Treasures from the Archives
"Moss-Covered, Dilapidated, and Criminally Neglected": 1862-1879
After Thomas Jefferson's death in 1826, Monticello was purchased by a local man, James Barclay. In 1834 it was purchased by Uriah P. Levy, an admirer of Jefferson, who kept the property in good repair. Just before Levy's death in 1862, Monticello was seized as enemy property by the Confederate government. In the following years, Monticello had no steady owner and declined due to indifferent upkeep. One visitor in 1870, Wilburn Waters, described Monticello as "moss-covered, dilapidated, and criminally neglected." It was during this period that the first photographic images of Monticello were taken by Charlottesville photographer William Roads. The images were taken circa 1870, and possibly as early as 1867.
Top: East Front, by William Roads, ca. 1867-1870 (Accession #15428, Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.).
Bottom: West Front, by William Roads, ca. 1867-1870 (Accession #15428, Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.)
"Moss-Covered, Dilapidated, and Criminally Neglected": 1862-1879
This photo, also from the 1870s, shows tourists on Monticello's east front. Note the broken windows and shutters, and the weeds growing from the gutters and roof.
Tourists on Monticello's East Front, ca 1870s. Alderman Library, Unversity of Virginia. Photo print in Monticello Architectural Image Collection, Jefferson Library.
Jefferson Monroe Levy Period (1879-1923)
In 1879, Uriah Levy's nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy, was finally able to purchase Monticello at auction after a long legal battle. Levy (1852-1924) was a successful three-term New York congressman, businessman, and lawyer.
J.M. Levy hired a new caretaker, Thomas L. Rhodes, and spent the next twenty years rehabilitating the house and grounds. The success of those efforts are clearly visible in these period images.
Left: Jefferson Monroe Levy, ca. 1910-1915. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.
Right: Monticello Parlor, 1914. Photographed by Harris and Ewing. Architectural Image Collection, Jefferson Library.
Jefferson Monroe Levy Period (1879-1923)
J.M. Levy welcomed visitors to Monticello, sometimes dozens in a single day. This photo of a local family enjoying their visit includes a sign with rules for tourists: “Visitors allowed in the grounds twenty minutes. Do not pull or break the shrubbery. No lunching on the grounds.”
One visitor was Maud Littleton, the wife of a New York congressman. Dissatisfied with Levy's ownership of Monticello, she launched a public campaign to force Levy to sell the estate to the federal government.
Although Levy stood firm for years and rebutted Littleton's unjust accusations of selfishness and neglect of Monticello, the financial consequences of World War I and overwhelming public pressure eventually forced him to list Monticello for sale in 1919, for the sum of $500,000.
L-R: Visitors Mona Smith Miller, Lillian Smith Sparks, their mother Cordelia Cross Smith, and James Harvey Miller, of Charlottesville, taken by Charles Barber Sparks at Monticello, ca. 1914-1915. Architectural Image Collection, Jefferson Library.
A New Foundation
Between 1910 and 1920, a number of groups organized to try to raise funds to purchase Monticello, including the National Monticello Association (Washington) and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association (Richmond). In 1923, Stuart G. Gibboney, a lawyer from Wytheville, Virginia, drew together a remarkable number of friends and political associates to form the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation (TJMF) in New York. The Foundation incorporated on Jefferson's birthday, April 13, 1923, with its first object being "to purchase, preserve, and maintain Monticello...as a national memorial."
The TJMF purchased Monticello in late 1923 for $100,000 cash, and mortgages totaling $400,000. The property purchased included “certain tracts of land, together containing six hundred and fifty acres, more or less, known as Monticello and containing the historic home of Thomas Jefferson.”
Upper right: First page of the Constitution of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1923. TJF Archives.
Bottom left: Survey of property purchased by Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, May 1923.
In the early years after the TJMF acquired Monticello, a major focus was paying off the $400,000 in debt it had taken on – the equivalent of nearly $7 million dollars in 2023. The TJMF and its supporters planned dozens of fundraising events, from "pilgrimages" to essay contests and dinners to donation campaigns collecting "patriotic contributions" from children across the nation.
A contribution of $100 made by students and teachers at the Jefferson School, New Orleans, November 1923. TJF Archives.
