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Happy Retreat


The historic 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 after the property was purchased by Judge Isaac R. Douglas in 1837. Douglas renamed the house Mordington, after his home in Scotland. The name Happy Retreat 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.

Happy Retreat was listed as an Endangered Property by the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia in 2010. In 2015 a non-profit group, “Friends of Happy Retreat,” together with the city of Charles Town, purchased the 12.3 acre property to preserve the house and its heritage. In recent years, the smoke house and stone kitchen outbuildings have been restored, and a master plan has been developed for the site.

In 2016, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Happy Retreat a National Treasure.

Read the National Register of Historic Places nomination.

Friends of Happy Retreat website.

Written by William D. Theriault