WILLIAMSTOWN, W.Va. -- It is said that when Jock Henderson died in 1942, the family called the plumber before calling the coroner.
The stately Henderson Hall had no indoor bathrooms. The patriarch of the family didn't approve of such modern conveniences.
Open for daily tours, the Wood County mansion is a fascinating place to visit -- and revisit.
From the basement to the attic, Henderson Hall overflows with rusty castoffs and priceless antiques. Apparently five generations of Hendersons never threw anything away.
"It's an incredible treasure," said Dave McKain, a childhood friend of the last family member to live in the house. Michael Rolston died five years ago, leaving the estate to the West Virginia Oil and Gas Museum, of which McKain is executive director.
"We're still finding things," said McKain, who oversaw the inventory and appraisal of thousands of household items. "What you didn't see is a whole room of clothes dating back to the 1830s."
Even more important, he believes, is the Henderson family's role in West Virginia history and the personal relationships they had with historical figures.
"George Washington and Alexander Henderson were personal friends. George Washington attended Alexander Henderson's wedding," McKain said.
And it's likely that Washington recommended Henderson purchase land along the Ohio River. Henderson bought several properties along the river in the 1780s, about a decade after Washington traveled down the Ohio to view his extensive holdings.
In 1798, two of Henderson's sons, Alexander Jr. and John, left their home in Dumfries, Va., and settled in the Ohio Valley, first in Burning Springs, in what is now Wirt County. The land grant -- signed by Virginia Gov. Patrick Henry -- giving the Hendersons property in western Virginia is framed and hanging in the study of the house.
About the same time, Harmon Blennerhassett built his grand mansion on an island in the middle of the Ohio River. He visited Alexander and John Henderson and tried to persuade them to join him and former Vice President Aaron Burr to build an empire west of the Ohio River.
Alarmed, the Hendersons alerted the head of the regional militia and informed their father, who in turn notified his friends, President Thomas Jefferson and Vice President James Madison, about the conspiracy. On Jefferson's order, Burr was arrested and charged with treason. The brothers were called as witnesses in Burr's trial. Among the volumes of documents preserved at Henderson Hall are the handwritten notes they made in preparing for the 1806 trial. (Burr was acquitted.)
Two decades later, a grandson of Alexander Henderson Sr., G.W. Henderson, married 16-year-old Elizabeth Tomlinson, whose family had used tomahawks in 1771 to mark their claim to land that is now Williamstown.
"They were the original pioneers of the Ohio Valley," McKain said of the Tomlinsons. "It was absolute wilderness then."
He suggested the estate should be called Henderson-Tomlinson Hall because the marriage was a merger of land that created a 2,600-acre plantation on the eastern banks of the Ohio River.
G.W. Henderson played a part in the formation of West Virginia 150 years ago. He attended the first Wheeling Convention in 1861 and served in the reformed Virginia Legislature. Although he supported the Union, he owned 30 slaves and once had sued an abolitionist in nearby Marietta, Ohio, for helping slaves escape.
In 1859, G.W. Henderson built an imposing addition to the small brick house that dates to 1836. Skilled craftsmen, probably from Marietta, built the Italianate brick mansion topped with a white cupola.
All the rooms contain original furnishings that span 200 years of the Henderson and Tomlinson families. The oldest pieces are two decorative plates hanging in the dining room. They were made in China in 1750. The last acquisition may have been the black dial telephone that sits on a table outside the only bathroom, installed in the middle of the 20th century.
There are grandfather clocks dating to the early 1800s, an 1820 walnut bookcase made in Marietta, a 1775 mirror and stand used by Alexander Henderson and the traveling writing table G.W. Henderson took with him to Wheeling in 1861.
Later 19th-century pieces include an 1873 square grand piano, an 1890s symphonia (which still plays the perforated tin disc) and jousting poles from the 1870s when there were teams in Williamstown and Marietta.
In the study, which was used as a family room, is a long bench on rockers called a mammy's bench. A baby doll is lying on one end, protected from falling off by a side rail, to illustrate how a baby sitter could sit and rock on the other end.