A Suite Getaway
Heritage, luxury, and community combine at Parkersburg’s Blennerhassett Hotel.
Photographed by Carla Witt Ford
It’s a warm afternoon at The Blennerhassett Hotel, but a row of busy ceiling fans keeps the air moving on the patio. The heady scent of flowers from the nearby garden and the sounds of jazz provide a soothing baseline for the chatter of ladies out to lunch. Cotton clouds float through the sky, dotted here and there by the stone spires of the Parkersburg skyline. In the restaurant, as throughout the hotel, earth tones, wood, and leather mix with delicate patterns and detailing. More masculine than feminine, but certainly not hunting lodge, it’s an atmosphere where a table of businessmen, a honeymooning couple, or a lonesome writer can feel refined while dunking breakfast potatoes into a side of ketchup. European-style elegance, they call it, but the experience is even better. “Owning a historic hotel is like owning a minor league baseball team. You need to really love the game,” says Cecil Childress, general manager of the hotel. “The owner here has a commitment to getting it right—oak trim and flat screen TVs.”
Named for its famous island neighbor Blennerhassett Island, The Blennerhassett Hotel was born in 1889 as a grand guesthouse in downtown Parkersburg for the oil and gas elite. A remodel of the property in the 1980s added another 49 rooms to the original building, doubling its room capacity, but it wasn’t until the local Ross family purchased the hotel and remodeled again in the early 2000s that the Blennerhassett began to typify modern elegance and period luxury. “It’s an iconic, architectural building here in downtown Parkersburg, which sets us apart from anything else,” says Marketing Manager Nicole Slattery. “In the remodel they took it to a whole new level in terms of interior design, look, and feel. It’s casual but upscale.” Today it’s still a businessman’s hotel, but the Blennerhassett’s boutique styling and welcoming atmosphere draw visitors for weddings, weekend getaways, and tourism, as well as corporate meetings.
Guests can choose from seven types of rooms decorated in the rich reds and browns reminiscent of the hotel’s founding. “People love our signature rooms, like the Chancellor and the William Morris,” Nicole says. “But it’s not just our signature suites that are completely different. Of all our 89 rooms, no two are the same.” Executive suites adjoin personal boardrooms. Double rooms are just right for road-tripping friends. Suites set the scene for more romantic intentions. While rooms follow a similar theme, each is different with granite counters, whirlpool tubs, spa-grade showers, four-poster king beds, walk-in closets, and Keurig coffeemakers. Designs follow floor plans, which, in a historic building, can be a bit erratic. As the hotel changed hands, walls were knocked down to create bigger rooms or built back up to move staircases. Little nooks and crannies formed in unusual shapes and sizes. The Blennerhassett has incorporated these spaces into room design as powder rooms or half-baths within executive suites. “Many of the architectural elements kept in our guest rooms were not just historic character, they are the challenges of renovations of an old building,” Cecil says. “It gives us a feel similar to a luxury bed-and-breakfast.” While each room has a distinct character, the most unique in the hotel is the Marie Antoinette room. Painted a dusty blue and decorated in soft pinks and yellows, the signature suite stands out as a simple but feminine showpiece in a sea of more masculine style. A ballroom, library, patio tent, business rooms, and an exercise room round out the available amenities.
Stepping away from the luxury of guest rooms to sit in the library, cozy and wood-paneled with tall windows flooding the room in natural light, you might be taken aback by the beauty of the space, not to mention the friendliness of its patrons. In the afternoon, two Parkersburg men at the in-house Starbucks take a break after a business meeting to introduce themselves to a guest sitting alone. It’s all part of the spark that sets The Blennerhassett Hotel apart. “The Blenny,” as it’s called by locals, isn’t just an impeccably modernized historic hotel in the middle of Parkersburg. It’s not just a place to rest your head in feather pillows after a day of touring the nearby Blennerhassett Island and mansion. It’s as much a part of local life as it is an upscale boutique hotel.
Central to the local taste for the hotel is the in-house Spats restaurant led by Chef Rick Argoso. Head chef for just over a year, Rick arrived in Parkersburg from InterContinental where he worked for 13 years. His menu, like the hotel itself, takes a modern look at old favorites. “I like to do classics and revamp older dishes,” he says. “I’ve worked with a lot of chefs from many different backgrounds and I’ve learned a bit of everything. I try to implement that into these classics.” His weekly specials and culinary events, combined with live entertainment and an easy atmosphere, draw a number of people to the restaurant—hotel guests and locals alike. Nicole estimates more than half of weekly business at the restaurant comes from a supportive local community.
In turn the hotel staff and owners are active in local culture, participating in events like the annual Taste of Parkersburg, a culinary tour of the town. “At the hotel we don’t have a spa, a golf course, or a pool,” Nicole says. “But we do have the historic Blennerhassett Island, museums, a local market, the Julia-Ann Square Historic District, and the Smoot Theatre. We’re working with local groups like Downtown PKB to come up with ways to make this a destination.” In winter the hotel hosts the Festival of Trees, a gingerbread competition, and a popular New Year’s Eve party. Through spring and summer, it offers an island tour package. During Halloween season it offers a haunted Parkersburg package. “It’s great to work at a place that’s such a part of the culture,” Cecil says. “We’re very much a cultural component in the community.”The Blennerhassett Hotel, 320 Market St, Parkersburg, WV 26101, 304.422.3131, theblennerhassett.com
Mansion by Candlelight
For two nights this fall Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park will transform into a glowing time machine for the annual Mansion by Candlelight celebration. The event kicks off October 10, 2014, when the island sternwheeler transports visitors to the year 1805 for an island party hosted by the Blennerhassett family. Hundreds of candles light a path from the boat landing to the mansion where park workers and volunteers will reenact period scenes. Reservations are required and include the mansion visit, a servants’ party, and a round-trip ride from Parkersburg’s waterfront to the mansion. Dinner tickets are also available.304.420.4800, blennerhassettislandstatepark.com