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Happy Retreat group gaining momentum

April 18, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The effort to purchase the historic Happy Retreat home for public use is gaining momentum.

The Friends of Happy Retreat Inc., an organization which has been set up to purchase, restore and operate the home, has received its nonprofit status from the state and will meet today to elect its officers, the chairman of the organization, Mark Reinhart, said Monday.

Walter Washington, a local attorney who has been helping the group get organized, said he expects the organization to elect a president, vice president, treasurer and secretary during a meeting at the Charles Town Visitors Center on North George Street at 7 p.m.

Happy Retreat was the home of Charles Washington, founder of Charles Town and brother of George Washington.

The stately home along Mordington Avenue sits on 12 acres and has two wings on either side of a center portion. The house includes marble fireplaces and decorative medallions in the ceilings.

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Bill Gavin, the current owner of the home, has said Happy Retreat has become too much for him to maintain and he has proposed that the city purchase it.

The asking price is $2.5 million.

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.

During a public hearing in January to gauge public support of the idea, about 25 people expressed overwhelming support for preserving the home.

Local historic officials said during the hearing they believe funding at the state and national levels might be available to help purchase home and others said Gov. Joe Manchin's staff should be brought into the process as well as other politicians.

Washington said The Friends of Happy Retreat, Inc., was formed to purchase the home because it was believed that having the city purchase it would be a lot of work for the city to undertake. Washington said he does not think the city would own the home and that The Friends of Happy Retreat, Inc., would instead operate it.

Washington said The Friends of Happy Retreat is still looking into possible funding sources for the purchase.

It is unclear how much it might cost to restore and operate the home, Washington said.

"We still have a long way to go, but many individuals and organizations have stepped forward to offer their advice and input to our efforts," Reinhart said in a news release Monday.

Reinhart said the organization has been able to hire an expert to conduct a "limited historic survey" of the property. Matthew Webster, director of architectural renovation at Kenmore in Fredericksburg, Va., will assess the architectural history of Happy Retreat, which involves determining which parts of the home are part of the original design, Washington said.

Kenmore was the home of Charles Washington's sister, Betty.

People interested in becoming involved in the effort to purchase, restore and operate Happy Retreat are invited to attend the organization's next meeting at the visitors center on April 25 at 7 p.m., Reinhart said.

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