Front entrance to Claymont Court
|Nearest city||Charles Town, West Virginia|
|NRHP reference #||73001908|
|Added to NRHP||July 25, 1973|
Claymont Court, or simply Claymont, is a Georgian-style brick mansion, the grandest of several built near Charles Town, West Virginia for members of the Washington family. The current "Big House" was built in 1840 for Bushrod Corbin Washington, grand-nephew of George Washington, to replace the 1820 main house on his plantation that burned in 1838.
The house was purchased in 1899 by author Frank Stockton, who lived there until his death in 1902. In 1943, Claymont was bought by West Virginia industrialist Robert Joseph Funkhouser, who at the same time bought the adjacent Blakeley and Cedar Lawn, other Washington descendant houses and large properties. He combined the properties into a 7,000-acre (28 km2) estate.
Washington Family era
In the 1700s, the 300-acre (1.2 km2) plot of land on which Claymont stands was owned by John Augustine Washington, the brother of George Washington. With slave labor, George Washington had developed the Bullskin Plantation, the first property he ever owned, a few miles southwest of the Claymont property.
In 1811, George Washington's grand-nephew Bushrod Corbin Washington inherited this land at the age of 21. He built a thirty-four room mansion here, using ninety slaves as workers. Bushrod's brother, John Augustine Washington III, subsequently built the Blakeley mansion 600 yards away facing Claymont. The two brothers married daughters from the Blackburn family and started their own families directly across from each other in the Blakeley and Claymont mansions.
Bushrod finished building Claymont in 1820 for $30,000, a massive sum at the time. The house became known as "Bushrod's folly." After completion, it was the largest house in the area. With later additions to the home, it would become the largest house in West Virginia at 16,000 square feet (1,500 m2) with 59 rooms and 25 fireplaces. Claymont may also be the northernmost example of the Virginia Plantation Style mansion; it had wings, courtyards, and dependencies. Claymont burned down in 1838. Bushrod had recently departed for Richmond, where he was serving his first week as an assemblyman in the Virginia House of Delegates. The fire is believed to have started in the fireplace of the mansion's basement kitchen.
The central part of the mansion was completely rebuilt in 1840, and the remainder restored. Bushrod died in 1851, leaving Claymont to his son Thomas Blackburn Washington. Thomas died in 1854, leaving the estate to his eldest son Bushrod Corbin Washington II.
The Civil War was devastating to the Washington family, many of whom had taken refuge at Claymont. During the war, two of the young men of the house, including Thomas Blackburn Washington's youngest son James Washington, were officers in the Confederate Army under John Singleton Mosby. He was conducting raids north into Kentucky and Ohio.
Both of the young men were captured in Claymont Court during Christmas furlough (holiday leave) by Union Army troops led by George Custer. As an example of the close history among some officers, he had been a roommate of one of the Washington men when they were both cadets at West Point military academy. The Washington men were taken to a Union prison camp, where they both died. The camps were rife with disease due to overcrowding and poor sanitation; people did not know how to handle these conditions. As punishment to Claymont estate for "harboring guerrillas", General Sheridan ordered all of the cattle driven off the land (except for one milch cow) and every fence surrounding the estate's Clay Mound farm burned down.
After the Civil War, the reconstructionist government demanded payment of back taxes for all of the years that the Washington family had paid taxes to the Confederacy rather than the Union. Like many other families, the Washington family were short on cash, struggling with agricultural decline, and could not pay the taxes. By 1871 the family was forced to sell Claymont estate for the modest sum of $10,000 (a third of what it cost to build). Most of the family moved to the Pacific Northwest and the territory of Washington, which was not admitted as a state until 1889.
After the Washingtons vacated Claymont, the property changed hands a number of times. As the mansion and larger estate was unoccupied for a few years at a time, the property began to deteriorate due to reduced maintenance, and the farming operations halted. Claymont operated as a self-sustaining farm, differing from plantations in the deeper American South, which had been based on producing commodity crops. Claymont produced almost everything the inhabitants used. Before the Civil War, the owners held nearly one hundred slaves as well as a couple dozen free workers to accomplish all the work.
Because of Claymont's size, it was an expensive operation to keep up. The transition to the use of free labor, especially during decades of continuing decline in the agricultural market, made it difficult for owners to make enough revenue to keep the estate operational.
