Happy Ending

George is not the only founding father in the Washington family tree.   65 Miles northwest of his brother’s namesake city, Charles Washington has his own – Charles Town, West Virginia.   And instead of Mount Vernon, there is Happy Retreat.

Located on an ordinary-looking residential street, it is hard to drive by this National Register-listed historic home without noticing it, especially with the huge FOR SALE sign on the front lawn.  After an announcement by its current owners to sell the property and potentially subdivide the land, locals formed a non-profit to try and save it, and the property was listed on most endangered preservation lists.

Lucky for Happy Retreat that the housing market has been soft.  A couple of weeks ago, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced a completely random solution: actor Richard Dreyfuss will partner with Friends of Happy Retreat and have his foundation purchase the property.  His civics education program will occupy the top floor of the house (which was not a structure original to Washington’s time).  Perfect preservation solution!

George’s youngest brother began construction of the Classic Revival-Style mansion in 1780 (although a cornerstone of the kitchen suggests that work on the property may have begun as early as 1768).  At that time, he also set aside 80 acres of land on which the Virginia Assembly founded Charles Town in 1786.  Charles was instrumental in planning streets and the construction of the new town.

Charles Washington. There is a family resemblance.

The property contains a number of buildings, including a kitchen and old brick smoke-house which appear to be pre-Revolutionary, and an octagonal wooden power-house that may have held powder-stores during the Revolution and was later used as a schoolhouse for the Washington children.  Although the mansion’s original structure still exists in its entirety as Charles Washington built it, the building we see today includes additions by later owners.

Photo by Friends of Happy Retreat

It is said that George Washington’s survey of the area as a 16-year old employee of Lord Fairfax prompted the original purchase of the land.  George himself owned property nearby, and often visited his brother at Happy Retreat. Charles and Mildred Washington are buried on the estate.

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