The Historic Home of Charles Washington
Happy Retreat is the estate built by Charles Washington, founder of Charles Town, West Virginia, and President George Washington’s youngest brother. Located on the edge of historic Charles Town and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the property comprises an 18th century mansion, a stone and brick kitchen/smokehouse, and an octagonal wooden schoolhouse. Charles Washington and his family moved to Happy Retreat in 1780 and set aside 80 acres to form Charles Town, officially founded in 1786.
The Washington Family’s investment in the region began in the mid-1700s. In 1748, 16-year-old George Washington surveyed it for Thomas, Lord Fairfax. Impressed with the land, George bought land along Bullskin Run in 1750. Through the years, he continued to acquire more land in the area, and, at one point, owned nearly 2,300 acres. His half brother, Lawrence, also owned land in the county, and after he died in 1752, his properties were ultimately distributed to his brothers—George, Samuel, John Augustine, and Charles. George received Mount Vernon but retained the Bullskin until his death in 1799; his diaries record numerous visits to the area to visit his brothers—Samuel at Harewood, the home he built in 1770, and Charles at Happy Retreat.
After Charles’ death, the property eventually was sold to Thomas Hammond. It stayed in the Hammond family until 1837 when George Washington Hammond sold it to Judge Isaac R. Douglass. The house then passed through the hands of a number of different owners before it was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. William Gavin in the 1960s.
Today the 6,332 sq. ft. mansion lies within the corporate limits of the city on 2 acres while Charles Town’s Parks and Recreation Commission own the surrounding 10 acres which about the northern border Evitts Run and a surrounding 21.3-acre wetland community park, which includes the gravesite of Charles and Mildred Washington.
Phases of Construction
An early historical architectural analysis of Charles Washington’s Happy Retreat completed by Matt Webster, Director of Architectural Resources at Colonial Williamsburg, indicates that the home’s development proceeded in three phases, as shown in the accompanying figure.
Phase 1 construction (in red) consisted of the old stone kitchen and a portion of the west wing. Phase 2, shown in blue, consisted of the brick portion of the kitchen and the one-story east wing. Phase 3, which was undertaken in 1837 after the purchase of Happy Retreat by Judge Isaac R. Douglass, resulted in the addition of the second stories to the two wings and completion of a large 2-1/2 story central portion connecting them.
Another early assessment of the house and outbuildings by an expert in historic preservation finds the mansion structurally sound and, except for a few minor repairs, the needed improvements to the house are cosmetic in nature. The separate kitchen, smokehouse and octagonal schoolhouse will require more substantial restoration in order to support future activities. An archaeological survey also will be used to plan the restoration of the house and grounds.
To review a more recent diagram of the phases of construction, please refer to the diagram in the section entitled: HISTORIC STRUCTURE REPORT (HSR)
Founder of Charles Town, West Virginia, and President George Washington’s youngest brother.
For roughly two decades Charles Washington’s attentions were focused on the life he made for himself in the town of Fredericksburg and the surrounding area. In 1757 Charles married his cousin Mildred Thornton, daughter of a prominent Spotsylvania County family. According to John Wayland, noted 20th-century historian of the Shenandoah Valley, by 1759 Charles had acquired land in Spotsylvania County, and two years later he purchased two valuable lots in the neighboring town of Fredericksburg. It was one of those lots that became the site of the famous Rising Sun Tavern. It was the later sale of the Fredericksburg lots that provided the funds to begin the construction of Happy Retreat.
Mildred Thornton Washington
Mildred Thornton Washington wife of Charles Washington and daughter of Col. Francis Thornton. She was born in Westmoreland County in June of 1736. She married Charles Washington in March of 1758. Mildred and Charles had four children. George Augustine Washington, Frances Thornton Washington-Ball-Peyton, Samuel Washington and Mildred Gregory Washington-Hammond. Mildred Thornton died on October 28, 1804 at Happy Retreat.
Mildred Gregory Washington Hammond
Mildred Gregory Washington Hammond, the daughter of Charles and Mildred Thornton Washington, was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia on October 2, 1772. Mildred G. had come to Charles Town with her parents in 1780 as a young girl. She met and Married Capt. Thomas Hammond in April of 1797. Mildred and Thomas had three children who died in infancy. Mildred Gregory died on December 8, 1804 a short time after her mother.
Frances Bassett Washington
Frances Bassett Washington was the daughter of Burwell Bassett and Anna Marie Dandridge, sister to Martha Washington. She was born in 1767 in New Kent, Virginia. After the death of her mother Anna Marie, Frances came to live at Mount Vernon where she met and married George Augustine Washington the son of Charles and Mildred. Frances and George Augustine had three children. Anna Marie Washington-Thornton, George Fayette Washington and Charles Augustine. After the death of George Augustine, Frances married her Uncle George Washington’s secretary Tobias Lear.
Friends of Happy Retreat is appreciating a personal donation given to us by a descendant of Charles and Mildred Washington. This sewing machine belonged to Francis Washington, Jr. and his wife Lucy Walters Washington and their daughter Edith Ona Washington Erwin. Francis Washington, Jr. was their great grandson through their son Samuel. Wonderful to have something belonging to the Charles Washington Family. Thank you Janet Miller and son Kenn Miller.