Happy Retreat is the home of George Washington’s brother Charles, who is the founder of Charles Town. The oldest sections of the house, which sits on 12 acres, were built in the late 1700s. Efforts have been underway to preserve the property for public use.
A keynote address by Philip Mead, titled “George Washington’s Canvas Home: The History and Memory of the Revolutionary War Headquarters and Sleeping Marquee,” will take place on Friday, April 8, beginning at 7 p.m. at Fisherman’s Hall, 312 South West Street. Mead is a historian and curator at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. Friday will also feature a silent auction fund raiser.
Two panel discussions with noted historians and preservation experts will take place on Saturday, April 9 at Happy Retreat, 600 Mordington Avenue in Charles Town. The first session, from 9-11 a.m., will focus on “The History of Happy Retreat.” The second session, from 2-4 p.m., is titled “The Preservation of Happy Retreat.”
To participate, reservations are appreciated, but not necessary. For more information, visitwww.shepherdphialphatheta.weebly.com.
The WV Endangered Properties List is a collection of historic resources identified annually as the historic assets in the Mountain State most in jeopardy of being demolished or destroyed. These properties are also good candidates for re-use in their communities. The alliance revived its endangered list program in 2009 with a competitive application process and with technical assistance provided to the stewards of the selected properties. Technical assistance includes on-site visits from staff and Preserve WV AmeriCorps members, guidance in preservation projects and assistance in organizing clean-up days, hands-on workshops, or other skilled preservation activities.
There is special criteria to be identified as a WV Endangered Property. Each property must be listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; suffer from a demonstrable preservation emergency; and maintain owner and local support for the re-use of the property in the respective community. Owner support is necessary because it’s the first step to ensuring the preservation process begins. It is PAWV’s goal to encourage owners to turn these properties into viable contributors to WV’s economy. Properties that were formerly on the endangered list but have graduated to saved include the First Ward School in Elkins and the Quarrier Diner in Charleston. The Preservation Alliance of West Virginia is the statewide, nonprofit dedicated to promoting historic preservation and our state’s cultural heritage.
The Preservation Alliance of WV is postponing the due date for nominations for the 2016 WV Endangered Properties List. The original due date was scheduled for November 15, 2015. As we are re-working our annual schedule of events, we plan to have the nominations due sometime this winter with the announcement occurring this spring. Check back for more information. For questions, contact Lynn Stasick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the full Beckley Historic District Report
Beckley officials should follow established laws to save their city’s endangered downtown historic district, according to an assessment released by the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia.
Though alterations have harmed the integrity of the district, the assessment identified multiple recommendations that should help protect its federal status as well as financing for future development.
The 27-page assessment performed by alliance staff and an AmeriCorps member over the last five months included a building-by-building review of the district and a review of the codes, bylaws, and guidelines that govern the Beckley Historic Landmarks Commission, the architectural board established to manage its development.
The alliance initiated the assessment after the downtown was added to the West Virginia Endangered Properties List. The declaration was the first in which the alliance had included an entire National Register historic district.
The declaration came after the State Historic Preservation Office warned that mounting alterations could trigger the district’s removal from the National Register of Historic Places — a warning that had been issued with growing intensity since alterations and demolitions began to occur in the late 1990s.
Thankfully the assessment found that city laws were in keeping with state enabling legislation and the standards set forth by the U.S. Department of the Interior and that adjustments to current laws would not be necessary.
There are no gray areas here, and saving the district will probably require only that the landmarks commission follow its laws and seek expert counsel when faced with questions.
As in many historic districts nationwide, alterations to building exteriors and public spaces such as those in downtown Beckley must be approved by a landmarks commission and provided a certificate of appropriateness.
Buildings in the downtown, many of which were constructed in the 1920s and 1930s, are to be returned to their original appearances, according to municipals laws enacted in the 1990s when the national historic district was established.
The assessment also includes case studies of practices in other historic districts in West Virginia and suggestions for preservation practices relevant to the architectural problems in the district.
The alliance recommends that downtown property owners organized through the Downtown Beckley Business Association work toward engaging the National Main Street Center in its effort to revitalize the district. Other cities across the U.S. have accomplished this, and we see no reason why Beckley officials cannot through due diligence achieve the same excellence.
The assessment includes information relevant to tax credits, preservation tips, and eco-friendly rehabilitation practices of which property owners should be aware.
Preservation Alliance would especially like to thank Preserve West Virginia AmeriCorps’ Nicole Marrocco for her efforts preparing the assessment. Marrocco’s position is made possible through an AmeriCorps state grant administered by Volunteer West Virginia and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Preservation Alliance would also like to thank the Downtown Beckley Business Association for requesting the assessment, and the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office for providing input regarding the report.
What is mothballing? Why should you do it? What are the benefits? Learn all this by watching this short video produced by WBOY Channel 12.