In the summer of 1927, Monticello was illuminated by what was said to be the largest search light in the world. The light was erected by the Virginia Public Service Company on top of the Monticello Hotel located on Court Square in Charlottesville, three miles from Monticello. The "Jefferson Beacon Light" attracted a great deal of press and publicity.
Upper right: "Monticello, the Home of Thomas Jefferson. Photograph taken at night by aid of 'Jefferson Beacon Light' three miles away," 1928. Monticello Picture Postcard Collection. TJF Archives.
Lower left: "Monticello Hotel, Charlottesville, Virignia" postcard showing the searchlight on the roof. ca. 1928-1950. TJF Archives.
In 1940, after almost two decades of dedicated effort, the TJMF finally paid off its mortgage. In this photo, Stuart G. Gibboney, President of the TJMF (second from left), hands the final mortgage check to W.S. Hildreth, President of the People’s Bank of Charlottesville. On the far right is Thomas L. Rhodes, the superintendent of the Monticello property, who had worked as the property manager under J.M. Levy.
Photograph, 1940. TJF Archives.
The Furnishing of Monticello
The house remained sparsely furnished for some time after it opened to the public in late 1923, because of the pressing need to focus money and resources on paying off Monticello's mortgage. Two figures who were instrumental in the effort to restore and interpret Monticello were Fiske and Marie Kimball.
Fiske Kimball, an architectural historian and director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was asked to chair Monticello's restoration committee in 1924. He had already made a name for himself with his 1916 publication, Thomas Jefferson Architect. His wife Marie was also a scholar, who went on to publish dozens of books and articles on Monticello, Jefferson, and decorative arts. She was named Monticello's first curator in 1944 in recognition of her work.
Fiske and Marie Kimball's decades of careful documentary research on Monticello's structure and furnishings set the standard for curatorial work at Monticello which has been carried through to the present day.
Rright: Monticello Dining Room, ca. late 1920s, Holsinger Studios. University of Virginia. Note sparse furnishings. Architectural Image Collection, Jefferson Library.
Left: Marie and Fiske Kimball at Colonial Williamsburg, ca. 1945 (Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives)
In late 1923, Monticello saw its first visitors as a house museum, welcoming just over 200 people. Visitation grew to over 20,000 people the following year.
The TJMF hired two local Black men, Benjamin Carr and Oliver Johnston, to guide these visitors through the house. Soon, other Black men were also hired to act as guides. Most of these men had deep roots in the area. One had even been born on the property, a member of the Coleman/Henderson family who had staffed Monticello's gatehouse for decades. The guides worked with a succession of white hostesses, who greeted guests at the door, took tickets and assigned them to a guide. In 1951, the TJMF board decided to reverse the roles of the hostesses and guides, employing young white women to guide visitors through the house and relegating the men to ticket-taking.
Upper left: Ticket stub/donation slip handed out to visitors, ca. late 1920s. TJF Archives
Lower left: Photograph of Robert Sampson, Thomas Rhodes (superintendent), William Page, and Benjamin Carr. TJF Archives.
Right: A guide discussing the Great Clock in the Entrance Hall, ca. 1960s. TJF Archives.
Restoring "a rich spot of earth"
In 1926, the Garden Club of Virginia appointed a committee to assist the TJMF in restoring Monticello's gardens and landscape. In 1939, this collaboration resulted in a full restoration of Monticello's West Lawn, followed by the East Lawn and approaches to the Jefferson family graveyard. Three figures who were key in these efforts were Susanne Williams Massie and Hazlehurst Bolton Perkins of the Garden Club of Virginia, and Professor Edwin Morris Betts of the University of Virginia. They were assisted by Garland A. Wood, a young landscape architect with his family's Richmond firm, T.W. Wood & Sons. Perkins and Betts published the first edition of Thomas Jefferson's Flower Garden at Monticello in 1941.
Left: Bed planting plan by T.W. Wood & Sons for Garden Club of Virginia, October 1940. TJF Archives.
Right: "MONTICELLO – West Front. Showing recently restored gardens." Published by the Albertype Co., Brooklyn, NY, ca. early 1940s. TJF Archives.
