Saturday, August 23, 2008

Road Trip with the Girls

We headed out Monday morning with no firm plan in mind--breakfast at the Downtowner and then? As we ate we decided to try a trip to Blennerhassett Island State Park near Parkersburg, WV. When we arrived, however, we learned that the Park is not open on Monday. Bummer! So we set out to find other fun:

This is the Blennerhassett Hotel in Parkersburg. Beautifully restored, it has (in my opinion anyway) lost some character in the process--but it's still incredibly beautiful and would be a great place to spend a weekend.

A block away we discovered the Oil and Gas Museum. Many historians argue that West Virginia was the first place that oil was discovered in the US, at Burning Springs in Kanawha County. The Van Bibber brothers, trying to drill for salt kept getting black oil instead. Very annoying--until its uses and values were discovered! Here is a description of how salt was obtained back in 1809:

The salt water is obtained by sinking a tight curb, or gum, at the edge of the river, down about twenty feet, to the rock which underlies the river, and then boring into the rock. At first the borings did not exceed two hundred feet in depth, but the upper strata of water being exhausted, the wells were gradually deepened, the water of the lower strata being generally stronger than the upper had ever been. Until last year, (1842,) none of the wells exceeded six or seven hundred feet in depth. Mr. Tompkins, an enterprising salt-maker, was the first to extend his borings to a thousand feet, or more. His experiment was attended with a most unexpected result. He had somewhat exceeded a thousand feet, when he struck a crevice in the rock, and forth gushed a powerful stream of mingled gas and salt water. Generally, the salt water in the wells was obtained in rock merely porous, and rose by hydrostatic pressure to the level of the river. To obtain the strong water of the lower strata, unmixed with the weak water above, it is the practice to insert a copper tube into the hole, making it fit tightly below by means of wrapping on the outside, and attaching the upper end to the pump, by which the water is drawn up to the furnaces on the river bank.

When Mr. Tompkins inserted his tube, the water gushed out so forcibly, that instead of applying the pump, he only lengthened his tube above the well. The stream followed it with undiminished velocity to his water-cistern, sixty feet above the level of the river. (Early Industry in Kanawha County, Historical Collections of Virginia (1845) by Henry Howe. Excerpted from a longer article at the WV Culture and History website.

Here are a few pics from inside the museum. Doesn't it look like an interesting place?

We decided to journey on up the Ohio River to Sistersville, which was quite an oil and gas boom town in the late 19th-early 20th century. At one point, according to a town employee I spoke with last month, the town had more millionaires per capita than any other place in the world. Unfortunately, Sistersville languishes today, one of many small towns off the interstate track that is slowly losing industry and population. But in its day, Sistersville was a booming place. And it is still a beautiful place to visit.

We stopped at my favorite place in Sistersville, The Wells Inn. Rumor has it that the hotel is haunted; although I've stayed there twice, I have to admit I've seen nothing to make me a believer. But stories abound. On our visit this trip, several staff members told stories about things they've experienced, and we toured rooms that visitors have claimed to be disturbing or haunted.

The hotel is currently for sale; for a mere $425,000, you could own a haunted hotel. Truthfully, I'd love to own and run it, but practically speaking I think it would be very difficult to make the place pay its way. Its huge, old and probably an energy sink as far as heating and cooling. But it is so lovely, with each room decorated in a unique vintage style, and the old Wooden Derrick bar in the basement and the grand dining hall. I hope someone will buy the place and bring it into its glory.

Then the ferry ride to Ohio...

and a quick drive to Sardis, where they still have a town pump,

and lunch at Marv's Place

where Hannah enjoyed good ice cream and sarsaparilla soda.

Then back across the Ohio on the ferry to visit Greenwood Cemetery again (photos from there in a later post). In Sistersville we saw...

a street called Diamond that had to be explored. We stopped to investigate this tall chimney...

and found it was attached to a two-story building, but the floor and all woodwork was gone.

This is what's left of the roof.

And down inside, the remains of some type of furnace. Was this a glassmaking factory? a coke plant? charcoal oven? I'll need to do more research to find out. But the place is lovely in its own way, a reminder of work, heat and people long past.

And finally home at the end of a long, interesting day.

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