Friends of Happy Retreat announced recently that it has received a major gift to fund the purchase of Happy Retreat, the historic home of Charles Washington, younger brother of George Washington and founder of Charles Town. The donation comes from Dr. Taylor Fithian and his wife Margie. Dr. Fithian, spent his boyhood in Charles Town. His parents were Taylor and Avis Funkhouser Fithian. His grandfather was R.J. Funkhouser, who in the 1940s bought and restored Happy Retreat and three other Washington family homes in Jefferson County. Dr. Fithian and his wife live in Monterey, California, but recently bought and restored Cedar Lawn, another Washington family home near Charles Town, where they now spend much of their time. The Fithian’s gift, made in honor of the entire Fithian family, R.J. Funkhouser and the legacy of the Washington family in Jefferson County, showcases another generation of leadership that follows in the footsteps of the Washingtons and R. J. Funkhouser.
Friends of Happy Retreat was established in 2006 for the purpose of acquiring and restoring Happy Retreat as a center for culture and history for Charles Town, Jefferson County, and beyond. In December, 2014, the City of Charles Town and the non-profit Friends of Happy Retreat agreed to work together to purchase the 12 acre Happy Retreat property, owned by the Gavin family, who have been stewards of the estate for a generation. The City agreed to purchase 10 acres of land which it will include in a planned linear park along Evitts Run in Charles Town’s West End. Friends of Happy Retreat agreed to purchase the house, historic outbuildings, and the two acres of remaining land. With this major milestone of acquisition reached, the Friends of Happy Retreat can progress into the effort to restore the Happy Retreat estate as a center for community events, heritage tourism, arts and culture, and scholarship. The Happy Retreat grounds will also connect to existing City of Charles Town park and recreational lands, as part of an overall Charles Town initiative to revitalize the community’s west end.
Friends of Happy Retreat launched a fundraising campaign in January co-chaired by Dr. Wallace Boston, CEO of American Public University System, and by Dr. Taylor Fithian. American Public University led the effort with a lead gift of $150,000. The campaign has now succeeded in raising over $725,000 in pledged contributions from individuals, families and supportive organizations, which will be used for the acquisition, restoration and operation of Happy Retreat. Fundraising will continue with the goal to raise an additional $1.3 million for full restoration and $150,000 for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the property. Walter Washington, president of Friends of Happy Retreat, said he is overwhelmed by the Fithians’ generosity. “We are profoundly grateful to Dr. and Mrs. Fithian for making the acquisition of Happy Retreat possible. Their extraordinary gift will allow us to go forward with our plans to make Happy Retreat a center of cultural life for Charles Town and a showpiece of our town’s important history.” He also thanked Charles Town Mayor Peggy Smith and the City Council, and Dr. Boston and American Public University for helping to make the purchase possible. “The City’s decision to take part in this project, with Mayor Smith’s leadership, was a game changer. It would not have worked without the City’s participation,” Washington said. “Dr. Wally Boston has stepped forward many times over the years to help our community move forward. American Public University’s lead gift of $150,000 was a crucial vote of confidence to get our fundraising campaign underway, which has resulted in other valued supporters and organizations making their own contributions. We are very grateful for all that Dr. Fithian and Dr. Boston have done for us in leading this exciting Happy Retreat campaign.” Washington also thanked the National Trust for Historic Preservation which has worked closely with Friends of Happy Retreat since it began in 2006. “The Trust has provided us invaluable advice and support over the years, and especially during our current fundraising campaign to save this American treasure,” he said. “I also want to give special thanks and recognition to the Gavin family who have been so wonderful to work with over the years,” Washington said. “Without the enthusiasm and patience of Bill and Mary Gavin and their family, this could never have happened.” “Finally, on behalf of the Board of Friends of Happy Retreat, I want to thank all of the wonderful friends and supporters here in the community and beyond who have had faith in us,” Washington said. “Without their support over the last 9 years, we could not have gotten to where we are today. For more information about historic Happy Retreat and the effort underway to restore it as a community center, see http://happyretreat.org/donate.html, or contact Walter Washington at 304.725.8832.
A documentary “The Preservation and Restoration of Helen Apartments,” directed and produced by Tyler Carden and Brian Jarrell (students in the Fine Arts Department at Liberty High School in Raleigh County, WV), is now available for viewing.
Video footage was collected April 10-11, 2015 during the clean-up and mothballing activities of the historic Helen Apartment Building organized with WeGROW: Winding Gulf Restoration Organization. The students completed the film in three weeks.
The documentary debuted May 13th during a commission meeting of Volunteer West Virginia: The State Commission on Community and National Service. Our thanks are extended to Jeremy Rodriquez, chairman, and the students of the Fine Arts Department at Liberty High School and the many volunteers and supporters of the cleanup and mothballing project.
The video is available on the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia YouTube Channel. Unused B-Roll footage from the project may be used for additional productions in the future – stay tuned!
