Monday, February 20, 2017

Edgehill and “Boxbriar Cottage”

Edgehill, with “Boxbriar Cottage” in the background, in the summer of 1995.
Photo by Susan Brubaker Knapp.

When Rob and I moved from Lexington, Kentucky, to Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1992, we lived for four years in a small house on a large estate known as Edgehill. Our landlords lived in Edgehill, and rented us what they referred to as “the cottage” and we called “Boxbriar Cottage” because it was surrounded with boxwood, some almost 20 feet tall. It is ridiculous how much we loved this place. It wasn’t just that we were young and in love, soon to be engaged and married. It was a charmed place. You could feel how special it was the minute you stepped on the grounds. 

According to most sources, the cottage was built in 1799, so it was close to reaching its 200th birthday when we moved in. The big brick house was built in 1828 by Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph (1772-1836), and her husband, Thomas Mann Randolph Jr., and then by their son, Thomas Jefferson Randolph (1792-1875). Martha died in this house in 1836. It was rebuilt in 1916, after a fire gutted the interior. But the outer walls are original.  

Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr.
Artist unknown
Martha Jefferson Randolph
Portrait by Thomas Sully
Thomas Jefferson Randolph
Portrait by Charles Wilson Peale

In the early 1990s when we lived there, Edgehill had a large lawn, with a non-working swimming pool, and many massive mature tulip poplars. Some of them were fitted with cables to protect them against lightning strikes while we were there.

A peahen named Emily wandered the grounds. Her mate, Percy, had been killed by an owl before we arrived on the scene, and our landlords were very protective of her. She often was in my garden or around Boxbriar cottage, and when they were away, we were charged with feeding her (cracked Carr’s water crackers, quartered grapes, and walnuts). Behind Edgehill, the land drops off, and there was a pond. There were heavy woods around the structures, and we often saw deer, skunks and foxes.

In front of the house was a clearing surrounded by boxwood, with brick-lined beds in a rectangular shape, with a path and a circular bed in the middle, where Percy was buried. When we moved in, the garden was filled with grass and weeds, and I spent many weekend mornings out there weeding and planting. I often wondered how old the beds were, and what the gardens had looked like then.

Spring 1993

Summer 1995 or 1996
Summer 1995 or 1996
Edgehill, seen through the garden in front of the cottage.

The main structure was two rooms downstairs, with a fireplace in the wall between the two rooms, and two upstairs, with dormer windows. It had a porch that ran the length of the house, with three glass doors leading inside from the porch. There was an outdoor staircase from the room we used as a bedroom, probably added later as a fire escape, and at some point, a small wing was added to the back. Downstairs, it housed a kitchen, and upstairs, two full bathrooms and a laundry room. (The washer once leaked so badly that water poured through the kitchen light fixture downstairs.) The photo below shows the main entrance into the kitchen, in the new wing.  The roof, which was asphalt shingle when we first moved there, was replaced with a solid copper roof and downspouts in the summer of 1995. Behind the kitchen was a stone-walled patio.

We moved out in 1996, when Rob was offered a job at The Charlotte Observer. I remember sobbing as I drove away. How we loved this place!

Our cat, Beans, in the kitchen window.
Probably on the lookout for Sneaky Snake,” a very large blacksnake that patrolled around the house. 

These photos show the path from the gravel parking area, through the boxwoods, to our door. We had a major blizzard one year, with about a foot of snow, and lost power for something like four days. I pulled out my grandmother’s Dutch oven and cooked over a wood fire in the fireplace.

Here’s the road from our gravel parking area down the hill on a frosty morning:

Edgehill, winter 1995
Rob walking down the drive, winter 1995

Rob and I on the porch – summer 1993

Stone outside Edgehill reads: This Property was owned by Thomas Jefferson, to whom it was left in his father's will, dated July 13, 1757.

Marker outside Edgehill

Beyond our small gravel parking area was a pasture with horses, and it was close enough to Interstate 64 that you could sometimes hear the traffic. This was where we cut down a cedar for our Christmas tree each year.

Photo of Edgehill from the National Park Service website, showing the “Chinese lattice railing” that was gone by the time we lived in the cottage.