"Putting up and pulling down"
When the Foundation acquired Monticello in 1923, certain repairs were required almost immediately – specifically the replacement of the roof. Later restorations, overseen by Fiske Kimball and Charlottesville architect Milton Grigg, began in 1938 with the rebuilding of the north dependencies, and the restoration of the south dependencies in 1941. By the 1950s, major structural repairs and updates to the house were needed: reinforcement of the floors, installation of modern heating and air conditioning, a partial restoration of the roof and dome, and the removal of dormers added by J.M. Levy and installation of skylights.
Top: Workmen removing the parquet parlor floor in order to reinforce the subfloor. Monticello Restoration Department collection.
Middle: Milton Grigg (center) during roof restoration. Monticello Restoration Department collection.
Bottom: Arch in library with exposed floor joists. Monticello Restoration Department collection.
"Putting up and pulling down"
In the early 1990s the TJMF, under Director of Restoration William Beiswanger, undertook a full restoration of Monticello's roof in returning it faithfully to Jefferson's original design – Beiswanger remarked that it was "probably for its time the most complex roof on a house in North America."
Monticello's West Front during the 1991-1992 roof restoration. Monticello Restoration Department image collection.
"Unearthing the landscape"
The earliest research by TJMF staff focused on documentary research to reinterpret Monticello mansion and its furnishings. It wasn't until the 1950s that substantial attention was given to other methods of gathering information about the mountaintop and its residents, such as archaeology. In 1955, James A. Bear, Jr. took on the mantle of curator after the deaths of Fiske and Marie Kimball, and he soon embarked on an excavation of Mulberry Row, where many members of Monticello's enslaved community had lived and worked. Assisting him was Oriol Pi-Sunyer, a young anthropology student originally from Catalonia.
Left: Artifact drawings, by Mary Caperton Bear. From Archaeological explorations at Monticello along Mulberry Row, by Oriol Pi-Sunyer and James A. Bear, Jr. (1957). TJF Archives.
Right: Site of joinery with chimney on Mulberry Row prior to excavation. From Archaeological explorations at Monticello along Mulberry Row, by Oriol Pi-Sunyer and James A. Bear, Jr. (1957). TJF Archives.
"Unearthing the landscape"
After a hiatus of some years, a broader series of excavations were begun under William Kelso in 1979, and have been ongoing since then. Currently, the Monticello Archaeology Department, under Fraser Neiman, is in the final stages of its Plantation Archaeological Survey, which attempts to provide a complete inventory of the unique archaeological resources by digging shovel test pits to locate possible excavation sites. Each dot in this map of the survey represents a single pit.
Overview of Monticello Plantation Archaeological Survey. Archaeology Department.
"the great birthday of our republic"
Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote in 1803 of the importance of "the great birthday of our republic." Since its founding in 1923, the TJMF has faithfully held July 4th celebrations, including a number involving United States presidents. In 1936, Monticello hosted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, followed by Harry S. Truman in 1947.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt speaking on the West Portico, July 4th, 1936. TJF Archives.
"the great birthday of our republic"
In 1963, the TJMF combined its Independence Day festivities with a naturalization ceremony on the West Lawn and an address given by Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, the Prime Minister of Australia. Since then, the naturalization ceremonies
Over the past 60 years, almost 4,000 people from all over the world have sworn their oaths of American citizenship on Monticello's West Lawn.
Left: "Jefferson Oration," by Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia, given at the first annual Independence Day and Naturalization Ceremony at Monticello, July 4th, 1963. TJF Archives.
Right: New citizens, July 4th, 1988. TJF Archives.
"a decent respect to the opinions of mankind"
In 1987, Monticello and the University of Virginia were jointly awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. Monticello is the only U.S. presidential home on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
One of the reasons the nomination gave for the international significance of Monticello and the University was their value as symbols of “the universal values of the new republic, the United States, and those of the rest of humanity who aspire to freedom and self-determination.”
In 2013, the Board of Supervisors of Albemarle County, where Monticello is located, officially recognized the benefits that 25 years of the UNESCO designation had brought to the community.
