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Jefferson County backs Friends of Happy Retreat's efforts to buy home of Charles Washington

Commissioners voted to join Charles Town and Ranson in an effort to come up with ways to buy, restore, develop and operate the 18th century home

February 17, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • Happy Retreat, the former home of Charles Washington, is seen Thursday at the intersection of Mordington Avenue and Blakely Place in Charles Town, W.Va.
By Richard F. Belisle

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Five years ago the nonprofit Friends of Happy Retreat organized to find a way to buy the home of Charles Washington, founder of Charles Town and kid brother to the first president, and turn the estate into a community asset.

On Thursday, the Jefferson County Commissioners voted to join the cities of Charles Town and Ranson in an effort to come up with ways to buy, restore, develop and operate the 18th century home at Mordington Avenue and Blakely Place.

The Friends were encouraged last summer when the selling price for the property dropped from $2.5 million to a more reachable $1.2 million.

The home has changed hands multiple times over the centuries and is one of six Washington family homes in Jefferson County still in use, said Randy Hilton, a member of the Friends board of directors.

Hilton and fellow member John Hough told the commissioners Thursday that the board's option to buy 6,000-square-foot home and the 12 acres it sits on expires Feb. 28.

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Hilton said after the meeting that the owners might look more favorable toward extending the option now that all three local governments have joined together to acquire the property.

It's too early to talk about how the money would be raised to buy the property, Hilton said.

A brochure published by the organization said, "Our immediate goal is to raise $500,000 in pledged support in the next several months." It lists its Website as www.happyretreat.org.

Walter Washington, a Friends board member and long-removed great-nephew of George Washington who owns Harewood — one of the six remaining Washington homes — said studies have been made at Happy Retreat, including an archeological survey and structural assessments of the buildings. A business plan was also done.

Hilton said if the Friends buy the property it could become a state park as well as a community center.

Hilton and Hough, in their presentation to the commissioners, offered a litany of benefits to the community.

"It can become a classroom to engage students in local history," Hough said. "It could revitalize Charles Town's historic west side and it will bring a sense of pride to the community rather than have it surrounded by townhouses."

The Friends group, in their brochure, said the property has the potential to become an eastern gateway to Charles Town, Jefferson County and West Virginia.

It has potential as a center for the arts, from bluegrass to Shakespeare, a venue for dance, theater and festivals. Happy Retreat, in the hands of the community, would benefit the area economically and historically, Hilton and Hough said.

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