U.Va.'s Morven Farm is Open Saturday for Garden Week

April 15, 2009 — The University of Virginia's Morven Farm will be open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for tours for Virginia Historic Garden Week.

The farm was a charter property featured in the inaugural Historic Garden Week in 1929, and has been open for every Garden Week since. This year, for the first time in decades, the tour will include access to the first floor of the Morven main house, recently restored and refurnished by the University of Virginia.

Tickets are $20 per person, and $5 for children under 12. Tickets can be purchased at Morven on Saturday, or in advance at three locations in Charlottesville: the Boar's Head Inn (front desk), the New Dominion Bookshop on the Downtown Mall, and at Crème de la Crème in the North Wing of the Barracks Road Shopping Center.

Tickets are no longer available through the Garden Club of Virginia Web site.

All ticket proceeds are used to restore and maintain gardens throughout Virginia, including U.Va.'s Pavilion Gardens.

On Tuesday, April 21, several other University of Virginia sites, including the Pavilion Gardens and Carr's Hill will be open for Garden Week. (No tickets required.)

History of Morven Farm

In 2001, businessman and philanthropist John W. Kluge gave Morven Farm and a constellation of other nearby farms totaling 7,378 acres, then valued at $45 million, to the University of Virginia Foundation to be used for educational and charitable purposes, while maintaining the character of a traditional Albemarle County estate. Kluge retained a life estate and residence on the property until 2006.

Since then, the University has been renovating the main house and several of the more than 35 buildings on the 749-acre Morven core property, making improvements for handicap accessibility; upgrading and modernizing plumbing, electrical and communications systems; and widening roads for shuttle bus access, said Stewart Gamage, who directs the University's efforts to adapt Morven for future use.

Located less than three miles south of Monticello, the Morven property's intriguing history, including its purchase in 1796 by Thomas Jefferson on behalf of his protégé and "adoptive son" William Short, has led to the property being designated both a national and Virginia historic landmark.

Land encompassing today's Morven Farm was part of a 10,000-acre royal land grant to William Champe Carter in 1730. A 1,334-acre section of the Carter family patent was called "Indian Camp," presumably in reference to a Native American settlement located in the vicinity. When Jefferson purchased the tract for William Short in 1796, he wrote to Short:

"I bought the Indian camp for you because you have expressed some partiality for our neighborhood and climate, because there are no lands in this state of equal fertility and equal advantages as cheap as ours ..."

Short served as private secretary to Jefferson during his term as U.S. minister to France from 1785 to 1789. Upon Jefferson's departure, Short took a leading role in the American legation in Paris, and went on to serve as U.S. minister to Holland and to Spain in the 1790s, becoming America's first career diplomat.

In 1790, Alexander Hamilton entrusted Short with the negotiation and management of European loans to fund the public debt of the United States. Presaging later investment successes that eventually made him a millionaire, Short managed to procure debt financing for the young nation at rates comparable to those offered to the Holy Roman Empire.

Unlike James Monroe – his College of William & Mary classmate, friend and fellow Jefferson protégé – Short ultimately declined Jefferson's entreaties to settle near Monticello and pursue a domestic political career. An extended love affair with a French noblewoman kept Short in Europe until 1802, but the countess ultimately refused his marriage proposals. He eventually settled in Philadelphia.

In Short's absence, Jefferson managed the property, renting small plots to a number of tenant farmers. They utilized crop rotation methods developed by Jefferson to restore the soil from the detrimental effects of tobacco and corn crops.

Jefferson deeded the property in 1813 to David Higginbotham, a leading merchant at the nearby port of Milton on the Rivanna River, from whom Jefferson purchased groceries and supplies shipped from Richmond on flat-bottomed batteaux.

Higginbotham renamed the property "Morven," a Scottish word meaning "ridge of hills," and began building the main house in 1820, relying upon a design by regional architect Martin Thacker that combined a late Georgian pattern with Roman Revival features. The house remains one of Virginia's important examples of Federal-style architecture. Typical of many early 19th-century country houses of the Piedmont, its design is conservative and the decoration fairly restrained.

After the property changed hands a couple of times, Charles and Mary Stone acquired Morven in 1926 and soon engaged distinguished landscape architect Annette Hoyt Flanders to restore the ornamental gardens. The gardens remain today largely as Flanders designed them in the 1930s, one of the few intact gardens from that period anywhere in the world.

The gardens form a series of distinct rooms, ranging in style from Colonial Revival to a semi-formal garden. Thousands of tulips, pansies and forget-me-nots, together with lilacs, wisteria, spireas and deutzias, dominate the spring show of flowers.

Morven became a renowned stud farm in the middle part of the 20th century under the direction of Whitney and Anne Stone, heirs of Charles and Mary Stone. Hall of Fame racehorse Shuvee, winner of the 1969 Filly Triple Crown, was stabled at Morven, and her remains are buried on the property.

Kluge acquired the property in June 1988. Four years later, he commissioned a team of Japanese landscape architects and Charlottesville landscape architect Will Reilly to transform a former red clay ravine below Morven's formal gardens into a world-class, four-acre Japanese garden and tea pavilion, using ancient techniques and local materials. Some 50 plants indigenous to Japan and America were incorporated into the landscape. Unfortunately, the garden can only handle a handful of visitors at a time, and has never been open for Garden Week visitors.

Morven's landscape includes woodlands, pastures, croplands, gardens, an orchard and thousands of tree and plant specimens. The grounds contain a number of unusual trees, including a pair of century-old Osage oranges, the state champion Chinese chestnut and a dove tree.

— By Brevy Cannon