Left: UNESCO World Heritage Convention brochure, 1980. TJF Archives
Right: Recognition from Albemarle County Board of Supervisors of the 25th anniversary of Monticello/UVA's designation and its benefits for the community. TJF Archives.
New Departments and Programs
In 1985, James A. Bear, Jr. retired and his mantle was taken up by historian and professor Daniel P. Jordan. Under Jordan's leadership as President, the Foundation established a number of new departments and programs.
One of the first of these was the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants (CHP), founded in 1986, which collects, preserves, and distributes historic and native plant varieties and strives to promote greater appreciation for the origins and evolution of garden plants. The CHP published an annual newsletter Twinleaf. In addition to the barn, gardens, and greenhouse, the CHP is also home to the Leonie Bell Noisette Rose Garden.
Other new departments included the Education Department (1986), the Research Department (1987), Development and Public Affairs (1988), Restoration (1988), the International Center for Jefferson Studies (1994), the Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series (1998), and the Jefferson Library (2002). The Foundation also launched a semi-annual newsletter in 1990, now Monticello Magazine.
Left: An early issue of the CHP's annual newsletter, Twinleaf. TJF Archives.
Above right: The first issue of the Monticello Newsletter, Summer 1990. TJF Archives.
Above: Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at Tufton, with barn and greenhouse framework, circa 1986-1987. TJF Archives.
A More Complete Story
Like many historic sites, early interpretation and tours at Monticello focused almost exclusively on the life of Thomas Jefferson, and decorative arts and architectural features in the house. In the 1980s, Lucia "Cinder" Stanton and other historians at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation began efforts to tell a more complete story. These efforts took shape in the early 1990s. In 1993, Monticello began hosting Plantation Community Weekends and giving Plantation Community tours, which illuminated the lives and work of enslaved people at Monticello. In 1996, Stanton published the first book-length treatment of the subject of slavery at Monticello. In 1998, when DNA testing revealed a connection between Thomas Jefferson and descendants of Sally Hemings, the TJMF formed a committee to examine the body of evidence on the subject, and produced a report determining that Thomas Jefferson likely was the father of Sally Hemings's children. Controversial at the time, this conclusion has come to be widely accepted by scholars, and has informed the Thomas Jefferson Foundation's interpretation ever since.
Cover of Slavery at Monticello by Lucia Stanton, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1996.
A More Complete Story
In 1993, the Getting Word African American Oral History Project was founded by Stanton and Dianne Swann-Wright, director of African-American Special Programs at Monticello, and historian and project consultant Beverly Gray. The Getting Word project seeks to collect oral histories from the descendants of Monticello's enslaved community, not only to learn about the lives of those who lived and labored at Monticello, but about its legacies through the generations of their descendants.
Left: Dianne Swann-Wright, Beverly Gray, and Lucia "Cinder" Stanton, founders of the Getting Word African American Oral History Project, 1990s. TJF Archives.
Right: Getting Word participant gathering, June 1997. TJF Archives.
"a more general diffusion of knolege"
The TJMF has a long history of supporting scholarly initiatives. In 1958, it established the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professorship at the University of Virginia (UVA), with Professor Dumas Malone as the first appointee. The TJMF also began to fund UVA graduate student stipends, tuition, and graduate fellowship program in history and political science. In 1994, the TJMF established the International Center for Jefferson Studies, with Douglas L. Wilson as its first director. The Center began hosting research fellows in 1995, and hosted its first conference in 1999. Renamed the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies in 2004, the Center has hosted over 500 scholars from 32 countries, and comprises the departments of Archaeology, the Getting Word African American Oral History Project, Historical Research, the Jefferson Library, and the editorial operations of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series.
Left: Staff and supporters at the dedication of the new International Center for Jefferson Studies, November 1995. TJF Archives.
Right: Feasibility Study for the Renovation of Kenwood, Hartman-Cox Architects, April 1997. TJF Archives.
