Thursday, May 25, 2023

Let's Go Places: Marietta, Ohio

I had the pleasure of spending last weekend in Marietta, Ohio.  On the first day it was just a pretty town.  On the second day I encountered something profound that made me step back and say "Whoa!  Why isn't everyone talking about this????"

If you're new here, the rest of my family is heavily involved in Boy Scouts, which means that they go camping one weekend every month.  My mission is that when they get out of the house, I get out of the house and go somewhere cool.  "Somewhere cool" is far enough away from home that I need to stay overnight, but not so far that it's a pain to get to. 

Just a note, I took a ton of pictures but I don't feel that I got the definitive "this is what Marietta is" shot.  I'll just have to get that on my next visit.

What I Knew About Marietta Going In

Nothing.  In a former life I used to travel to West Virginia for work, so before last Friday it was just the last exit in Ohio.  I knew that the bridge separating the two states is a pretty view and that it's a river town, and lately I've been hearing that it's a tourist destination.  It was on my list of places to go see for myself to find out what all the fuss is about.

My Itinerary

From talking to friends, Facebook, and Travel Advisor, I put together a list of things that people do in Marietta.  There are of course many other things, but this is what got my attention:

  • Trolley tours of the city (sounds like fun)
  • The Castle (an old Gothic style mansion with guided tours - yep sign me up for that!)
  • Campus Maritus museum (rave reviews)
  • Ohio River museum
  • Mound Cemetery (offhand a cemetery isn't on my short list of places to hang out, but I knew that there was something about this particular cemetery that had people raving.  What could it be?)
  • Blennerhassett Island (an island between Ohio and West Virginia????  What was up with that???  I was so in)
  • A riverboat ride (yep, sign me up for that!)
  • A lot of talk about a riverfront bike trail (ooh I just got a bike and I do love a good riverfront)
  • Lots of love for a BBQ restaurant (hey it's been a good long while since I've had BBQ)
  • Lookout Point for views of the city.

Next I dug into when I could do all of these things and put together a tentative schedule. When I do these trips, I don't plan out every minute of my time, I just get a sense of what things have to be done at a specific time and what things can be done whenever.  I figured that it would be nice to start with the trolley tour to get my bearings, maybe do the boat ride and visit the island on Saturday, and then fit everything else in where ever and whenever. 

My research told me:

  • The trolley schedule wasn't online and the way to find out when it was running was to pick up the phone and call them.  I'm allergic to talking on the phone, so I put this on the "go down there and see what's up with that" list.
  • The Castle was open for tours on Friday through Sunday.  I penciled it in for Friday.
  • Campus Maritus was open from Friday to Sunday, so I had lots of chances to go.
  • The Ohio River Museum was closed for renovations, so it was off the list.
  • Mound Cemetery was an easy "whenever it's convenient to go there" thing.
  • Blennerhassett Island was the head scratcher.  Being an island, the only way to get there was by a ferry that ran every hour.  The question was how long would I be there?  Some reviews said "I got there and it was a bunch of nothing so I got right back on the boat" and other reviews were along the lines of "I spent 6 hours there but I wish that it had been 6 days".  Was this going to be a "get back on the boat" thing or an "all day" thing?
  • The riverboat ran twice a day on Saturday and Sunday.

I really wanted to do the riverboat and I really wanted to check out the island...if I did the riverboat first there might not be enough time to see everything that I wanted to see on the island.  If I did the island first, then I might miss the riverboat.  It was clear that these needed to be on separate days.  Saturday would be my island day, and Sunday would be my riverboat day.  I didn't know if things would sell out, so I got my tickets in advance.  The riverboat was just a riverboat, but Blennerhassett had a lot of add ons: a museum, a house tour, and a wagon ride.  All of these things were in the $5-$10 range and after considering the rave reviews, I went for broke and loaded up.  Yep my ticket cost a whopping $32.86 after all was said and done.

Food wise, I wanted to go to the BBQ place, but nothing else was really grabbing me from Travel Advisor's top list of restaurants.  This was a very different situation from when I went to Buffalo with a whole list of restaurants that sounded good.  Even so I was feeling adventurous so I decided to go down there and let Marietta feed me.

