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Open house to celebrate Claymont restoration

The 34-room house is the largest of 12 mansions built in Jefferson County by siblings, relatives and descendants of George Washington in the late 18th and early 19th centuries

December 13, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • The Claymont Society's main mansion is viewed here from the south lawn. An open house celebration commemorating completion of a $300,000 restoration project plus the movement of 264 acres into permanent farmland protection status will be held Sunday at the Claymont Society's main mansion from noon to 2 p.m.
Herald-Mail file photo

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — An open house celebration commemorating completion of a $300,000 restoration project plus the movement of 264 acres into permanent farmland protection status will be held Sunday at the Claymont Society’s main mansion from noon to 2 p.m.

The 34-room house off Huyett Road was built in 1820, the largest of 12 mansions built in Jefferson County by siblings, relatives and descendants of George Washington in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The house was built by Bushrod Corbin Washington, the first president’s grand nephew, at a cost of $30,000. Most of the labor was provided by an army of 90 slaves, according to a history of the property.

Since 1974, the mansion house, huge barn and 342 acres are home to the nonprofit Claymont Society for Continuous Education.

Amy Silver, Claymont’s executive director, said the mansion and great barn are used extensively during spring and fall weekends by groups attending educational retreats and seminars.

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The society’s mission is to provide “education and a place of learning and promoting a way of life responsible towards nature,” Silver said in prepared remarks.

“We host environmental, professional, business, church, mediation and dance groups,” she said. “We can house 20 to 30 people at a time. Most groups meet Friday through Sunday.”

Two years ago, Claymont applied for and won a $300,000 Save America’s Treasures grant, which included some local donated funding. The money paid for structural work to secure the stability of the two floors and roof in the massive main ballroom. A second project financed by the grant was the total restoration of the mansion’s 90 windows, Silver said.

Sunday’s open house also celebrates the placement of 264 of Claymont’s 342 acres into a conservation easement through the American Battlefield Protection Program. Part of the 1864 Civil War Battle of Summit Point, W.Va., took place on Claymont land, Silver said.

The Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle and Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board helped in the easement process, Silver said.

The society is at the end of a long list of owners who followed Bushrod Washington over two-plus centuries. The central portion of the house burned in 1838 and was rebuilt. Bushrod Washington died in 1851 and left the property to his son, Thomas.

Thomas had two sons, officers in the Confederate Army. Both were attending a family Christmas party in the mansion when they were captured by Union troops. The brothers died in a prison camp, according to the history.

The fortunes of the mansion changed over the centuries, falling in and out of disrepair depending on its owners’ wealth.

The property was last bought in 1974 by John Bennett, a British philosopher, who turned it into the Claymont Society.

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