Friends of Happy Retreat announced recently that it has received a major gift to fund the purchase of Happy Retreat, the historic home of Charles Washington, younger brother of George Washington and founder of Charles Town. The donation comes from Dr. Taylor Fithian and his wife Margie. Dr. Fithian, spent his boyhood in Charles Town. His parents were Taylor and Avis Funkhouser Fithian. His grandfather was R.J. Funkhouser, who in the 1940s bought and restored Happy Retreat and three other Washington family homes in Jefferson County. Dr. Fithian and his wife live in Monterey, California, but recently bought and restored Cedar Lawn, another Washington family home near Charles Town, where they now spend much of their time. The Fithian’s gift, made in honor of the entire Fithian family, R.J. Funkhouser and the legacy of the Washington family in Jefferson County, showcases another generation of leadership that follows in the footsteps of the Washingtons and R. J. Funkhouser.
Friends of Happy Retreat was established in 2006 for the purpose of acquiring and restoring Happy Retreat as a center for culture and history for Charles Town, Jefferson County, and beyond. In December, 2014, the City of Charles Town and the non-profit Friends of Happy Retreat agreed to work together to purchase the 12 acre Happy Retreat property, owned by the Gavin family, who have been stewards of the estate for a generation. The City agreed to purchase 10 acres of land which it will include in a planned linear park along Evitts Run in Charles Town’s West End. Friends of Happy Retreat agreed to purchase the house, historic outbuildings, and the two acres of remaining land. With this major milestone of acquisition reached, the Friends of Happy Retreat can progress into the effort to restore the Happy Retreat estate as a center for community events, heritage tourism, arts and culture, and scholarship. The Happy Retreat grounds will also connect to existing City of Charles Town park and recreational lands, as part of an overall Charles Town initiative to revitalize the community’s west end.
Friends of Happy Retreat launched a fundraising campaign in January co-chaired by Dr. Wallace Boston, CEO of American Public University System, and by Dr. Taylor Fithian. American Public University led the effort with a lead gift of $150,000. The campaign has now succeeded in raising over $725,000 in pledged contributions from individuals, families and supportive organizations, which will be used for the acquisition, restoration and operation of Happy Retreat. Fundraising will continue with the goal to raise an additional $1.3 million for full restoration and $150,000 for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the property. Walter Washington, president of Friends of Happy Retreat, said he is overwhelmed by the Fithians’ generosity. “We are profoundly grateful to Dr. and Mrs. Fithian for making the acquisition of Happy Retreat possible. Their extraordinary gift will allow us to go forward with our plans to make Happy Retreat a center of cultural life for Charles Town and a showpiece of our town’s important history.” He also thanked Charles Town Mayor Peggy Smith and the City Council, and Dr. Boston and American Public University for helping to make the purchase possible. “The City’s decision to take part in this project, with Mayor Smith’s leadership, was a game changer. It would not have worked without the City’s participation,” Washington said. “Dr. Wally Boston has stepped forward many times over the years to help our community move forward. American Public University’s lead gift of $150,000 was a crucial vote of confidence to get our fundraising campaign underway, which has resulted in other valued supporters and organizations making their own contributions. We are very grateful for all that Dr. Fithian and Dr. Boston have done for us in leading this exciting Happy Retreat campaign.” Washington also thanked the National Trust for Historic Preservation which has worked closely with Friends of Happy Retreat since it began in 2006. “The Trust has provided us invaluable advice and support over the years, and especially during our current fundraising campaign to save this American treasure,” he said. “I also want to give special thanks and recognition to the Gavin family who have been so wonderful to work with over the years,” Washington said. “Without the enthusiasm and patience of Bill and Mary Gavin and their family, this could never have happened.” “Finally, on behalf of the Board of Friends of Happy Retreat, I want to thank all of the wonderful friends and supporters here in the community and beyond who have had faith in us,” Washington said. “Without their support over the last 9 years, we could not have gotten to where we are today. For more information about historic Happy Retreat and the effort underway to restore it as a community center, see http://happyretreat.org/donate.html, or contact Walter Washington at 304.725.8832.