Alrighty we got a plan, let's get boots on the ground!

Wheels Up

Friday Adventures

I rolled into Marietta around lunchtime on Friday.  Sure enough, she was a purdy town.  I drank in the views and drove around for a bit.  I was hungry but since I didn't have a plan for where to go for lunch and didn't feel like getting on the internets, I went for plan B, which was to grab a Clif bar out of my food stash.  Once I'd had some food, I was ready to focus and go see something.

The Castle is an 1855 Gothic style mansion, and $10 gets you inside the doors.  Touring old houses is pretty much my jam, so this was a match made in heaven for me.

Next I went to the Campus Maritus Museum.  What I've learned from my travels in the past year is that there are two kinds of museums.  The Castle and Campus Maritus are both museums, but the Castle is a living, breathing visit to the past where you get to see life as it was and there's someone to talk you through every little detail. Campus Maritus is the other kind of museum - a building full of stuff.  Yes it's worth visiting and yes I picked up some good background on Marietta, but it wasn't wildly exciting in the moment.

My next stop was the Marietta visitors' center, which was listed as the address for the trolley tours.  I found out that in May the trolley only runs on Saturday morning, which was when I would be on the island, so no trolley tour for me this visit. 

I left my car at the visitors' center and started walking.  There was plenty of eye candy in the form of interesting shop fronts, the river, and very well kept houses in the town.  I was kinda looking at a map and kinda just winging it.  I got my bearings of the town's layout pretty quickly.

By now it was after five and I was hungry as a bear.  I checked into my Airbnb, which was an apartment on the second story of an old storefront, and made tracks for Boathouse BBQ.

I sat outside by the river and got a half serving of ribs with coleslaw. Normally when I have BBQ what I really want is sauce plus extra sauce to put on my sauce.  Boathouse BBQ was so good that I didn't ask for extra sauce and if that isn't an endorsement I don't know what is.

Dinner was over and the sun was still up. What's a girl to do when she's in a new town on a Friday night?

Answer, she gets her bicycle out of her car and tackles the riverfront trail.

After my bike ride I went back to my crib, watched a movie, and tucked in to bed.

Saturday Adventures

The next morning I had coffee and a breakfast burrito that I'd brought from home and was wheels up to Blennerhassett Island.  It was a 20 minute drive to the ferry launch in West Virginia for the first trip of the day at 10 AM.

It was raining, so everyone settled into the ferry cabin.  And by "everyone" I mean: 5 island staff members (3 dressed in period costumes, 2 in normal clothes), and 3 of us civilians.  The other civilians were two college guys from Cincinnati.  One was from Marietta and the other was hanging out with his buddy.  Like me, it was their first visit to Blennerhassett.

We arrived on the island.  Given that the rain was going to last for a bit, the natural place to start was the house tour.

So what's up with the big mansion on the island?  I hadn't done too much research beforehand, so my starting info was that the island is a few miles long and long long ago someone built a grand mansion that was later destroyed in a fire yada yada at some point Blennerhassett became a state park and the mansion was rebuilt.  

Blennerhassett Island is a perfect example of why I love going into things blind.  It was just so much more fun to get the story in real time at the actual location.  I feel a little bad for spilling the tea here, but whatcha gonna do?  I'll try to keep it brief.

Harman Blennerhassett was a wealthy Irish lawyer.  He had to leave Ireland in 1796 for political and marital reasons.  I'll let you research the political stuff on your own, and the juicy stuff is that his marriage was a love match, the couple had a 6 year age difference, and by all accounts it was very happy.  It was just that some people got their panties in a bunch because his wife was Margaret Agnew, who was the daughter of his older sister.

(Yes, "the daughter of his older sister" is exactly how they say it on the tour and there is a two second pause for everyone to work out what that means and to make an appropriate facial expression.)

In the 1700's the way to solve both of these problems was to get on a boat and head for the new country.  The Blennerhassetts arrived on the East Coast and started exploring.  They loaded up a  big ol' boat with all of their lavish goods and went sailing west.  They hung out in Marietta for a while, and then purchased a huge tract of land on a nearby island (there are a good number of islands on the Ohio river.  Historically they were used to quarantine for smallpox).  They built their dream house and several businesses on the island and lived their best lives until 1806.

