- Associated Press - Sunday, July 19, 2015

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - To walk inside one of Ohio’s finest homes from its earliest years of settlement, you have to travel to West Virginia.

Maple Shade, the home of Aaron Waldo Putnam and his wife, Charlotte Loring Putnam, was built in 1802 - the year that delegates to a constitutional convention in Chillicothe drafted a document that, when adopted by Congress the following year, would carve the state of Ohio out of the vast Northwest Territory west of the Ohio River. Originally built in the settlement of Belpre on a low bluff overlooking the Ohio River and a large island that would soon be named for their close friends, Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett, the restored Maple Shade can now be found in West Virginia’s Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park.

Putnam, then 22, arrived in Northwest Territory in 1789, in the company of his father, Israel Putnam Jr., a colonel during the Revolutionary War. Putnam’s grandfather, Gen. Israel Putnam, perhaps best known to history for uttering the admonition “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” to soldiers in his command during the Battle of Bunker Hill, was among Revolutionary War officers who received Northwest Territory land grants as a reward for their service. He, along with other veterans of the recently ended war, founded the Ohio Company, the first successful land company in the Northwest Territory, in the vicinity of Marietta, which soon became Ohio’s first officially organized city. The elder Putnam, for whom Putnam County, West Virginia, is named, never set foot in the Northwest Territory, but his son and grandson joined other settlers living in a semi-fortified compound of Belpre area farmhouses known as the “Farmers’ Castle” during the Northwest Indian War that finally ground to an end following the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. It was in the Farmers’ Castle that Aaron Putnam met his future wife.

With the threat of an attack by American Indians removed, Aaron and Charlotte Putnam decided the time was right to build a home in which to raise a family and showcase Putnam’s early success as a farmer and apple orchardist.

“Maple Shade was built using New England architecture,” said Mary Jane Spurgeon, a docent for the Putnam-Houser House and a member of the Blennerhassett Historic Foundation, the organization that brought the home to Blennerhassett Island and raised money to have it restored to its original condition. In addition to withstanding more than two centuries of weathering, it endured the wear and tear of five generations of Putnam family occupation, “and a move by trailer and barge to get here,” she said.

Thick hand-hewn oak beams connected with slotted and tabbed mortise and tenon joints provide the bones of the building, which has deliberately been left unfurnished to showcase its construction. Small sections of ceiling material have been cut out, and illumination installed, to allow visitors to see how beams were connected. At one such spot, Roman numerals can be seen carved on the tops of beams to show how they were numbered after being hewn and notched to avoid confusion in assembly.

A small section of wallpaper has been removed to expose a layer of plaster enhanced with horse hair, “which gives the plaster extra strength,” Spurgeon said. “We’ve added period-correct wallpaper, and the chimneys had to be removed when the house was moved, but most of the house is as it was in 1802, with solid pine floors, a cherry stairwell, and black walnut paneling like the Blennerhassetts had in their home. Many of the window panes are from 1802, and give a green, wavy look I like when sunlight passes through.”

The names and initials of several family members and their guests can be seen etched into sections of window glass.

After wealthy Anglo-Irish immigrants Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett settled on Blennerhassett Island in 1798, the young Putnam couple became close friends. During the Putnams’ housewarming gala for Maple Shade, Margaret Blennerhassett was given the honor of leading off the first dance with host Aaron Putnam in the new home’s second-floor ballroom.

The Putnams’ friendship with the Blennerhassetts endured, even after the Blennerhassetts became embroiled in an alleged treason conspiracy with former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr, who used the couple’s island home as a headquarters in 1806-1807 for an unauthorized military expedition to the American Southwest. After Virginia militiamen were sent to the island in 1806 to arrest Harman Blennerhasset, who managed to flee before their arrival, the Putnams provided the provisions needed to get Margaret Blennerhassett off the island and down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to rendezvous with her husband. Putnam bought the lower half of the island the following year, and owned if for the rest of his life.

Other early visitors to Maple Shade included Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury, who criticized his hosts use of a ballroom, since it encouraged dancing, and Jonathan Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, a distant cousin whose father reportedly fought under Gen. Putnam’s command at Bunker Hill.

When a yellow fever epidemic swept through the mid-Ohio Valley in 1822, Charlotte and Aaron Waldo Putnam died within three days of each other. Their oldest son, William, inherited Maple Shade.

Descendants of the Putnams lived in Maple Shade, also known as the Putnam-Houser House, until the early 1980s. The Houser name was added in 1909, when Mary Putnam Houser and her husband, James, moved into the home. In the early 1960s, the Housers’ son, John, sold the home and its surrounding land to the neighboring Shell Chemical Co., with the understanding that he could live on the property for the rest of his life. When Houser died in 1981, Shell assumed control of the home and needed the land on which it was perched for a plant expansion. But the company recognized the historic importance of the building, and instead of tearing it down, it offered to donate it to Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, and in 1986, paid nearly $80,000 to have Maple Shade lifted off its foundation and barged to the island.

But the park lacked the money needed to stabilize and restore the home, and for its first 13 years on the island, Maple Shade was unused and minimally maintained, and “became an eyesore,” according to Spurgeon. In 1999, the Blennerhassett Historical Foundation began raising funds to restore Maple Shade - a task that turned out to take until 2008 to accomplish.

While the rebuilt Blennerhassett Mansion remains the island’s top visitor attraction, visits to Maple Shade, located a few hundred yards away down a country lane shaded by a walnut grove, are increasing.

“People are becoming more aware of the house being here,” said Spurgeon. “It’s unique in that it’s not a reconstruction, like the (Blennerhassett) Mansion, which burned to the ground in 1811, but the original house from the same time that lets you see how it was made. The people who see the home love it, and I love meeting people and telling them about Maple Shade and the Putnams, who, from everything I’ve read, were really nice people.”

While Blennerhassett Mansion tours cost $5 for adults and $2 for children 12 and under, tours of Maple Shade are free.

Round-trip sternwheeler rides to the island aboard the Island Belle are $10 for adults and $8 for children 12 and under. Narrated horse-drawn wagon ride tours of the island are $6 for adults and $5 for children. The island is closed to the public on Mondays. For more information, call 304-420-4800 or visit www.blennerhassettislandstatepark.com.


Information from: The Charleston Gazette, https://www.wvgazette.com

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