In order to build Monticello, Thomas Jefferson needed limestone for making mortar. In May 1770, limestone operations began simultaneously with brick construction on Monticello's south pavilion. Initially, Jefferson obtained limestone from lands owned by others. In his miscellaneous accounts, he recorded in July 1770 that William Beck had worked "22 days 8 nights raising and burning lime at Nelson's."1
By the following year, Jefferson was ready to acquire his own limestone land. On March 29, 1771, he recorded in his account book:
Purchased of Robert Sharpe one acre of limestone land on Plumb Tree branch otherways called Scale’s creek to be laid off as I please, under these restrictions. I am not to enter his fence on the South side of the road, nor to include his spring on the N. side the road. I give him 40/3 for it. Watt Mousley present at making the bargain.2
Eighteen months later, Jefferson made a second purchase, recording in his account book: "Pd. Robt. Sharpe in full for the lands at the Limestone quarry 45/."3 On October 3, 1773, a deed was drawn up transferring the two parcels from Sharpe to Jefferson for a total amount of four pounds five shillings, including the amount paid in 1771. The two transactions combined would make the four acre tract that Jefferson referred to in his land-roll of 1810: "4. [acres] Limestone quarry on Plumb tree branch, purchased by Th: J. of Robert Sharpe, being part of 400. acres patented by Crawford."4 On these four acres, Jefferson quarried the stone necessary to produce the lime used for mortar in the construction of both the first house and the second house at Monticello.
A further reference to this property is an account book entry dating from March 30, 1796, wherein it is noted that Robert Sharpe was paid "4.D. in full for his claim of land on the N. side the 3. notchd. road adjoing. my limestone land."5 Neither the land-roll of 1810 nor the deed transferring the limestone lands to Abraham Holly when they were sold by Jefferson in 1821, indicates that additional acreage had been purchased as suggested by the 1796 account book entry.6
Jefferson's four acres of limestone land, which he described as being on Plumb Tree Branch north of Three Notch'd Road, have been located on the upper reaches of what is now called Limestone Creek where it intersects Route 250. The land is part of the Everona Formation, which runs as a narrow band from Fauquier County to the Hardware River in Albemarle County, averaging about 100 feet wide. It is the only source of concentrated limestone east of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Central Virginia.7 Jefferson described this vein of limestone in his Notes on the State of Virginia.8
Jefferson owned one other tract of limestone land, which he purchased from his brother, Randolph Jefferson, and for which there is a deed dated April 1796.9 Jefferson added this tract to the 1794 land-roll describing it as: "66 2/3 [acres] Limestone. an undivided sixth of 400. acres on waters of Hardware. patd. by Philip Mayo. Sep. 1. 1749."10
The phrase "undivided sixth of 400. acres" referenced a 1753 purchase made by Jefferson's father and five other gentlemen for 17 pounds. A clue to the location of this land is given by Jefferson in a letter to Mary Stith in which he wrote: "mr Stith then held Edgehill about a dozen miles on this side of the tract, and the Barringer’s creek estate, 8. miles on the other side. my father held the lands I live on adjoining Edgehill, and those my brother holds, 10 miles on the other side, to whom the share in the Limestone tract was given."11 It is not known when, if ever, Jefferson quarried limestone on this land.
1. Beck was probably working on Robert Nelson's land in the North Garden area of Albemarle County on the south fork of the Hardware River. Although the limestone band does not run through that part of the county, there is scattered surface limestone, perhaps in sufficient quantities to make it profitable to produce limited quantities of lime. Robert Nelson sold his North Garden property to James Powell Cocke shortly after the termination of the American Revolution. The exchange of land comprised 1,600 acres. It was here that Cocke built his home, Edgemont.