Owners after the Washington Family
After the Washingtons sold the property, there were a number of successive owners of Claymont:
- 1871-1886: Clement March
- 1886-1889: Charles Dawson
- Dawson hired William A. Bates, an architect from New York City to redesign the mansion, enlarging it significantly. Both the ballroom wing and the dining room wings were enlarged to their current size of 32x36 feet. A second story was added to both wings, which included bedrooms and bathrooms.
- 1889-1906: Frank R. Stockton
- Stockton was a popular author at the time and wrote three books while residing at Claymont. He is best known for his short story "The Lady, or the Tiger?".
- 1906-1943: Col. S.J. Murphy
- 1943-1972: R.J. (Raymond Joseph) Funkhouser (1885-1965)
- Funkhouser was a prominent West Virginia industrialist who owned or controlled 18 companies, including numerous businesses and manufacturing concerns in the state. He retired at 50, and purchased and restored several old Washington homes of Jefferson County. He bought Cedar Lawn, Blakeley, and Claymont and combined them into one 7,000-acre (28 km2) property (the estates are all contiguous). Funkhouser used Claymont as his private residence. The grounds and gardens were meticulously tended during this period.
- 1972-1975: J. Glenn Brown
- Brown had purchased Blakeley Mansion. (He was the son of DuPont executive J. Thompson Brown.) He and his family lived at Blakeley from 1954-1979. He sold Claymont along with 418 acres to the Claymont Society in 1975. The deed of sale included easement restrictions that preserved the property from development.
- 1975–present: The Claymont Society for Continuous Education
Of the eight remaining Washington family homes in Jefferson County, Claymont is considered the grandest. At 16,000 square feet (1,500 m2), it is also the largest. In 1973, Claymont was added to the National Register of Historic Places, a US government list of buildings and structures deemed worthy of preservation.
Today, Claymont operates as a non-profit retreat center run by The Claymont Society for Continuous Education. Its members focus on the systematic philosophical and psychological teachings of John G. Bennett. While Bennett was alive, Claymont operated as a nine-month Fourth Way school focused on his specific teachings, which dealt with techniques of self-reflection, self-development, and spirituality, a systems discipline called Systematics, and achieving a sustainable relationship with nature. After Bennett's death in December 1974, the nine-month basic course project continued for a few years under the direction of Bennett's students but was eventually discontinued.
Claymont was adapted to be used as a non-profit retreat center for many different spiritual groups, healthcare professionals, meditation groups, environmental groups, professional dancers, and more. Its residential rooms were retrofitted with showers; utilities were updated for hot water, electricity, natural gas, and wifi. The mansion proper serves as the retreat center.
The non-profit maintains a strong focus on organic farming, buying local, and sustainability. Claymont hosts WWOOFers to work on the grounds and help with local agriculture in exchange for free food and lodging. A nearby 450-foot (140 m) cattle barn has been converted into a conference center. In addition, much of the estate grounds are currently maintained, including the front and rear mansion lawns. The old gardens, however, which were damaged in a storm, have proven too difficult to maintain. They are not in use.
The Claymont Society for Continuous Education advocates strongly for Claymont Court's continuing physical restoration. Claymont has received grant money for restoration through the 1772 Foundation, Save America's Treasures, Jefferson County Commission, and individual donations. The Claymont Society works in tandem with the National Park Trust to lobby for continuing preservation grants.
Among recent restorations, the mansion has a completely rebuilt second-floor veranda, new support beams for the main ballroom, and new window seals and gutter systems. The mansion can still be considered under restoration, though it is fully operational with all utilities.
- National Park Service (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- Ted McGee (June 26, 1973). "National Register of Historic Places Nomination: Claymont" (PDF). National Park Service. Archived from the original (pdf) on February 3, 2013.
- "R.J. Funkhouser", Libraries, West Virginia University; accessed 20 October 2018
- "R.J. Funkhouser, Industrialist, 79, Dies", New York Times, 11 March 1968; accessed 20 October 2018
- Bushong, Millard K. (1941). A History of Jefferson County, West Virginia. Jefferson Publishing Company.
- "The Claymont Society for Continuous Education". Claymont Society for Continuous Education. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
- Fairbairn, Charlotte J. (1946). Washington Homes of Jefferson County. Whitney & White.
- Official website
- Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) No. WV-13, "Claymont, Summit Point Road, Charles Town vicinity, Jefferson County, WV", 4 photos