BOAZ - The annual Christmas holiday tour has returned to Henderson Hall.
The hall is under new management, but visitors could again see the early 19th Century Italianate villa-style home on Old River Road decorated for the Christmas season during the hall's Christmas tour over the past two weekends.
However, this was the first year without Henderson Hall patriarch Michael Rolston, who, with his 19th Century-style beard, could usually be found in the dining room with a dog he introduced as a "Muttus Americanus" breed. Rolston died in December 2007.
Photo by Dave Payne Sr.
Dave McKain, director of the West Virginia Oil and Gas Museum, sits at the bottom of the steps at Henderson Hall during the Christmas tours Sunday. This is McKain’s first year of operating the hall.
During his last two years, Rolston chose not to hold the annual Christmas tours. It was a monumental effort that became too much of a strain. Rolston felt he had an obligation to make the Christmas tour special.
"For a child to see this remarkable place at Christmastime is an enormous chance," Rolston told The Parkersburg News and Sentinel in 2007. "They will never have the chance again to see it in that sort of context, as a child.''
Rolston bequeathed the hall to the West Virginia Oil and Gas Museum, whose director, Dave McKain, was a lifelong friend of Rolston. This is the museum's first year of operating the hall and its Christmas tour.
Parkersburg resident Wilma Schultz, who toured the home Sunday, said she was pleased to see the hall's legacy continue.
"It is a beautiful place. It's something everybody should see. It takes you back in time. I brought my children and grandchildren because I wanted them to see it. I'm glad to see that the Oil and Gas Museum is keeping it up and preserving it," she said.
This year, the hall had a less cluttered, more 19th Century appearance. McKain said the hall has been rearranged to make it appear as it would have more than 100 years.
"We want to present it like it was in 1900, decorated simply, but elegantly and represent this so that it looks like it is lived in," he said.
Vienna historian Cynthia Buskirk said she, like many who knew Rolston, missed having them there. The changes inside, however, help present a clearer view of the history.
"I love the changes, it's more authentic to the period of the house and things have been moved around so it's not so cluttered," she said.
The 29-room brick house was built in 1836 by George Washington Henderson and his wife, Elizabeth Ann Tomlinson Henderson. Additional rooms were built on in the late 1850s. The Henderson farm once occupied 2,600 acres extending north all the way to Highland Avenue in Williamstown. About 65 acres of that land remains a part of the former plantation.
This year, the history of the hall was represented somewhat differently than in the past and a stronger emphasis was placed on the family's role in local, state and national history. A 20-minute video on the hall, produced by the Oil and Gas Museum, traced the hall's history from the Henderson's move to the area - and the homes they lived in previous to constructing the hall - until Rolston's death last year. The video spoke of the Henderson family's role in politics, oil and their status as nationally-known horse breeders and something that had been rarely mentioned before - that the family had owned 100 slaves.
It also spoke of the role the Hendersons played in the Blennerhassett Island scandal that ended with former vice president Aaron Burr being tried for treason (he was acquitted) for his part in a conspiracy to establish a new country, by alerting authorities to the conspiracy.