Here is how the story goes: Every 'Hoo down in 'Hooville Liked College a lot.
But the Grinch,
Who lived just above C-ville,
Just to the west of Grounds, a house sits on Lewis Mountain overlooking the University. Its conspicuous presence has caused rumors and legends to develop over the years. One of the most widespread myths claims that Massachusetts resident Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss was an an Albemarle County resident who lived in the house or that it is the home of the Grinch who stole Christmas in Geisel's famous tale. Although many University myths surround the house, it plays a significant role in the Charlottesville community.
Known locally as the Lewis Mountain house or Kearny's House, after its first owner Brig. Gen. John Watts Kearny, the construction was completed in 1909 by local architect Eugene Bradbury. According to Architecture Prof. Richard Wilson, Around this time, Bradbury also built several University buildings, such as St. Paul's Church on the Corner, the Women's Center by the railroad tracks and a few others off Rugby Road, including what is now the Alpha Delta Pi sorority house, built in 1915.
Bradbury used local granite and hand-cut stone from the mountain to construct the mountain house. The landscaping was designed by Warren H. Manning, a famous landscaping architect from Boston. He also planned out the two-and-half-mile driveway that twists its way up the mountain, according to a 1974 article in The Cavalier Daily by Robert Husbands.
Throughout the house's lifespan, no owner ever attended or was affiliated with the University. The first owner, Kearny, lived in the house from its construction in 1909 until his death July 29, 1933. Educated in Europe, trained at West Point and a graduate of Columbia Law School, Kearny served in the Kentucky legislature as well as the National Guard in New Jersey, according to Husbands's article. His lineage furthered his prestige. Gen. Philip Kearny, his father, was a Civil War hero with personal ties to Gen. Robert E. Lee, despite Lee's devotion to the Confederacy and Kearny's to the Union. Philip Kearny was also the first American to receive the cross of the Legion of Honor from France. His grandfather, Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny, was a famous general who conquered parts of New Mexico and California, according to Husbands's article.
After Kearny's death, the house was purchased for approximately $50,000 by a monastic order named the Society of the Precious Blood. During their residency, the monks built a vineyard on the property. The house served as not only an oasis and retreat from the temptations of society but a "training ground for priests" as well, the article said.
In 1950, the house was purchased by J. Deering Danielson, an international lawyer. His stay lasted less than a year before Danielson sold the house to Thomas Campbell, a New York lawyer and South Carolina native, according to a University Journal article by Andrea Dickens. Campbell attended Yale in the early 1920s, where he briefly held the world record in track for the half mile. He later attended Columbia Law School, the same graduate choice as previous owner, Kearny, according to Husbands's article.
Campbell lived in the house with his wife, Julia, and two sons, Everett and Courtenay and, despite rumors, had no relation to the Campbell's Soup Company. While living there, he added his own personal touches, even installing a telescope in order to watch baseball games on Lambeth field. He also imported Italian mantels to decorate the house's interior. Campbell designated part of the mountainside as a park, according to Husbands's article.
After Mr. Campbell's death in 1971, Mrs. Campbell retained ownership of the house. In the years following her husband's death, she did not grant public interviews, saying the house was privately owned and a no trespassing zone.
"Students use the road to the summit as a running trail, and area high school students enjoy the area as a favorite 'parking' place," Leeny Kelly wrote in a 1979 article for The Declaration.
According to fourth-year College student and University Guide John Moran, tour groups often assume the house is Monticello, but Jefferson did not build Monticello overlooking the University. The Lewis Mountain house "was put on the hill to dominate, not to be a Monticello replica by any means," Wilson said. "Although it has Jeffersonian ideals and architectural details, it was certainly not any attempt to be a Jeffersonian replica."
Moran said each U-Guide puts their own personal touches into a tour, but he sticks with the story of Dr. Seuss. According to Moran, Geisel applied but was not accepted to the University, and he built the house overlooking 'Hooville. In turn, Moran said this inspired his book "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Another U-Guide fable is that a Virginia Tech alumni built the house in order to look down on the University.
Wilson mentioned another common misconception about the house.
"It's believed that a University student, kicked out for an honor offense, returned successful and rich to build this house overlooking the University," Wilson said.
The quiet nature of the owners and residents of such a visible landmark allow Lewis Mountain to be surrounded by a rich air of mystery. While its history is available to those who wish to discover it, the house's presence stretches the community's imagination and lets students believe in a Grinch whose heart was once two sizes too small.
-- Becca Garrison contributed to this article.
Articles care of the Albemarle County Historical Society: Kelly, Leeny. "No, This isn't Monticello." The Declaration. Vol. 7 no. 13. 9/27/79: Dickens, Andrea. "Legend shrounds Who-ville house." University Journal 9/9/91: Husbands, Robert. "Fictitious legends, rich history surround mysterious hill house." The Cavalier Daily. 4/19/74.