"John Watts Kearny (1845-1933) was the son of Gen. Philip Kearny, a hero of the Mexican War and a spirited commander early in the Civil War. The senior Kearny was mortally wounded in the Battle of Ox Hill (also known as Chantilly) in Fairfax County in 1862. Kearny’s great uncle was Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny, who during the Mexican War conquered much of the northern Mexico territory that later made up most of the states of the American southwest. Although John Watts Kearny served in the Union Army, his rank of brigadier general was later conferred on him by the New Jersey legislature for his service in that state’s national guard. A descendant of a wealthy New Jersey family, Kearny had Albemarle County connections through his mother, a grandniece of Gen. George Rogers Clark, “Conqueror of the Old Northwest,” and his brother, the explorer William Clark. In 1894, following the death of his first wife, Lucy McNary of Princeton, Kentucky, Kearny moved to Europe with his oldest son, John Watts Kearny, Jr. Kearny hoped the trip would help reform his son’s alcoholism. Later, while visiting relatives in Kentucky, Kearny met Elizabeth Montgomery Harrison (died 1921), who was related to various prominent Virginia families. They were married in 1898 in an Episcopal ceremony held in the Albemarle County residence of Mrs. Green Peyton.
"Using the sizable fortune inherited from his father, Kearny followed up in his early vow to establish his home on Lewis Mountain. He purchased the 152.16-acre tract from Kenneth Brown in 1909. That same year, Kearny commissioned Charlottesville architect Eugene Bradbury (1874-1960) to design what would become one of the area’s most stately and conspicuous landmarks. A native of Arlington County and a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, Bradbury studied architecture at the Corcoran Scientific School of Columbia University, predecessor of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He later worked in the offices of several Washington architects, including that of Waddy B. Wood, an accomplished designer of fine residences and government buildings in the spirit of the American Renaissance. Bradbury established his own practice in Charlottesville in 1907. With the proximity of the University of Virginia and Monticello, much of Bradbury’s work would be informed by Jeffersonian classicism.
"Lewis Mountain was one of Bradbury’s earliest Charlottesville commissions and was his most ambitious. Though he designed an impressive number of houses for the region, none would be as large or so grandly appointed. Most of his later commissions were for less assertive residences for local professionals, including doctors, lawyers, and merchants. Like many of the second generation American Renaissance architects, Bradbury worked in a variety of styles such as American colonial and Mediterranean. Several of his Charlottesville houses show the strong influence of the English Arts-and-Crafts architect Charles F.A. Voysey. Among Bradbury’s designs that exhibit the influence of Jeffersonian classicism is the 1925 St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church facing the university grounds. Here Bradbury employed a tetrastyle Roman Doric portico very similar to that used earlier on Lewis Mountain. Bradbury left Charlottesville for Upperville, Virginia in 1930 and worked for a time for the Historic American Buildings Survey. Just before his death in 1960 he donated his drawings, including those for some thirty-seven Charlottesville area commissions, Lewis Mountain among them, to the University of Virginia’s Alderman Library.
"With his Lewis Mountain scheme, Bradbury, among other things, provided an architectural backdrop for the university campus. The motive for this may have come about through consultation with landscape architect Warren Manning, who was designing a campus master plan for the university at the time. Thus it is not coincidental that Manning was engaged by John Watts Kearny to draft the landscape layout for Lewis Mountain. The site allowed Bradbury and Manning to play on Jefferson’s romantic concept of placing a temple-like edifice atop a mountain. The fact that Kearny’s mansion is so visually prominent from the university has caused generations of university students and visitors to mistake it for Monticello. Although Jefferson’s home overlooks the university and Charlottesville from its elevated site to the east, Monticello is much farther away and difficult to see. Kearny apparently referred to his own mountaintop estate as Onteora, after a mountain in the Catskills where the Kearny family had an estate."
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