The situation regarding the property first came to light during a historic resource survey undertaken in August as part of the Bridges to the Past educational outreach initiative – a partnership of the alliance and the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority. The Helen Apartments were one of the highlights during a tour of the Winding Gulf communities including Helen, Sophia, and Tams. The Winding Gulf Restoration Organization (WeGROw), a 501(c)3, took interest in saving the structure based on a structural narrative needs assessment developed by the alliance’s field services staff. This document details the current condition of structures, outlines building materials and their historic uses, and prioritizes steps needed to preserve and re-use structures. The former property owner agreed to let the building go to WeGRow, and the Raleigh County Commission was approached and agreed to grant WeGROw the funds to cover the costs associated with taking ownership.
Plans have been made to clean the apartment of all debris and mothball it. The purpose of mothballing the building is to secure it from weather and vandalism until it can be rehabilitated and put into a new use. The alliance led volunteers in fabricating plywood panels for the doors and windows. Volunteers will begin installing panels to secure the first floor. Additionally, they will clear the apartments and finish securing the entrances. The process for mothballing of the property is being documented on high definition video by the Fine Arts Department of Liberty High School, and still photography by Michael Burk, a former Preserve WV AmeriCorps member who is also a professional photographer. Various local and state organizations have gotten involved including The National Coal Heritage Area Authority, Raleigh County Commission, the Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority, The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, and The Raleigh County Office of West Virginia State University Extension Service. Lowe’s will be supplying the construction materials at cost.
The Preservation Alliance of West Virginia is a statewide grassroots organization supporting historic preservation in the mountain state. Since 1982, the nonprofit PAWV has been working to preserve West Virginia’s precious historical resources for the benefit of present and future generations. The alliance announced the Buildings At Risk Register in February in an effort to bring attention to at-risk historical resources that may be lost and efforts to save these special places. “The purpose of the register is to demonstrate that these places matter to West Virginians and there is interest in saving them. It will also be an educational tool about the preservation of historic properties all over the state,” explained Danielle LaPresta, executive director for the alliance. The register will serve as a watch list for individuals wanting to know the status of historical resources in West Virginia. Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis and are reviewed once a month by a committee comprised of members of the alliance’s board of directors and staff. The alliance will maintain close contact with persons submitting at risk site applications for advocacy purposes.
Yesterday, I participated in a discussion with five other panelists about saving Top O Rock – the iconic modernist structure overlooking Charleston. It was a pleasure to be welcomed into this property by the owners and Sarah Halstead – the dynamic woman spearheading the design competition and campaign to save Top O Rock. It may be demolished since the property has been broken into multiple time, severely vandalized, and stripped of its coppers piping. Sarah organized the panel to talk about what could be done to save Top O Rock with the theme being “what if money was no problem?”.
Top O Rock is such a unique place. Built literally on top of a giant rock with trees growing majestically through holes in the roof, Henry Elden’s masterpiece home is not your usual downtown adaptive re-use topic. This dwelling is so complex and its interior is one of the main components that makes this place historically significant. The panel agreed it’s going to take a lot of creativity and modernist thinking to devise a plan to save this place. During our first meeting to discuss Top O Rock, the committee was a bit stumped. It was hard not to focus on the dollar signs looming over everyone’s heads. Dollar signs are certainly on the owners’ minds. How will the money be raised to rehabilitate the structure? And after that money is raised, how will it be maintained? Can West Virginia stand another house museum?
Luckily it isn’t up to me or the other panelists to decide how to move forward with this project. There is an incredible design competition being sponsored by WVSU Extension’s Economic Development Center, Kanawha Valley Historical and Preservation Society, and CWest Properties, LLC. The competition encourages design teams to join together and reinvent Top O Rock. This competition requires innovative, viable restoration, adaptive reuse and sustainable property development plans for Henry Elden’s Top O Rock and the 13 acres of wooded land surrounding it. Since the design competition opened on March 1, Sarah reports that approximately ten teams have signed up from all over the region, including one led by a 13-year-old aspiring female architect. Other teams can still join. Actually, anyone can join! Submissions are due May 8, 2015 (one month from today!) Full competition guidelines and more information can be found at toporockwv.com
Show your support for Top O Rock! Share your ideas for what can be done with this special place. The owners may take you up on your idea, but please keep in mind that the site is not open to the public. Since vandalism and security are serious problems, security cameras and fencing have been installed. Please respect the owners’ requests and stay off this property.
You can take a virtual tour on livestream at
https://livestream.com/accounts/10304715/events/3873379/videos/80475934/player?width=640&height=360&autoPlay=true&mute=true or submit a contact message through the Top O Rock website at http://www.toporockwv.com/#!contact/cbys asking to visit the site.
Some think Top O Rock should remain a personal residence. Others think it could be a public green space.
What if you could save Top O Rock? What would you turn it into?
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