Levy Family Preserves Monticello

By: Marcus Washington
By: Marcus Washington

November 21, 2005

It's one of the most popular tourist attractions in Virginia. Monticello was the home of President Thomas Jefferson, but the home is connected to more than the Jefferson family.

Thomas Jefferson was one of the most powerful men in the United States and to this day is still one of the most admired, but that power nor honor could benefit as he died penniless and in debt.

"Jefferson died $107,000 in debt, which today would be several millions," explained historian Rick Britton.

Jefferson's family inherited the debt, leaving them no choice but to sell most of his belongings, including Monticello.

The first purchaser tried to change Monticello into a silk farm, but that didn't work. So again, Monticello was sold, this time to Uriah Phillips Levy.

"At the time he was a 42-year-old Lieutenant in the United States navy, a Jewish man," said Britton.

Highly respecting Jefferson's stance on religious freedom, which Levy says is the reason he purchased Monticello, Levy was noted as a life long admirer of Jefferson.

"[Levy] purchased a statue of Jefferson and had it donated to the United States government," said Britton.

That statue of Jefferson now stands in the rotunda of the U.S. Capital Building. Levy saw this as a way of taking care of something that he felt was important to the people of the United States, but neither his respect nor admiration could protect Monticello after his death in 1862.

"Though the Civil War had been on for well over a year and he left the property to the people of the United States," said Britton. "And of course in the course of the war it was confiscated by the confederate states government as alien property."

Although the property was no longer in the hands of the Levy family that wasn't the last time the family sought or succeeded ownership of Monticello.

For nearly 80 years, the Levy family stewardship helped Monticello become what it is today--one of the most visited homes in Virginia.

"It was eventually purchased by his nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy," continued Britton.

After repurchasing Monticello back in the Levy family, Jefferson Levy devoted a lot of money into repairing, renovating and restoring Monticello to its original structure.

In 1923 once again Monticello left the hands of the Levy family as Jefferson Levy sold the property to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation.

To for anyone who enjoys Monticello, they can give thanks to the Levy family for their persistence as a large reason why we have Monticello today.

As one of the most visited homes in Virginia, Monticello is the only American home on the United Nations' prestigious world heritage list of structures.

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