The house known as Happy Retreat is located in Charles Town, a half-mile south of the intersection of U.S. 340 and State Route 9. A significant example of 18th-century and 19th-century Classical Revival architecture, it was built and occupied by Col. Charles Washington, the founder and namesake of Charles Town and brother of George Washington.
Charles Washington built Happy Retreat in 1780 as a house of two wings connected by a covered runway. He died before his plans were fulfilled, but the intended center structure was added when it was purchased by Judge Isaac R. Douglas in 1837. Douglas renamed the house Mordington, after his home in Scotland. The earlier name was restored in 1945.
The original stone kitchen and adjoining smokehouse may predate the original wings of the house. An octagonal white schoolhouse, similar to the one in the garden at Mount Vernon, still survives. The primary unit is joined to the flanking wings by five-foot-long brick connections, and is projected about eight feet in front of them. Both wings have north-south gables and a brick cornice to the extreme east and west.
George Washington visited Happy Retreat, and Revolutionary Gen. Daniel Morgan met there with Washington during one of the visits. In the west wing, Charles Washington laid out plans for Charles Town. Charles Washington died there in 1799 and is buried on the estate. Happy Retreat was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
A non-profit group, “Friends of Happy Retreat,” seeks to preserve the house and its heritage. In 2010, local leaders and legislators were seeking to have Happy Retreat Historical State Park created.
Read the National Register of Historic Places nomination.
This Article was written by William D. Theriault
Last Revised on January 28, 2013