The 12-foot-long dining room table is set with the family's white, gold-trimmed china. McKain wanted to use the original silverware but couldn't find it. Eventually, he uncovered hundreds of pieces in a plastic bag in the attic, where Rolston had stored it. He also rescued a piece dating to 1795 that Rolston had used to stir paint.
Unused or broken household goods were relegated to a 30-foot-long room on the third floor. Stored there are at least five bed frames, chairs, an antique typewriter, wall maps dating to 1848, a spinning wheel, trunks and much more.
Likewise, the basement is filled with mainly rusted kitchen implements, such as a butter churn, cheese press, book press, cottage cheese maker, link sausage press, corn husk huller, egg/chicken brooder, milk cans and bottles and crockery.
McKain believes the Hendersons kept their possessions because they had the space and also because they sensed their legacy as pioneers in the Ohio Valley.
The first schoolhouse in West Virginia was built at Henderson Hall in 1836 and is still open to visit on the tour.
Henderson Hall entertained such guests as Stephen Foster (a relative), John James Audubon and Johnny Appleseed. Some of the nation's premier trotting horses were bred in its stables. In 1900, one of the largest oilfields in the country was discovered there.
By the turn of the 20th century, Rosalie Henderson began to preserve the estate's paperwork and possessions. She stayed at home to care for her father, Jock, who forbade her from marrying her longtime boyfriend, and to help raise her nephew. His mother, Lorna, left for Hollywood to pursue an acting career like cousin Marjorie Main (born Marjorie Tomlinson), a silent-film actress who later played Ma Kettle in the "Ma and Pa Kettle" movie series.
And in what could be the last chapter in a Southern gothic novel, Lorna ended up living her final years as an invalid in Henderson Hall, which was also deteriorating.
On her death, Rolston, the great-great-grandson of G.W. Henderson, gave up his career as a graphic designer in New York and devoted the next 20 years to restoring the mansion.
The restoration he started is still in progress. Through grants, fundraisers, admission fees and other support, McKain has been able to have the roof replaced and the soffits repaired and repainted.
"We're working on the shutters," he said. Some shutters are missing or hanging askew. A glass pane is out in an upstairs window.
Inside, cracks traverse the ceilings of some rooms; wallpaper is peeling in others.
On McKain's to-do list are repairing, cleaning and organizing the clothing collection.
It's an expensive, never-ending endeavor, but one that is a treasure chest to historians. Henderson Hall is unique, McKain said, because the property stayed in the same family, who saved its possessions and documents.
"It's all there and all in one place," he said.
Want to go?
WHAT: Henderson Hall Plantation
HOURS: 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. daily
WHERE: 517 River Road, Williamstown, off W.Va. 14, seven miles north of Parkersburg and two miles south of Marietta, Ohio
ADMISSION: Adults, $5; groups and private tours by appointment
Reach Rosalie Earle at ea...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.