Jefferson Monroe Levy : biography
Jefferson Monroe Levy (April 16, 1852 – March 6, 1924) was a three-term U.S. Congressman from New York, a leader of the New York Democratic Party, and a renowned real estate and stock speculator.
In 1879 at the age of 27, he took control of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home. His late uncle Uriah P. Levy had purchased the property in 1834, several years after Jefferson's death. Like his uncle, Levy spent a considerable part of his fortune in having Monticello and its grounds restored and preserved. In 1923, the property was purchased by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (then known as the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation), a privately established group formed to purchase and operate Monticello as a memorial. It has since operated the site and mansion as a house museum. The Levy family privately protected the National Historic Landmark for nearly a century because of their regard for Thomas Jefferson and on behalf of the American people.
Marriage and family
Jefferson Levy never married; his mother and a sister acted as hostesses during his stays at Monticello.
Levy died in New York City in 1924. He was interred in Beth Olom Cemetery, associated with the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Brooklyn, near his uncle Uriah Levy.
Legacy and honors
- George Burroughs Torrey painted Levy's portrait.
- He restored and preserved Monticello, now designated a National Historic Landmark; and restored Town Hall in Charlottesville.
- After 1985, when Dan Jordan became president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, he arranged to honor the Levy family - uncle and nephew- at Monticello for their roles in preserving the mansion. Jordan had Rachel Levy's gravesite restored, and the Foundation commissioned a monograph that recognized the contributions of the family and was published in 2001.
- 2001, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation published The Levy Family and Monticello, 1834-1923: Saving Thomas Jefferson's House, a history of Jefferson and Uriah Levy's contributions. That same year, Free Press/Simon & Schuster published Marc Leepson's Saving Monticello: The Levy Family's Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built.
Jefferson Levy's uncle Uriah P. Levy, the first Jewish commodore (highest rank at the time) of the US Navy, had bought Monticello and some related property in 1834. He had spent much money to restore and preserve the house and grounds, which he used as a summer retreat. During the American Civil War, the Confederacy took control of the property. After the war, the lawyers of Levy's estate regained it for his heirs. In 1879, after buying out the other heirs of his uncle Uriah P. Levy for $10,050, Jefferson Levy took control of Monticello (formerly the plantation of Thomas Jefferson).
When Jefferson Levy took over, the grounds had been reduced to 218 acres. During his tenure, he bought 500 acres to add to the complex. The house and grounds were in severe disrepair due to the overseer Joel Wheeler's lack of care, and lengthy lawsuits among the heirs after his uncle's death. Levy spent hundreds of thousands of dollars repairing, restoring and preserving Monticello, work led by Thomas Rhodes, his on-site superintendent. Levy regularly spent four months a year at the estate and became active in Charlottesville. In 1880 he paid for the restoration of the Town Hall, originally built as a theater, and named it the Levy Opera House. He allowed visitors to see the house Monticello, sometimes getting as many as 60 per day.
Beginning about 1909, Maud Littleton, the wife of New York Congressman John Littleton, started a campaign to have the U.S. Congress buy the mansion and property, and turn it into a government-run monument to Thomas Jefferson. Part of her campaign was heated. Dismayed by newspaper articles that belittled Jefferson Levy's ownership (Levy was also a Congressman from New York at the time), the Albemarle Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in November 1912 unanimously adopted the following resolution:
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