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The mountain that Thomas Jefferson named Montalto is a part of the Carters Mountain range,1 and is today sometimes known as Brown's Mountain. It is located about three miles southeast of Charlottesville and south/southwest of Monticello, being separated from that mountain by the "Thoroughfare Gap." Montalto's elevation is 1,278 feet and it rises 410 feet above Monticello.
In 1777, Jefferson purchased 483 acres of land on the mountain from Edward Carter, the second son of John Carter, who had received the land from King George II as his Colonial Secretary. Jefferson never built any structures on Montalto, although he did draw plans for an observation tower there. Following Jefferson's death, the land was inherited by his daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph. In 1832, Montalto was sold to Benjamin Sneed, and subsequently passed through numerous owners.2
In 1905, the land was purchased by James Addison Patterson, who began construction of the house and barns that currently stand on the mountaintop and are based on designs attributed to architect Charles Barton Keen (1868-1931). The house was named "Repose" and, upon Patterson's death in 1931, was bequeathed to Martha Jefferson Hospital, which rented portions of it out.3
In 1950, the property was purchased by Lois and Nelson Brown, for whom it was named for many years. The Brown family renovated the house and made minor additions.4 In the 1950s, the Browns operated a gift shop out of the barn, until it burned in 1959. After that time, the remaining barns were rented as apartments.5 In the early 1970s, the Browns sold the property, which is today owned by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and is once again called Montalto.
1771. Jefferson took steps to acquire the mountain he would call High Mountain or Montalto. In exchange for legal services for Edward Carter (docking the entail of the Carter lands), Jefferson was to receive "as much of his nearest mountain as can be seen from mine, and 100 yds. beyond the lines of sight agreed before Capt. Burton."6
1776 September 15. Jefferson took a barometric reading on the summit of Montalto, in order to calculate its elevation.7
1777 October 17. Jefferson became legal owner of 483 acres of Montalto.8 Instead of docking the entail, Jefferson apparently had to wait for the 1777 Virginia law abolishing entails (which he drafted) before he could obtain title to the land. He paid £190 for it.
1778 November 5. Jefferson considered enclosing 400 acres of Montalto with a stone wall.9
1770s, probably post November 1778. Jefferson prepared several designs for structures planned for the summit of Montalto: observation towers 100' high, a 200' column. None was ever constructed.10
ca. 1800. Jefferson planned improvements to Monticello and Montalto, to include bringing water from the Montalto spring by pipes or a cascade, converting Montalto to "park & riding grounds," and constructing a bridge between the two tracts over the Thoroughfare Gap road.12
1802. Jefferson bought 101.25 acres on the northern boundary of Montalto, for which he paid $419.16.13
1826. Jefferson apparently owned Montalto at his death, when it became part of his estate administered by his eldest grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph.
Primary Source References
1771 March 24. "Charles Carter of Corotoman (Lancaster) v. Edward Carter (Albemarle). Bring petn. for 10,000 acres of land Albem. on South West mountains on the waters of Rivanna and Hardware rivers. Patd. by Carter father of def. This is in order to dock the entail of the lands, for which def. is to give me as much of his nearest mountain as can be seen from mine, and 100 yds. beyond the line of sight agreed before Capt. Wm. Burton."15
1774 October 3. Preliminary survey plat made for Jefferson by Anderson Bryan.16
1776 September 15. Jefferson took barometric observations at two points at Monticello and two points on Montalto ("a spring on the N.E. side of Montalto" and "the top of Montalto"). From these, he calculated the elevation of Montalto as 280 feet higher than Monticello and 792.17 feet above the Rivanna River. The Montalto spring was 30.2575 feet lower than Monticello. Circa 1811, Jefferson recalculated the elevations by a different method — using the same barometric readings — and got 872' 2" instead of 792'.17
1777 October 15. "Left with T. Garth for Edward Carter £90 in part of £190. to which the 483 acres of land I bought of him were valued by N. Lewis & J. Coles."18
1777 October 17. Deed Edward and Sally Carter to Jefferson, for the sum of £190, of 483 acres, part of tract of 9,350 acres granted to John Carter September 28, 1730, and devised by him in fee tail to Edward, who owned it in fee simple after Act of Assembly abolishing entail. Deed gives metes and bounds.19
1778 August 2. "Sent by Dr. Gilmer to E. Carter £104-0-6 in full of my note for the land bought of him."20