Blennerhassett Island was the place for everyone who was anyone to go and many famous guests stayed there over the years including a dude named Aaron Burr.  For historical accuracy, please get the story elsewhere, but basically Burr was trying to set up his own country.  The Blennerhassetts thought Burr had a great idea, and gave him financial support and use of their island to work out his plan.  Things didn't work out and Burr and his associates were charged with treason.  Harman got word that the militia was headed his way, so he grabbed a boat and fled in the middle of the night.  Margaret held down the fort for a while while she worked out her own escape plan with the kids.

The charges against Harman were dropped when Burr was acquitted, and the family was reunited.  No harm no foul right?  Yeah, the government doesn't like it when you stir stuff up so they kept the island.  The house fell into disrepair and eventually burned down as houses tended to do back in the day.  The Blennerhassetts spent the rest of their lives trying to get their island back.  Eventually Margaret was able to return, just not in her lifetime.  The graves of her and their oldest son were later moved to the island.

Let's hear from someone who knows what they're talking about (P.S. the man playing the hammered dulcimer was our tour guide).  From what I understand, the house was rebuilt based on a floor plan, several paintings, and the written accounts from the famous folks who stayed there.  The state did save a little money by building lower ceilings and only building one story of the two annexes, which are the kitchen and the Man Cave (Harman's office/music room/science lab).


Okay, if the tour had just been the mansion, that would have been good enough BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE.  Like I said, there were only three of us on the first boat, and we had the staff's attention.  They asked if we would be interested in a tour of another house.  Another house on the island?  We didn't know anything about it but duh, of course we were interested.

This is Maple Shade, a.k.a. the Putnam-Houser house.  This is an example of what I would say is my favorite thing that I've learned about in my local travels: house relocation (previously we talked about the two FLW houses that were moved to Polymath Park).  Sometimes a house is built in a place that makes sense at the time of construction but doesn't work in the present day.  When that happens, the solution is to just move the house!!!  Maple Shade was built on the mainland, was lived in by the same family from 1802 to the 1980s, and the last resident sold the land and the house to an oil company.  In a stunning example of corporate responsibility, the oil company decided that bulldozing a historic house was a bad idea.  They went with plan B, which was to provide the funding to have someone load the house onto a barge and sail it down the river to Blennerhassett Island.

The attic has witch windows, which is something I had heard of but never seen.

The other fun window fact is even with the age of the house plus the barge ride, most of the glass is original.  It was the thing back in the day to etch your name into the glass with a diamond, so in several places there are lovely signatures of former residents - ya gotta take my word for it, because let me tell you that if you take a picture of a signature on a pane of glass all the you see is the glass.

Anyhoo, the grand Blennerhassett mansion was all very well, but Maple Shade is where it's at.  From what I gather the tours aren't done on a regular schedule, so if you go, I'd recommend calling in advance, or just be nice to the staff and see if maybe they can hook you up.  Just a general note that everyone that I talked to was not just clocking in for a shift.  They love the island and it would make their day if everyone came by to see it.

At this point the college guys caught the boat home and other tourists had arrived.  It was raining like nobody's business, so I needed something to do that would put a roof over my head.  I hitched a ride on a covered wagon for a ride around the island.

It was almost 1:30 at this point and the rain finally stopped.  I grabbed a sandwich from the island food stand (review: it was food.  I would have been better served by a Clif bar) and hopped back on the ferry.  Once back on the mainland I stopped by the Blennerhassett museum.  My review is the same as Campus Maritus, which is that it's a building full of stuff.  The most interesting part was a collection of paintings of the mansion, which were the only visual records from back in the day.  Most of them are similar to what is there today, but all had different details and a few were nowhere near close.  I mean, fair enough that if it's the 1860's and you're painting a house that burned down in 1812 you can take all of the artistic license that you want.

There is a ton of other stuff to see and do in the Parkersburg area, so I may head back there sometime to explore further.  Now it was time to go back to Marietta and find out what was behind the gates of Mound Cemetery that had everyone raving.

I grabbed a brochure from the gate.  Yep just a cemetery...oh it's called mound for a reason.  When the early settlers of Marietta arrived they found a prehistoric burial mound and in a stunning example of early settler responsibility, they decided to preserve it by building the town cemetery around it.

