Future remains uncertain for Happy Retreat

January 23, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION


Happy Retreat, the home of Charles Washington which the city is considering acquiring, could be worth about $2.5 million and some people are concerned about the city's ability to purchase and maintain the property, Mayor Peggy Smith said Sunday.

Three years ago, city officials said the asking price for the property could be about $1.25 million.

But just like property everywhere else in the Eastern Panhandle, the value of the home could have doubled, Smith said.

City officials have said the city's purchase of Happy Retreat could be a rare opportunity to showcase local history, although some city residents have grown concerned about the city's ability to purchase and maintain the stately home along Mordington Avenue, Smith said.

Smith, however, remains upbeat about the idea.

An earlier attempt by the city to acquire $750,000 from the state to help buy the home did not materialize, but Smith said she thinks other possible sources of state and federal funding are available.


"If a group of ladies can save Mount Vernon, we can save this property here," said Smith, referring to a group of people who set up a foundation to save George Washington's home.

City officials hope to find out what city residents think about the city buying Happy Retreat when they hold a public hearing Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. at City hall.

If there is enough support for the city acquiring Happy Retreat, Smith said she would like to set up a committee to explore funding options for the purchase of the property.

Smith said the city is waiting to get an appraisal on the home.

Bill Gavin, the current owner of Happy Retreat, said Sunday he wishes a sale would have materialized before now.

Gavin said he hopes to sell the home to the city and does not want to sell it to a developer.

But Gavin said he will consider other options for the property if something does not develop soon on the city's behalf.

"I've been playing around now for two years with this thing. There comes a time when you run out of gas on the thing," said Gavin, who added he wants to come to some agreement this year.

In 2003, Gavin said Happy Retreat has been too much for him to maintain and he brought up the idea of the city purchasing it.

Charles Washington was the brother of the first president and the founder of Charles Town.

Happy Retreat, which sits on 12 acres, has two wings between a center portion and has marble fireplaces and decorative medallions in the ceilings.

The center portion of the house was built in 1837 by Isaac Douglass, who was a circuit judge in Jefferson County at the time. Washington built the two wings.

If they are successful in buying the property, city officials have discussed opening the home for public viewing, creating a park on the grounds and establishing a biking and hiking trail around the property.

Public Hearing

What: Public hearing on Charles Town's proposed purchase of Happy Retreat.

When: Jan. 30, 7 p.m.

Where: Charles Town City Hall, at the corner of George and Washington streets

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