Anchoring Marietta’s Past
It sees all – the looming windows peer across the river town skyline; the crumbling brown brick walls echo the sounds of cheerful tourists; and the daunting tower stands as a reminder of a time we have forgot. The Anchorage in Marietta was once called ‘The Palace Beautiful,’ and thanks to the Washington County Historical Society, the intimidating home is returning to its former splendor.
Douglas Putnam built the Anchorage in 1859. The 26 room, sandstone Italianate villa was a gift for his wife Eliza (nothing says true love like 24-inch think sandstone). Thanks to architect and master builder John Slocomb, who also designed The Castle and the First Unitarian Church of Marietta, the home stands tall with its solid rock foundation and wood from locally grown oak.
Just as there is a rich history surrounding the manor and the owners themselves, the WCHS has an interesting story in its journey of possession and restoration. After the last owner, Sophia Russell, passed away, the Anchorage became a nursing home. The house deteriorated as many old homes do, and after a new nursing facility was built, the Anchorage was offered to the WCHS for one dollar.
“The current board is very historic preservation minded and has taken many steps to reverse the damage. The end goal for restoring the home would be as a multi-purpose location. Foremost, it would hold the archives of the Washington County Historical Society. In addition, history exhibits would be held in the space not used for archives, and house tours as well as special events would take place,” WCHS Board Member Jessica Wielitzka said.
At this time, renovations have centered on the electricity, plumbing and things of that nature. However, dripping faucets were the least of the board’s concern when the roof started leaking and threatened the existence of the building. The crying of both the home and the board stopped when the Anchorage received a new roof last year. The only catch is that they need to raise another $30,000 to $40,000 to finish the job.
The Mid-Ohio Valley community has donated in terms of money, furniture, supplies and volunteer work, but as you can grasp, there is still much work to be done.
“The goal is to find individuals or organizations interested in sponsoring a room in The Anchorage. For example, the Daughters of the American Revolution sponsored the work done in the parlor, and the parlor is now the finest room in the house. There are 25 rooms still available for those interested in becoming part of The Anchorage’s history and restoring it back to its former glory,” Wielitzka said.
While the parlor room has heard beautiful string quartets as aristocrats in their silk print dresses and freshly pressed slacks danced a waltz, other parts of the house may hold answers to a secret past. For many years, there has been talk of an association between the Anchorage and the Underground Railroad. This is due to Douglas and Eliza being related to strong abolition advocates. Douglas’ brother, David Putnam Jr. is well-known for helping runaway slaves.
“There are many who claim that when they were children playing in the area around the house, a tunnel was found. Some say it ran to the river, some say it did not. The Historical Society has never found evidence that the tunnel existed, and as the house is so far away from the river, it would be hard to maintain such a tunnel. Due to David Putnam’s strong anti-slavery movements, it is possible that a tunnel ran from the basement of the Anchorage, only to be used in desperate situations. The Historical Society will investigate further as renovations continue on the house,” Wielitzka said.
From its beautiful Italianate square tower and wrap-around porch to its abundant past, the Anchorage is a testament to the tourism and historical excellence of Marietta. For more information, or to become involved, call the WCHS Archives at 740-373-1788.
Rebecca is a Mineral Wells native attending WVU Parkersburg. By studying public relations, she hopes to one day use her skills to benefit non-profit organizations in the Mid-Ohio Valley. Even though Rebecca loves the written word, she has a passion for history. You can find her digging through postcards at any antique store or giving tours at The Castle of Marietta.