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Park Service in Jefferson Co. could get George Washington family's homes

By DAVE McMILLION
JANUARY 4, 2008
charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - A proposal is being considered to make four historic Jefferson County homes tied to George Washington's family part of the National Park Service, members of the Jefferson County Commission were told Thursday.

Two of the homes are being offered for sale and the owners of the other two have agreed to a study that would examine the feasibility of making the properties part of the National Park Service, said Curt Mason, a Jefferson County resident who has been working on the effort.

George Washington's family had a significant presence in Jefferson County. Charles Town was founded by the first president's brother, Charles Washington.

George Washington surveyed Jefferson County and was so impressed with the beauty and fertility of the land that he bought 453 acres along the South Fork of Bullskin Run along Summit Point Road southwest of Charles Town in 1750 and called it the Bullskin Plantation, said Kit McGinnis, who has been working on the proposal.

That property now known as Rock Hall is one of the four being considered for inclusion in the National Park Service, said McGinnis, land project manager for the National Park Trust.

There was a house on the property that is no longer there, McGinnis said.

The idea to include four Washington homes in the National Park Service was presented Thursday morning to the Jefferson County Commissioners, who passed a resolution in support of the study.

The other three properties are Claymont Court, Blakeley mansion and Happy Retreat.

Claymont Court along Huyett Road south of Charles Town is considered the "crown jewel" among the Washington family homes in the county and the 16,000-square-foot home is classified as nationally significant on the National Register of Historic Places, according to a fact sheet from McGinnis.

Claymont Court was built in 1820 by Bushrod Corbin Washington, a grandnephew of George Washington.

Bushrod Washington's 90 slaves built Claymont Court with its terraced formal garden. The slaves also worked on the plantation, McGinnis said.

The current owner of Claymont Court, The Claymont Society, is interested in selling the property, McGinnis said.

Across from Claymont Court, Bushrod Washington's brother, John Augustine Washington, built Blakeley.

The current owner of Blakeley, Vincent Groh, has the property for sale, Mason said. Mason and McGinnis said they did not know the asking price.

George Washington raised corn, wheat and tobacco at Rock Hall, McGinnis said. A stone tenant house and a springhouse still stand on the property, McGinnis said.

This is the first time in a century that Rock Hall might be considered for sale, McGinnis told the commissioners.

Owners of Claymont Court and Rock Hall have agreed to a study examining the feasibility of including the four properties in the National Park Service, Mason said.

"They have a ways to go before making a decision on a sale. We're approaching that very carefully," Mason said.

Happy Retreat has been the focus of an ongoing purchase attempt by an organization that hopes to make it available for public use.

The current owner of the home along Mordington Avenue, Bill Gavin, has said the property is too much for him to maintain.

Gavin is asking $2.5 million for Happy Retreat. Mason declined to say how much his organization, Friends of Happy Retreat, has raised toward the purchase.

McGinnis said she hopes to get a meeting with staff members in Sen. Robert C. Byrd's office in the next couple of weeks to talk to them about the possibility of a study that would examine the feasibility of including the four properties in the National Park Service.

If the project progresses, Congress could consider awarding funding for the purchase of the homes.

Mason said he does not know how much it might cost to purchase them.

"This is really a great thing," said Commissioner Jim Surkamp, who has studied the Washington family history in the county.