Mansion with ties to George Washington up for sale

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A 12-acre estate in the Eastern Panhandle with ties to President George Washington's family is up for sale.

Happy Retreat was started more than 230 years ago by Charles Washington, the founder of the city of Charles Town and the brother of George Washington. Bill Gavin bought the property in 1968. He died in 2010, and no one currently lives there.

Real estate agent Gary Gestson said Gavin's family wants to sell the property to someone who appreciates its historic significance. The asking price is about $900,000. The two-story home on the property has eight bedrooms and five bathrooms.

"It's time to get it in the hands of a steward who can take it to the next level," Gestson said. "It needs to be lived in, cared for and enjoyed. It needs stewardship in the way that only someone who is living there can do."

Charles Washington is credited with founding Charles Town. In addition to using his own name for the town, he honored members of the Washington family by naming its streets after them. The city of 6 square miles is about 70 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. It eventually became the seat of Jefferson County.

Charles Washington left Fredericksburg, Va., and started building the home in 1780. He lived there until his death in 1799. Gestson said George Washington's diaries mention his visits to Happy Retreat.

"George Washington did sleep there on many occasions, and in his diaries he talked about sleeping in the pink room, which is actually the bedroom above the dining room. It's no longer pink. It's basically in the same condition as when George Washington was there. I think most people would feel kind of a chill went down their neck when they step into that bedroom."

There's been a good amount of interest from potential buyers from the Washington area. While any buyer can do as they wish, "the person who's going to be interested in it is going to be by nature the type of person who would care for and respect a house like this," Gestson said.

"You can spend close to $1 million on a lot of homes in and around Charles Town or in West Virginia," he said. "This one, it's unique. You're walking in the footsteps of giants there. I think anybody who would be interested in a property like this is going to be the right type of person. The sellers are going on faith."

In 2003, Gavin told a City Council meeting he could no longer maintain the property and wanted the city to convert the house into a public museum or preserve the overall property as green space. Gavin said a friend questioned his decision to acquire the house, saying it would be "just too much for you to keep up. He was right."

According to the local preservation group Friends of Happy Retreat, the estate was built in three phases. The final phase began in 1837 after Judge Isaac Douglass bought the property, resulting in the addition of second stories to the two wings and the completion of a central portion connecting them.

Gavin asked $2.5 million for the property when he tried to sell it in 2008. Friends of Happy Retreat had tried to raise money in an attempt to acquire it.

A representative for the group didn't return a telephone message seeking comment.