Naturally I climbed to the top.

Chances are good that I'll be preoccupied with other things when I'm 101, so I probably won't make it back for the time capsule opening.  But FYI to anyone who's (1) interested and (2) much younger than I am.

I puttered around the city for a while longer until my stomach told me that it was dinner time.  I ditched my car at the Airbnb and walked to the Marietta Brewing Co.

Drinking on these trips is the exception and not the rule, but as soon as I walked in I had an enormous craving for a beer.  I wet my whistle with their amber ale and it was the best thing ever.  The atomic burger (jalapenos and buffalo sauce) was exactly what the doctor ordered and their fries were on point.

I closed out the night with another bike ride.

Sunday Adventures

My normal thing is to bring breakfast from home, but the Airbnb came with a gift card to a breakfast spot.  It cost me nothing to have...a disappointing breakfast experience.

From there I packed up and headed to Lookout Point, which is a great viewing spot to look down on the city (see picture at top of post).  There was no obvious parking place and it's on a narrow road, so I parked in a nearby condo parking lot.

And then it was time for my final stop: a river cruise on the Valley Gem Sternwheeler.

Let's Wrap It Up

  • Spending a long weekend in Marietta: 10/10. Let's hear it for walkable, bikeable cities!
  • Getting out to explore places that you've heard about but have only passed on the freeway: 10/10.
  • The time to come is between May and October, because that's when the boats run.  Things ramp up a bit more in June, but I've got other travel priorities for the peak tourism season.
  • My rating of the things that I did:
    • #1 by a landslide is Blennerhassett Island.  Seriously why isn't everyone talking about this?
    • #2 Mound Cemetery
    • #3 The Castle
    • #4 The bike trail.  It's only a few miles long, so it's perfect for a newbie biker like me. I got pretty spoiled by my nightly bike rides.
    • #5 Hanging out and exploring the city on foot
    • #6 The Valley Gem Sternwheeler
    • #7 Campus Maritus Museum
  • If I came back, my #1 priority would be the trolley ride.  It just didn't fit in to the schedule for this trip.
  • Food wise, Boathouse BBQ and Marietta Brewing were both winners.  If I came back and could only go to one, I'd go to Marietta Brewing because the beer really was that good.
  • I have mixed feelings about the Airbnb.  It was in an excellent location, the apartment was very nice, it was a cool old building, but walls were paper thin and I was very much aware of my neighbors.  There are some nice hotels downtown and if you're going the Airbnb route, just look for descriptions that mention walking distance of downtown and the odds are that you'll be staying somewhere memorable.

That's a wrap on Marietta!  Ever been to the area?  Where would you go for a long weekend getaway?


  1. Thank you for this, Birchie! What a fabulous getaway!
    I love that Marietta was a fairly random choice and you simply went there without knowing anything or anyone.
    Will you be taking your family back there for a visit?

    1. I'd love to bring the fam along on all of these trips but their non-Boy Scout hours are limited. It's definitely on the backlist of places to take them someday;-)

  2. I have never been to Ohio! Well, I have flown through the Cincinnati airport, which I think may actually be in Kentucky (?) but I do not count airport visits as real trips, so I wouldn't count that anyway! So, I will bookmark this post for a later date!

    I usually use long weekend to do three day backpacking trips, since it feels more "worth it" to go out for that extra day. However, I have also used the extra day to be able to fly somewhere and have gone to Austin, Denver, Portland, Seattle, get the gist, but basically anywhere I can fly non-stop is an option!

    1. I love 3 day trips! I've barely scratched the surface of things to see that are within driving distance.

  3. Birchy, this was fascinating! I have a cousin named Marietta who lives in the Deep South and I have never heard of anyone or anything called Marietta other than her! What a cool place, and is it ever pretty. The Blennerhassett Island stuff is WILD. Like, first of all, marrying your NIECE. Second of all, AARON BURR, SIR. I mean. And how cool that you were on such a small tour group that you could get all the deep dives! I love reading about your weekend adventures. They just make me so vicariously happy.