A Whole New World Wide Web
Changing times bring new technology and tools. With the advent of the World Wide Web, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation saw a new opportunity to share its scholarship with an even wider audience. The Foundation launched its first website on February 19, 1996. Other websites, databases, and projects followed, including: the Getting Word website, which provides information on the families enslaved at Monticello, and audio files and transcripts of interviews with their descendants (1997); the Monticello Explorer, an online virtual tour featuring 3D modeling techniques (2005); the Plantation Database, containing information about all known people enslaved by Thomas Jefferson (2006); the Thomas Jefferson Wiki (later renamed the Encyclopedia), 2007; and the Monticello Classroom (2007), which provides information for students and teachers. Today Monticello's website reaches over 2.6 million unique users from all over the world, and we engage our virtual visitors through many digital channels, including livestreams and podcasts.
Left: Monticello webmaster Chad Wollerton accepting a Webby award for the Monticello Explorer, June 2006. TJF Archives.
Center: Homagepage of Monticello's first website, 1996.
Right: Homepage for The Thomas Jefferson Wiki (later Encyclopedia), 2007.
"as much of his nearest mountain as can be seen from mine"
As Charlottesville and Albemarle County have grown more populous, the TJMF has looked toward preserving the views that Jefferson would have known, by acquiring and protecting land that was once part of the Monticello plantation. In 1989, the TJMF began working with the Trust for Public Land to preserve its viewshed; the following year the Trust produced a report making recommendations regarding land acquisition and conservation easements. One of the most important subsequent projects was the Thomas Jefferson Parkway, begun in 1996, which protected the approach to Monticello and established the two-mile Saunders-Monticello Trail leading up to Monticello. In 2004, the TJF* reached an agreement with Mountaintop Land Trust to purchase neighboring Montalto, which rises 400 feet above Monticello. This photo showing Montalto (with trees and open fields) as seen from Mulberry Row demonstrates how dominant it is when looking south-west from Monticello.
* The TJMF was renamed the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 2001
Photograph of Montalto from Mulberry Row, TJF Archives.
Protecting Monticello's Viewshed
In all, the Foundation now cares for approximately 2,600 of Jefferson's original 5,000 acres; more than 1,400 of that land is protected by conservation easements. These maps created by the Archaeology Department show the boundaries of land owned by Jefferson (top left) and the land owned by TJF (bottom right)
Restoring the Mountaintop
By the late 20th century, the appearance of Monticello's mountaintop had acquired a number of modern features, and lost many features that would have been present in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some additions were deemed necessary or acceptable by the preservation standards of the time, such as parking lots, and modern heating, cooling, and fire suppression systems. For the last few decades, however, TJF has looked toward establishing a more historically accurate appearance.
Aerial photo showing bus parking, ca. 1970s. TJF Archives
Restoring the Mountaintop
In 2013, the movement towards a more historically accurate appearance culminated in the Mountaintop Project, a five-year effort to restore Monticello as Jefferson knew it and to tell the stories of the people — enslaved and free — who lived and worked at Monticello. Funded by a transformational gift from David M. Rubenstein and other generous donors, this wide-ranging effort included dozens of projects, from the updating of Monticello's electrical and heating and cooling systems, to the reinterpretation of Jefferson's private suite, to recreating the homes of the enslaved on Mulberry Row.
Upper right: Mountaintop Project Summary, from Mountaintop Project Summary, June 2018. TJF Archives.
Upper left: "Before" photo of Martha Jefferson Randolph's room circa 2011, from Mountaintop Project Summary, June 2018. TJF Archives.
Lower right: "After" photo showing Martha Jefferson Randolph's room in 2018, from Mountaintop Project Summary, June 2018. TJF Archives.
Remembering the Past, Looking Towards the Future
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation has celebrated many milestones in its 100 years. In 1926, the TJMF was heavily involved in America's 150th anniversary celebrations, hosting events and even sponsoring a commemorative trip to Europe. The bicentennial in 1976 was another banner year, with events all year long and a visit from Queen Elizabeth II.
Now, even as we celebrate our centennial, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation looks ahead to the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 2026, even as we prepare for another century of bringing history forward into national and global dialogues.
Left: "America's Birthday Party to Europe 1926. Under the Auspices of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation," brochure, 1926. TJF Archives.
Center: "New Trip for the Historic Gig of Jefferson," photograph, 1926. TJF Archives.
Right: Photograph of Queen Elizabeth at Monticello as part of a Bicentennial state visit, July 1976. TJF Archives.
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