TNB Night Owl – Monticello’s “Pets”

Monticello, photo by Martin Falbisoner

Consider it a lesson in paying one’s employees.

Jacob Wheeler was hired by Uriah Phillips Levy, the third owner of Monticello, to enact repairs on the famed estate. It had been in modest disrepair during the final years of Thomas Jefferson’s life, but the subsequent owner, druggist James Barclay, had let the place become shoddy.

In 1836, Levy purchased the home and surrounding grounds from Barclay and commenced to restore the property. For fifteen years Wheeler, with some help from Levy, enacted repairs until the home was a reasonable approximation of its former beauty. Wheeler then retained his position as caretaker while Levy – a Naval officer and businessman with holdings throughout the nation – traveled. Wheeler was a conscientious caretaker, ensuring that Levy always felt comfortable when he was able to return to Monticello.

The Civil War began in 1861, and Levy died in 1862, deeding the property to the United States government. It was in Virginia, though, and the Confederacy seized and sold the place in 1864.

None of this mattered much to Jacob Wheeler. After war broke out, Wheeler was unable to be paid by Levy, and in order to make ends meet Wheeler had some… unusual ideas.

Wheeler rented the house out for tours to anyone who would pay. He also devised other ways of making money… such as raising pigs, which were allowed to roam free through the hallways; and raising cattle, which were kept penned in the basement of the mansion.

Many buildings have indoor animals present; they’re typically called pets. Monticello, however, had livestock. (As my wife said, Basement cow!) This alone would be notable, were it not for where Wheeler may have gotten the idea for his small business efforts.

The prior owner, James Barclay, had purchased Monticello specifically to do the same thing. The difference was that Barclay had raised silkworms, adapting the Conservatory for the breeding and care of the insects. That was the reason the mansion had been allowed to fall apart in the first place… insects aren’t known to care about the appearances of things around them.

Question of the night: What’s a historic site you’ve visited?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.