    1. It is funny you say that Nicole, because I actually thought this post was about Georgia the entire time (yes, I know the state is in the title, but apparently I missed that!) because there is also a Marietta, Georgia!

    2. I'm telling you, there needs to be a Blennerhassett Netflix series. At a minimum I've got to see Hamilton.

      I can't remember if I've ever been to Marietta GA but yes GA kind of owns the name.

  4. Wow! I have never been to Marietta, but I went to college with a girl who grew up there. I never knew she was from a town with so many lovely places to go.

    So, I have been ruminating on the long weekend thing. I think Spring Green, WI is up for a couple of days in my world. There's the (in)famous House on the Rock and FLW's Taliesen/Wyoming Valley School. It's only an hour and a half away from here. I might have to make this a reality this summer!

    1. Many years ago (MANY!) I saw a couple productions by the American Shakespeare Players in Spring Green. They were marvelous! Absolutely 100% worth the time/$$ to see a play there.

    2. Small world! At first I didn't want to write this post b/c I was like "who's ever heard of Marietta".

      I'd go to Spring Green in a heartbeat!

  5. Thanks so much for taking us along on your weekend solo trip, Birchie. I enjoyed this very much... and it proves once again that they most fascinating stories are found in mostly unknown places. :)

    1. The things that I've discovered in out of the way places like this is mind boggling!

  6. I've never heard of Marietta Ohio, but this trip sounds awesome.

  7. Wait. I possibly just sent a one sentence comment. Let's try again!
    This trip sounds awesome. i've never heard of Marietta, Ohio, but I love adventures like this. I like going to places I know nothing about, and discovering all sorts of cool things. That cemetery sounds REALLY interesting, and the island is fascinating. I love how you got a semi-private tour. I would totally go to this city if I lived in the area.
    On the subject of how much things cost... my one-day trip to Tallahassee (to take my daughter to camp) is coming up, and i've been looking into the FLW house tour. It looks like it would cost me $75??? That seems kind of pricey. What have you found to be the normal price for these tours? I'm thinking I might go hiking in a natural forest instead.

    1. Yeech $75 is steep. I feel like a "typical" price for a one hour tour is in the $20-$30 range. I think that $75 is too much for your first FLW house - right now all that you know is that I like him, we don't know whether you will feel the same. I think that a better FLW plan for you is to work in a tour of any of the many houses in CHI the next time that you visit your sister.

      I took a look at Trip Advisor's list of things to do in Tallahassee. The three things that caught my eye are Knott House, The Grove, and the Governor's Mansion. The Grove & Governor's are free and I can't tell what the schedule or cost for Knott house is. But those are 3 places that I'd check out if I had time on my hands in Tallahassee. Or go hiking!

  8. Thank you! I'll check those out. And your idea is perfect- I'll check out a FLW house next time I'm in the Chicago area. My sister and husband would probably love it (my BIL is an artist) and I don't think they've ever done it.

  9. Oh yay! What a fun and fascinating trip! Thank you for sharing the details. The island trip sounds so cool and I am delighted by the concept of witch windows. As someone who likes sauce on my sauce on top of more sauce, I am very intrigued by this BBQ place and will have to try it next time we drive through Marietta. (I think we have done so twice, perhaps.)

    1. Yay! At first I thought that there was no point in writing this because the odds that anyone reading this passing through Marietta are slim. Yes, it's really quick to get from the highway to town. If time is limited Boathouse BBQ and maybe a quick pop into Mound would be a fun way to break up a travel day.

  10. Oh, I wish I could have been with you on this adventure!!!! The castle really sounds like fun. And the BBQ? Yes, please!

    1. I think there's a network of longer biking paths in the area. You could have done the tours, peddled your heart out, and then relaxed by the river with delicious food.

  11. You know I love reading about your weekend trips. This sounds like a fantastic one, despite the paper thin walls at the Air B&B. I love places like Blennerhassett Island and the Mound Cemetery. (I am the annoying person who would have asked 10000 questions. :>) I also need to invite myself to Engie's trip to Spring Green - it's about an hour from me. They have an amazing independent bookstore! :)

    1. The Blennerhassett staff would have given you 10,000 answers and then asked you to ask more questions! Seriously, they love the island.

      Yes to a road trip for you and Engie!