1778 November 5. "To inclose all my lands on the S.W. side of the Thoroughfare road following the meanders of the road and in other places following the line would take in about 400 acres of land, & require a fence about 1323 poles long. suppose this to be a dry stone fence 23. I. thick at bottom, 19. I. thick at top & 4 f. 3. I. high. every perch length of such a fence is very nearly 5. perch of work. of course there will be 6615 perch. I think a hand will lay 10 perch of brick work a day having his stone brought into place. one hand then would lay the whole in 661 1/2 days = 110 1/2 weeks = years 2, month 1, weeks 2."21
1778 November 12. "[P]lacing the Theodolite on the top of the house, the Eastern spur of the High mountain intersects the Horizon 19 degrees. Westward of Willis's mountain. note the observation was made on the intersection of the ground (not the trees) with the horizon."22
ca. 1790. "485. acres (0.) part of 9350. acres granted to John Carter by patent bearing date September 28. 1730. who by his will dated and recorded in devised the same to his son Edward in fee tail; who becoming seised in fee simple by virtue of the act of assembly declaring tenants in fee tail to stand seised in fee simple, he sold & conveyed the said 483. acres, part of the said 9350. to Thos. Jefferson by deed dated Oct. 17. 1777. & recorded in Albemarle."23
1796 December 21. "Thos. Garth & James Kerr value the difference in the exchange of the small portions of land between N. M. Lewis & myself at £16-15 boot in his favor." Jefferson acquired 27.5 acres on Monticello's western boundary from Nicholas M. Lewis, in exchange for 12.5 acres of the Montalto tract.24
ca. 1800. "General ideas for the improvement of Monticello.... The spring on Montalto either to be brought to Monticello by pipes or to fall over steps of stairs in cascade, made visible at Monticello through a vista.... The North side of Monticello below the Thoroughfare roundabout quite down to the river, and all Montalto above the thoroughfare to be converted into park & riding grounds, connected at the Thoroughfare by a bridge, open, under which the public road may be made to pass so as not to cut off the communication between the lower & upper park grounds."25
1802 October 5. "Inclosed ... to Gibson & Jefferson ... 2. draughts in favr. Ben. Brown 285.83 Thos. Wells 133.33 which last two are this day made and inclosed to Brown and Wells in full paiment for the lands I bought of them." Jefferson bought two parcels of 61.25 and 40 acres bordering the northern boundary of Montalto.26
1803 August 29. (Jefferson to Richard Morris). "[W]ith this view I have purchased at different times the whole of the mountain adjoining the one I live on, & above the level of the gap uniting them. this circumstance places all it’s growth within command as it is to come down hill to the gap, & then only a quarter of a mile up a gentle ascent. on these considerations I have thought myself obliged to decline every application which has been made me for timber of any kind. without that resource I could not have built as I have done, nor could I look forward with any comfort."27
- 1. The mountain's official name is "Carters Mountain" (although some sources use "Carter's Mountain") as per the current Geodetic Survey.
- 2. Susan Brown Craig, Living on the Mountain: A Memoir (Mechanicsburg, PA: Burnt Tree Press, 2006), 1-2.
- 3. Ibid., 2-3.
- 4. Ibid., 4-5.
- 5. Ibid., 11-13.
- 6. MB, 1:219.
- 7. MB, 1:435-36; Weather Memorandum Book, pp. 58-59, Library of Congress.
- 8. Albemarle County Deed Book, VII:132-33.
- 9. Garden Book, 1766-1824, page 24, by Thomas Jefferson [electronic edition], Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003). Transcription available in Betts, Garden Book, 79.
- 10. Monticello: observation tower, probably 1771, N65-K38; Monticello: observation tower, circa 1771, N66-K39; Monticello: castellated tower, , N93-K64, by Thomas Jefferson [electronic edition], Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003). See also Frederick D. Nichols, Thomas Jefferson's Architectural Drawings, 5th ed. (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society; Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation and the University Press of Virginia, 1984), nos. 65, 66, 93.
- 11. MB, 2:950; Albemarle County Deed Book, XIII:130; Jefferson plat, Nichols, Drawings, no. 517.
- 12. Betts, Garden Book, plate XX.
- 13. Albemarle County Deed Book, I:165-66; MB, 2:1082-83; Jefferson plats, Nichols, Drawings, nos. 518, 519.
- 14. Albemarle County Deed Book, XIX:322-24.
- 15. MB, 1:219.
- 16. Edgehill-Randolph Papers, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library.
- 17. MB, 1:435-36; Weather Memorandum Book, pp. 58-59, Library of Congress.
- 18. MB, 1:452.
- 19. Albemarle County Deed Book, VII:132-33. A clerk's note reads: "Enclosed to Mr. Jefferson the 22d. day of April 1794."
- 20. MB, 1:468.
- 21. Garden Book, 1766-1824, page 24, by Thomas Jefferson [electronic edition], Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003). Transcription available in Betts, Garden Book, 79.
- 22. Ibid. Transcription available in Betts, Garden Book, 80.
- 23. Nichols, Drawings, no. 526, heretofore called Land Roll 1788.
- 24. Albemarle County Deed Book, XIII:130; Jefferson plat, Nichols, Drawings, no. 517.
- 25. Betts, Garden Book, plate XX.
- 26. MB, 2:1082-83; Albemarle County Deed Book, I:165-66; Jefferson plats, Nichols, Drawings, nos. 518, 519.
- 27. PTJ, 41:287. Transcription available at Founders Online.