map; it’s a community filled with heartwarming stories. One local recalls how the town came together to rebuild a neighbor’s house after a fire. The sense of unity and support was overwhelming. Another resident shares memories of growing up attending the sports enthusiast’s guide to Morgantown – explore farmers markets, cultural experiences, WVU art museum, historic sites, and local festivals in Morgantown, WV.

Community Spirit

The spirit of Parkersburg is evident in its many community events. From annual parades to charity drives, the town is always bustling with activities that bring people together. The local farmers’ market is a favorite spot where neighbors catch up and enjoy fresh produce. It’s a place where everyone knows your name and greets you with a smile.

Pride in Parkersburg

Residents of Parkersburg take great pride in their town. They celebrate its history, cherish its traditions, and work hard to make it a better place for future generations. Whether it’s through volunteering, participating in local government, or simply being a good neighbor, the people of Parkersburg show their love for their town in countless ways.

Parkersburg is a town where the past and present blend seamlessly, creating a unique and welcoming atmosphere for all who visit or call it home.


Parkersburg is a place where history comes alive. From its early days as a pioneer settlement to its role in the Civil War, and from the charming Victorian homes to the bustling small town it is today, Parkersburg has a story to tell at every corner. Whether you’re exploring historic landmarks, biking through old railroad tunnels, or simply soaking in the local culture, there’s something for everyone. We hope this journey through time has inspired you to visit and experience the rich history and warm hospitality of Parkersburg for yourself. Come and see why this small town on the Ohio River holds such a big place in the hearts of those who call it home.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the history of Parkersburg?

Parkersburg has a rich history that dates back to its early days as a pioneer settlement. It has evolved through various eras, including the Victorian period and the Civil War, to become the vibrant small town it is today.

What can I see in the Julia-Ann Square Historic District?

The Julia-Ann Square Historic District features beautiful Victorian homes, each with its own unique story. The area is known for its well-preserved architecture and historical significance.

Are there any guided tours available in Parkersburg?

Yes, there are several guided tours available in Parkersburg. These tours cover various aspects of the town’s history, including its pioneer days, Civil War significance, and architectural marvels.

What is Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park?

Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park is a historic site located on an island in the Ohio River. It features a reconstructed mansion, gardens, and offers a glimpse into the lives of its early inhabitants.

What is the significance of Fort Boreman?

Fort Boreman played a crucial role during the Civil War. It was a strategic location for Union soldiers and offers panoramic views of Parkersburg and the Ohio River.

Can I visit historic churches in Parkersburg?

Yes, Parkersburg has several historic churches known for their architectural beauty. These churches also tell the stories of the community’s builders and early residents.

What events can I attend in Parkersburg?

Parkersburg hosts various events and festivals throughout the year, such as the Henderson Heritage Festival. These events celebrate the town’s history and community spirit.

Are there any unique attractions in Parkersburg?

Yes, Parkersburg has many unique attractions, including B&O Railroad Tunnels, local museums, and outdoor adventures. These hidden gems offer something for everyone to explore.

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