Charles Washington’s Happy Retreat
Charles Town, Jefferson County
March 2019 Update: Restoration of the brick smokehouse and stone kitchen began in November. It was paused for the winter but will begin again in March/April and will be completed before summer. Last summer, restoration of the roofs on the main house was completed. The standing seam metal roof on the central portion of the house was restored, and new gutters and downspouts installed. The standing seam metal roofs on the two wings were replaced with new standing seam metal roofs. New gutters and downspouts were installed.
2017 Update: There has been quite a bit of activity at Happy Retreat since the last update. The Jefferson County Historical Society moved its office to Happy Retreat; the Historic Structure Report (HSR) was completed; and Friends of Happy Retreat (FOHR) hosted a few events at the site --a Wine and Jazz Festival and a book club.
The Historic Structure Report has given insight into the history of the construction and use of Happy Retreat. The HSR included a paint analysis that helped reveal the age of construction of the west wing of the house and a Preliminary Structural Assessment of the outlying building.
Due to the lack of original wood floors and floor joists in the first and second story, dendrochronology could not be used to determine the age of construction of the house’s west wing. Therefore, a paint analysis was implanted to help date construction. Using a technique known as cross-section microscopy, small samples of paint were examined microscopically to determine the number of paint layers and their colors. In one room, the analysis revealed a complete chronology of the paint colors used back to the day Charles Washington first entered the house. Paint analysis also helped date the door and window of the west wing as well as reveal that the current mantel had been moved from another location.
The Preliminary Structural Assessment of the brick smokehouse, stone kitchen and privy outbuilding determined that that the smokehouse is in good structural condition, but it will need repointing and replacement of damaged bricks. The kitchen and privy however, require some work. The brick kitchen and privy walls will need to be rebuilt. The shingles on the outbuilding will also need to be replaced as they contain asbestos.
As far as events hosted at Happy Retreat, FOHR successfully hosted a Wine and Jazz Festival on June 10, 2017 with over 500 people in attendance. The festival included three Jazz bands, over 50 different local and national wines, and food from local restaurants and bakery. All proceeds went to the restoration and maintenance of the site. A book club, with free membership, was also started in June 2017.
On September 9, 2017, FOHR will host their second Craft Beer and Music Festival at Happy Retreat.
2010: Charles Washington, who founded Charles Town in 1786, began constructing his Early Classical Revival mansion, Happy Retreat, in 1780. Nearby at least seven other homes were constructed by Washington family members, including Charles’ brother George, who frequently visited Happy Retreat. The threat to Happy Retreat arose several years ago when the owners expressed their desire to sell the home and its 12.2 developable acres. Two other Washington family homes had just been lost to development, so the threat was all too real. To stave off a sale, the grassroots Friends of Happy Retreat began raising funds to keep the property under option. After four years, however, the group realized that it would be impossible for them to raise enough private funds to acquire and sustain it for public enjoyment. So the nonprofit is now seeking public partners to join them in a new initiative: to develop Charles Washington’s Happy Retreat into the centerpiece of heritage tourism in Charles Town.
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