Dear Ace: If you’re at UVA, what’s that big house you can see across the way from Newcomb Hall? It looks highly historical. —Fool on the hill
Fool: That’s not saying a whole lot, huh? Throw a rock south of Forest Lakes and you’re bound to do some property damage on something that’s "highly historical," even if it’s just that "Dave Matthews used the bathroom here" brand of historicity. But the house you’re referring to does look mighty stately. What is the place? Ace spoke with Phi Trinh, historian of UVA’s guide service, to get the answer.
Lewis Mountain House was built by the son of the One-Armed Devil—a.k.a. Civil War General John Watts Kearny.
First, Ace can tell you what it’s not. It’s not Monticello, as many a doofus tourist believes it to be. It’s also not Dr. Seuss’ house. That particular rumor started in correlation with the rumor that How the Grinch Stole Christmas‘ "Hoos down in Hooville" was based somehow on a certain local university’s Hoos down in Hooville. Only problem being that Theodor Geisel—a.k.a. Dr. Seuss—spent his whole life in New England, Europe and California, and his "Hoos" were actually "Whos down in Whoville." The fact that the story depicts Hoos/Whos as absolute saints surely didn’t hurt that particular tall tale’s traction with a student body that’s not exactly known for its modesty and perspective.
The Fake Monticello (Non-ticello?)-cum-Fake Grinch Manor (Seuss Heuss?) is in fact the Lewis Mountain House, or Kearny’s House, an estate built in 1909 for Brigadier General John Watts Kearny, the son of Philip Kearny, a once legendary but now largely forgotten Union general in the Civil War known as the One-Armed Devil. The younger Kearny occupied the house until his death in 1933. Then it became a monastery for a couple decades. The Society of the Precious Blood grew wine grapes and trained priests there until 1950, when it passed through the hands of lawyer J. Deering Danielson before reaching its final owners, the Campbell family. Thomas Campbell, a New York lawyer, died in 1971, and his wife has shut the house off to the public ever since. Remember those goofy tourists wandering up to the place, thinking it’s Monticello? Word is, Julia Campbell’s dogs are trained to sniff out just that sort of naïveté. Imagine coming halfway across the world to see the World Heritage Site, only to be greeted with a not-so-Jeffersonian pitbull. Ace does not like that in a house; Ace does not like that with a mouse.