“There is no other region in the country which contains such a wealth of original Washington family homes and history–and Happy Retreat is the crown jewel of them all,” said Robert Nieweg, Senior Field Director and Attorney of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “We couldn’t be happier to work with the Friends to create an experience at such an important site that will draw more people, ensure its story is more broadly told and its long term future secured.”
Located in the Eastern panhandle region of West Virginia, Happy Retreat is the principal estate of the Washington family. Built in 1780 by Charles Washington, George Washington’s youngest brother, Happy Retreat was the foundation for the surrounding city of Charles Town. It is here where George Washington and his lifelong friend Dr. James Craik started their 680-mile trek out to the American west. Joel Achenbach’s 2005 book, The Grand Idea: George Washington’s Potomac and the Race to the West, details this ambitious journey. Happy Retreat is currently one of 40 sites along the 132-mile Washington Heritage Trail, a designated National Scenic Byway which runs from the “Gateway to West Virginia” at Harpers Ferry to points west – all within the national capital region.
“Happy Retreat is a wonderful part of the nation’s history, where George Washington long ago came to launch his grand idea of exploration in a new America. Today, the Friends of Happy Retreat seek to restore the Happy Retreat mansion and property so that it can be a vibrant center of cultural life and community gatherings linking history, neighborhoods, greenspace, downtown Charles Town, and the broader tourism region,” says Walter Washington, President of the Friends of Happy Retreat. “We are confident that our partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation will help the national treasure of Happy Retreat again become a place for the grand idea of exploring creative opportunities.”
In 2015, the Friends of Happy Retreat successfully saved Happy Retreat from being divided into 25 residential lots for new construction, and together with the city of Charles Town raised $775,000 towards the acquisition of the property. Although the immediate threat of demolition was avoided, Happy Retreat remains threatened until a sustainable new use is established and underway. The National Trust’s involvement at Happy Retreat provides an opportunity to show how creative, multipurpose uses of historic sites can create a roadmap for the long-term sustainability of these significant places.
As a National Treasure, Happy Retreat will join the ranks of other shared use concepts such as National Trust historic site, Cooper-Molera Adobe in Monterey, California, which is currently being converted to accommodate a museum, a restaurant, and event facilities. In an effort to mitigate the pitfalls of traditional house museums, the National Trust and Friends of Happy Retreat intend for the property to be used continuously by the public as a center for community events, heritage tourism, arts, culture, and scholarship, ultimately becoming a centerpiece for the newly founded Washington Heritage & Cultural District.
To learn more about the Happy Retreat National Treasure, visit www.savingplaces.org/happy-retreat
About the National Treasures Program
The National Trust for Historic Preservation mobilizes its more than 65 years of expertise and resources to protect a growing portfolio of over 80 National Treasures. Among them are threatened buildings; neighborhoods, communities, and landscapes that stand at risk across the country. Our National Treasures program demonstrates the value of preservation by taking direct action to protect cherished places and promote their history and significance. For more information, visit: savingplaces.org/treasures or follow @SavingPlaces and #SavingPlaces for updates.
About the National Trust for Historic Preservation
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately funded nonprofit organization that works to save America’s historic places. For more information, visit www.preservationnation.org
About the Friends of Happy Retreat
The Friends of Happy Retreat is a nonprofit organization seeking to transform Charles Washington’s home, Happy Retreat, into a vibrant center of community and cultural life, linking neighborhoods, greenspace, and West Virginia’s broader tourism region. For more information, visit www.happyretreat.org
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