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Group signs option to purchase Happy Retreat

July 06, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The head of an organization that has been formed to purchase, restore and operate Charles Washington's home known as Happy Retreat announced Wednesday that his group has signed an option to purchase the home for $2.5 million.

The agreement gives the organization known as The Friends of Happy Retreat the "exclusive and irrevocable option" to purchase Happy Retreat by Feb. 28., 2007, said Curt Mason, president of the group.

Mason said Friends of Happy Retreat wanted to enter into an agreement to purchase the property from the current owner, Bill Gavin, because it will increase the chances for success of raising the money needed for the purchase.

People will be less willing to donate money for the purchase if there is not a pending agreement to sell the home to the organization, Mason said.

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Although the asking price is $2.5 million, Friends of Happy Retreat wants to raise $5 million to help fund initiatives like program development for the home, staffing needs and archaeological studies for the property, Mason said.

The Friends of Happy Retreat has sought the help of the Compass Group of Aldie, Va., to help them raise the money. Compass Group has a strong track record of overseeing such campaigns and believes the group has a good chance of raising the money needed due to the strong community support for the effort, Mason said.

Fundraising has started and Charles Town Races & Slots has contributed $10,000, Mason said. Friends of Happy Retreat plans to start a "bank challenge" to encourage local banks to contribute money toward the purchase, and the board of directors for The Friends of Happy Retreat has contributed $7,000, Mason said.

"We believe in what we are doing ... putting our own money behind it," Mason said Wednesday night.

If Friends of Happy Retreat cannot raise the money for the purchase of Happy Retreat by Feb. 28, 2007, the organization has "first refusal" rights to any other purchase offer made to Gavin, Mason said.

Friends of Happy Retreat has 60 days to match any offer made to Gavin, according to Mason.

The option agreement is "one of many hurdles we have yet to overcome. And now the clock is ticking," Mason said in a news release.

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. Characteristics of the house include marble fireplaces and decorative medallions in the ceilings.

Gavin, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday night, has said Happy Retreat has become too much for him to maintain and he has proposed that the city purchase it.

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 showed overwhelming support for preserving the home.

Local historic officials said during the hearing they believe there are sources of funding at the state and national level to help purchase the home.

Walter Washington, a local attorney who has been working on the project, said The Friends of Happy Retreat was formed to purchase the home because some believed it would be a lot of work for the city to undertake.

Contributions for the purchase of the house are being accepted and checks are to be made to Friends of Happy Retreat and mailed to Friends of Happy Retreat, P.O. Box 1427, Charles Town, WV, 25414.

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