Sky's the limit: Castle Hill could set record

After Monticello, Castle Hill is probably the most famous property in Albemarle County. And like that presidential icon, Castle Hill's history is inextricably entwined with Thomas Jefferson and other revolutionary heroes. Now on the market, it's poised to make another kind of history: If it sells anywhere near the asking price of $24 million, Castle Hill will be the most expensive real estate transaction in Albemarle County.

Every school child in Virginia is familiar with the story of Jack Jouett's famous ride in 1781 to save Jefferson, then Virginia's Governor, and members of the legislature from imminent capture by the British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton.

Perhaps not so well known is the legend that it was the fetching mistress of Castle Hill– Mrs. Thomas Walker– and her delectable breakfast that kept the British general occupied while Jouett whipped his steed over the mountain to warn Jefferson to flee.

More recent history has been just as exciting in a 21st century sort of way. The current owners of the estate, Jane and Gardner Larned, have assembled at the farm "some of the finest Angus genetics in the world," according to Charles Rosson, extension agent for Planning District 10.

After purchasing a cow named "Woodhill Evergreen 120" from a farm in Viroqua, Wisconsin, for $200,000, the Larneds and farm manager George Hibbert had her cloned to maintain the genetic line. Although Woodhill Evergreen 120 has died, her clone is due to have a calf (presumably by traditional methods) this spring, Rosson says.

In between the Revolutionary War and cloned cows, Castle Hill has been the site of other excitement. To the original clapboard house that Thomas Walker built in 1764, Landon Rives, Robert E. Lee's godfather, added a brick wing in 1824. Those two dwellings, joined by a connecting hallway, constitute the current Castle Hill manor house.

Rives' writer daughter, Amilie, published a short story in the Atlantic in 1886, then married "Russian prince" Pierre Troubetzkoy, in 1896. They are buried on the estate.

In 1986, Castle Hill was back in the news when Las Vegas crooner Wayne Newton entered into a contract to purchase the house and 1,182 acres for $2.55 million– and then backed out.

"He was going through a divorce at the time," says local agent Frank Quayle, who was a listing agent for the seller, Mrs. Audrey L. Bird. "Settlement issues became involved, and it was inadvisable for him to own property."

Mrs. Bird was unsuccessful in her attempt to keep Newton's $100,000 good-faith deposit. The singer claimed that the presence of a graveyard on the place– holding the remains of the Walkers and Troubetzkoys, among others– would interfere with his development plans.

Today Castle Hill and its 1,582 acres are available to the first buyer who shows up with $24 million. It's unclear whether Woodhill Evergreen 120's clone and her new baby convey. Maybe they're negotiable.

Castle Hill is the place Wayne wanted.