“Ask us in a year,” is the answer to most questions about Happy Retreat, questions such as, “When was the stone kitchen built?” or, “Is this an original window?” or, “What was this room used for when Charles Washington lived here?” We are just beginning to unravel the complicated history of the house. Early on, we were fortunate to have Matt Webster, who is now Director, Grainger Department of Architectural Preservation at Colonial Williamsburg, help us estimate the history of the construction of the house and outbuildings. His diagram showing the phases of construction is reproduced elsewhere in this newsletter.
Now we are beginning to peel away some of the layers, both inside and out, that will reveal the details of when the different sections of the house were built, what they looked like and how they were used. We have hired the consulting firm of Maral Kalbian, LLC, from Berryville, Virginia, to prepare a historic structures report on the house. We envision the report to be an ongoing project which will be carried out in phases over the years.
Restoration and investigation of an old house really never ends. New details are always being discovered. A visiting expert in architectural history may spot a feature that has never before been noticed or may offer a different perspective on something previously thought settled.
Archaeology will also help us understand the history of the house. In 2006, we had a Phase 1 archeological survey of the entire 12.3 acre property done by Dr. Charles Hulse of Shepherd University. That survey provided an overview which we will use as a guide for further, more detailed studies.
Our job as the stewards of the house is to move slowly and carefully with the restoration. I think often of my father, Dr. John Washington. I can’t help but suspect that as a physician, the Hippocratic injunction – “First, do no harm” – guided his painstakingly careful restoration of Harewood, the home of Charles’s brother Samuel. The restoration of Happy Retreat demands the same standard of care.