From the National Park Service website (

“In view of Monticello, Edgehill was the home of Thomas Jefferson Randolph, favorite grandson of Thomas Jefferson. The stately brick house was built for Randolph in 1828, his family having outgrown the 1799 frame house built for his father, Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., husband of Jefferson's daughter Martha. The house was designed and constructed by the University of Virginia builders William B. Phillips and Malcolm F. Crawford, who continued the Jeffersonian style into the antebellum period. Specific Jeffersonian features are the Tuscan porch with Chinese lattice railing and the Tuscan entablatures. In 1829 Mrs. Thomas Jefferson Randolph opened a small school in the 1799 dwelling, which had been moved a short distance to make way for the present house. The school was continued by her daughters until 1896. The main house was gutted by fire in 1916, but was sympathetically rebuilt within the original walls. Edgehill is located north of Shadwell on State Route 22 and just north of its intersection with I-64, over one mile east of Charlottesville. It is a private residence, and is not open to the public.”


The Edgehill Plantation Historic Marker reads:

The land was patented in 1735. The old house was built in 1790; the new in 1828. Here lived Thomas Mann Randolph, Governor of Virginia, 1819-1822, who married Martha, daughter of Thomas Jefferson.


From the Monticello website (

“Edgehill was the plantation of Martha Jefferson Randolph and Thomas Mann Randolph, and later the chief residence of their eldest son, Thomas Jefferson Randolph. The land was part of a Randolph family inheritance of 2,400 acres near Shadwell belonging to Thomas Mann Randolph's father, Thomas, Sr. When Thomas Jefferson's daughter married Thomas Mann Randolph in 1790, they moved to Edgehill, although the family often stayed at Monticello. The original house was built around 1799. The family lived there until a second, larger home was built by Thomas Jefferson Randolph in 1828. In 1836, the family opened up a small girls' school known as the Edgehill School, which ran in some form until 1896.[1] In 1916, the original house was gutted by fire, but later rebuilt.


  1. Mary Randolph Brown McAdie, addendum to The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville, Va.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1939), 374-9.

Further Sources

This is Jefferson’s plan for the house, which I found on the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website (
Edgehill: house (plan and elevation), before 1798
by Thomas Jefferson
Identification numbers: N6; K170
28.2 cm x 20 cm (11-1/8" x 7-7/8")
(Massachusetts Historical Society photo)
My husband proposed to me in the garden in front of Boxbriar Cottage. When we married, I made him this watercolor as a wedding gift:

From the Encyclopedia Virginia

Martha Jefferson Randolph (1772–1836)

Martha Jefferson Randolph was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson and the wife of Thomas Mann Randolph, who served as governor of Virginia from 1819 to 1822. She grew up at Monticello and spent time in Williamsburg, Richmond, and Philadelphia before accompanying her widowed father to Paris, France, where she attended the Abbaye Royale de Panthemont, a prestigious convent school. After she returned to Virginia, she married and bore twelve children, eleven of whom survived to adulthood. Although she was the daughter of a president, the wife of a governor, and arguably the most highly educated woman in Virginia, Randolph's life was in many ways representative. Widely admired for her intelligence, sociability, and conversational skills, she was an exemplar of genteel white womanhood who was said to possess a "perfect temper" and who immersed herself in the trials and joys of marriage, motherhood, and plantation life. Randolph and her children lived mainly at Monticello, although her husband owned the nearby plantation Edgehill. Occasionally during her father's presidency, and throughout his retirement, she acted as hostess. Her presence reinforced Jefferson's image as a devoted family man with a stable domestic life, though fulfilling this role in her father's life may have exacerbated her already strained marriage. Both father and husband struggled and ultimately failed to remain solvent. After their deaths in 1826 and 1828, respectively, Randolph lived with her married children. She died at Edgehill on October 10, 1836.

The “Edgehill portrait” of Thomas Jefferson by Gilbert Stuart is thus named because it once hung at Edgehill.

The “Edgehill” Portrait of Thomas Jefferson

May 18, 1989 – May 1, 1992
Portrait Gallery
8th and F Streets, NW
Washington, DC
Location: 2nd Floor, Rotunda
The painting of American president and gentleman scholar Thomas Jefferson was painted by renowned American artist Gilbert Stuart. The Edgehill portrait--which once hung at Edgehill, the Virginia residence of one of Jefferson's great-granddaughters--is jointly owned by the Portrait Gallery and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in Charlottesville, Va. The portrait goes on view alternately at the gallery and the foundation for 3-year periods. In 1902, the portrait was sold to a distant relative of Jefferson who lived in Scotland. Finally, in 1927, the portrait was returned to America.

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