Historic Happy Retreat
A Collection Of Turnings From The Ancestral Home Of Charles Washington, Youngest Brother Of George And The Founder Of Charles Town
About Happy Retreat
photograph courtesy of Jeanne Mozier
Happy Retreat (also known as the Charles Washington House and Mordington) is the stately Federal/Greek Revival style home of Charles Washington, founder of Charles Town and brother of our first President, which stands on a hill overlooking Charles Town, surrounded by 12 acres of sloping lawns and woods. 14 year old Charles, living in Fredericksburg, VA, at the time, had inherited land in the Shenandoah Valley upon the death of his older brother Lawrence in 1752. In 1780, Charles and his wife Mildred moved to his land, upon which by that time he had constructed two one-story structures separated by a breezeway or portico, and had named the property "Happy Retreat." In October 1786, by act of the Virginia General Assembly, Charles Town was established on 80 acres of Charles's land adjacent to Happy Retreat, and Charles played an important role in planning the streets and construction activities of the new town. While Happy Retreat is generally held to have been constructed by 1780, there is evidence that the land was farmed and occupied well before the Revolutionary War. General George Washington visited his brother at Happy Retreat several times, including a June 1788 trip during which he was scouting with interest in building a canal up the Potomac River. Upon his death in April, 1799, Charles had already transferred all his property to his son Samuel Washington and his heirs. On the 23rd of February, 1800, Samuel Washington sold Happy Retreat, including the mansion and 100 acres of land, to Thomas Hammond, in whose family Happy Retreat stayed until 1837, when George Washington Hammond sold it to the Hon. Isaac R. Douglass, a circuit court judge and real estate investor. It was Judge Douglass who completed the plans for the central section of the house and built a three story brick structure, connecting the two old Washington wings. He renamed the completed mansion "Mordington," after his ancestral estate in Scotland. The house passed through the hands of a number of different owners, reverting to its original name of Happy Retreat, before its purchase by Mr. and Mrs. William Gavin in the 1960s. The Gavins have worked with the non-profit Friends of Happy Retreat (see below) to set aside, restore, and operate Happy Retreat as a treasured community resource. In 2016, Happy Retreat became the first Jefferson County landmark to be named a National Treasure.
Saving A "National Treasure": The Friends Of Happy Retreat
The non-profit Friends of Happy Retreat (FOHR) has partnered with the City of Charles Town to acquire, restore, and preserve Happy Retreat for public use. Under this innovative partnership arrangement, the City has bought ten acres of the Happy Retreat property to incorporate into a grand park that will extend throughout the west end of Charles Town along scenic Evitts Run. FOHR has bought the Happy Retreat mansion, out buildings and surrounding two acres of land, and is restoring the house and its 18th Century outbuildings to use as a center for history, heritage tourism, scholarship, culture, and other events. See Events at the FOHR website for updates. Source: HappyRetreat.org