In terms of places rich in American history, many of us may think of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello or George Washington’s Mount Vernon. There is, however, another important location that is full of history and is situated right here in our very own Mid-Ohio Valley – Henderson Hall. Henderson Hall in Williamstown, W.Va is a standing historical piece displaying more than two centuries worth of early American life. The inside of the pre-Civil War Italianate mansion features pieces primarily authentic to the lifestyle the Henderson family lived from the arrival of the first descendant, Alexander Henderson, Sr., in the 1700s, through the Victorian Age into the early 1900s.
More importantly, most of these pieces actually belonged to each Henderson generation as they collected and preserved almost everything they owned throughout the years. Visitors will not only get a glimpse of this beautiful mansion, but they will see before them such items as the doll Georgiana Henderson played within the 1830s or the 1801 Empire style wedding dress worn by Jane Hutchinson Lithgow, bride of Alexander Henderson, Jr.
Randy Modesitt, director of Henderson Hall, is no stranger to the overwhelming supply of direct family history in every nook and cranny of the mansion. “Every corner of the house is full of history,” said Randy. More importantly, Randy states that one of the reasons the mansion is so full of history is because the Henderson family never threw anything away. From clothes to toys, from furniture to Jock Henderson’s beard (true story), the generations of Henderson family members kept EVERYTHING.
“Every corner of the house is full of history.”
Not only does the estate boast items accurate to individual time eras it also has ties to important American figures. In the mansion, there is a land grant signed by Patrick Henry himself. A letter can be seen to Elizabeth Henderson from Robert E. Lee regarding her son, Arthur, and his studies at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University). Also important to note are the acquaintances the Henderson family had. From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson to George Washington (the latter of whom suggested Alexander Henderson, Sr. buy the land the estate now sits on), the Henderson family were no strangers to those of the elite political and social circles.
Henderson Hall can be toured March through December, every day but Monday, from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm. More importantly, the estate is holding two special events this month that highlight the Christmas season and what it would have been like to delight in the holiday spirit with the Henderson family. On Saturday, December 7, ticketholders for Henderson Christmas Evening will experience a tour of the mansion accompanied by live music, hors d’oeuvres, and volunteers dressed in time period attire sharing information about the mansion and its family. As an added bonus for this special occasion, the barriers to the rooms will be down and guests will have the privilege of getting up close and personal with all the rich history of the estate.
Likewise on Saturday, December 14, ticketholders will also experience Christmas at Henderson Hall but their journey will begin with dinner aboard the Valley Gem. From here, guests will take a trolley ride to the estate, followed by a barriers-down, candlelit tour of the mansion, and a return trip back aboard the Valley Gem.
Regardless of whether visitors attend during the special Christmas events or any other time of the year, Henderson Hall is a vital piece of American and local history that deserves to be treasured and maintained for centuries to come. As Randy states, “We need to get the word out to bring people here. Not to make money, but to share the rich history of Henderson Hall and the family. Keeping the memory alive is the important aspect of this house.”