Because it was built in phases by different owners during different architectural periods, Happy Retreat presents special challenges to historic interpretation and restoration. It is believed that the original house that Charles Washington built in 1780 consisted only of the two wings. When built, each wing was one and one half story tall with a gabled roof. Some accounts of the house say the two wings, which face each other, were connected by a “breezeway,” but no one is sure what that means or whether it is true.
Judge Isaac Douglass bought the property in 1837. He built the central portion of the house and added the second stories to both wings.
In the 1940s, extensive termite damage in the east wing required that that section of the house be completely gutted and rebuilt. In the 1950s, the east wing was again extensively remodeled. So there is virtually no original interior fabric left in that wing. The central chimney and fireplaces have been removed, the configuration of the rooms has been substantially altered and a new staircase built. We are fortunate to have the architectural records that document some of these alterations. Because it has been so substantially modified, this wing will not be a priority for restoration.
The central portion of the house has not been significantly changed since it was built by Judge Douglass. Other than the addition of bathrooms, the floor plan and interior detail remain the largely the same as they were when he lived there. We will attempt to identify original paint colors, wall treatments and other details during the restoration process.
The two rooms on the first floor of the west wing will be the main focus of restoration and interpretation. It appears that Charles built the front room first and then added the back room. The back room was converted into a kitchen in the 20th century. The front room was used as a dining room. The historic structure report will help us determine what each of these two rooms looked like when Charles Washington lived at Happy Retreat and perhaps how they were used. We plan to restore both rooms to the way they looked during Charles’s lifetime.