cover image SAVING MONTICELLO: One Family's Epic Quest to Rescue the House That Jefferson Built

SAVING MONTICELLO: One Family's Epic Quest to Rescue the House That Jefferson Built

Marc Leepson, . . Free Press, $25 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-0106-3

In this excellent account of Monticello's ownership after Thomas Jefferson's death, Leepson, who has written for the New York Times, Preservation and Smithsonian, turns the spotlight on a family that contributed to the preservation of history but heretofore went unnoticed. When Jefferson died in 1826 his enormous debt (even by today's standards) forced his heirs to sell the beloved estate. Unfortunately, James Turner Barclay, a Charlottesville, Va., druggist who paid $7,000 for it, let the house decline during the few years he owned it. In 1834 the house was purchased by U.S. Navy Lieutenant Uriah Phillips Levy, a wealthy, bold, passionate admirer of Jefferson who quickly poured money into its repair. Thus began this Jewish-American family's nearly 90-year proprietorship of Monticello. After being briefly appropriated by the Confederacy during the Civil War, it again landed in the hands of a Levy, Uriah's nephew Jefferson Levy. Monticello became a kind of surrogate child for this extremely successful, unmarried businessman and sometime politician. When the patriotic New York socialite Maud Littleton began her campaign to make Monticello a government-owned shrine in 1911, the battle that ensued in Congress and the newspapers was as emotional as any child custody battle, but more compelling for the dynamic lives and personalities involved. Through extensive research and with fascinating detail, Leepson uncovers the facts surrounding Monticello's owners and preservation—involved are great wealth, patriotism, anti-Semitism, and social and political influence. Leepson's absorbing account is an overdue chronicle and homage to the national treasure and its memorable saviors. (Nov.)