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‘Blennerhassetts’ documentary set to debut

Photo provided Ray Swick, historian emeritus for Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, prepares for an interview at the Oakland mansion in Parkersburg during production of “The Blennerhassetts” documentary.

PARKERSBURG — Blennerhassett Island is part of the fabric of the Mid-Ohio Valley, but residents around West Virginia and beyond will soon have the chance to become more familiar with its sights and stories.

“The Blennerhassetts,” an hour-long documentary by Kanwaha County-based MotionMasters, is set to debut at 9 p.m. Monday, Aug. 30, on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Area residents can get a look at it two days earlier, with a free, open-to-the-public premiere at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, at the Smoot Theatre in downtown Parkersburg.

“I’m a history buff; I love telling these stories about West Virginia,” said Diana Sole-Walko, CEO of MotionMasters.

About 30 years ago, MotionMasters produced a 10-minute video for the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History that is still shown there today, said Sole-Walko, who is the executive producer and script writer for the new endeavor.

“I always thought the Blennerhassett story was an interesting one, and it had never been told in documentary form before,” she said.

Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett came to America in 1796 from Ireland and settled on the island that today bears their name, building an opulent home in what, at that time, was “the American west,” Sole-Walko said.

Harman Blennerhassett was accused of conspiring with former Vice President Aaron Burr to commit treason. He was released from prison after Burr’s acquittal, but the family’s fortunes had turned and they died in poverty.

Country music star and West Virginia native Kathy Mattea will narrate the documentary, which Sole-Walko has said will cover all facets of the Blennerhassetts’ life and times. It features interviews with various historians, including Ray Swick, historian emeritus for Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park; Bill Reynolds, with the Campus Martius and Ohio River museums in Marietta; and Pamela Douglas Brust, author of “The Hendersons.” Vienna resident Wesley Poole is the principal videographer and editor.

Local entities have also sponsored the production. The budget is $217,000, a figure that was reduced in light of the pandemic and a reduced ability to raise funds, Sole-Walko said.

As of Aug. 3, more than $147,000 had been raised and funding is still being sought.

The Blennerhassett Historical Foundation contributed $50,000, while the Wood County Commission gave $25,000 and the Bernard McDonough Foundation $20,000.

The Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation and Regional Affiliates and the Marietta Community Foundation each committed $5,000.

Parkersburg City Council approved a $10,000 contribution at its July 22 meeting. City officials said they believe the film will boost tourism in the area.

“As much as I would love to have a Six Flags or a dinosaur museum or a national park, the island is the Valley’s numero uno tourist attraction,” Mayor Tom Joyce said.

“It’s something that should be aired on public broadcasting for years to come,” Council President Zach Stanley said.

After airing on West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Sole Walko said “The Blennerhassetts” will be offered to other public stations, and she expects interest from those in neighboring states. Eventually, the plan is to make it available for streaming on Amazon, like some other MotionMasters productions.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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