Castle Hill farm with Walnut Mountain in the background.
Castle Hill Castle Hill farm with Walnut Mountain in the background. © Mary Porter

Places We Protect

Castle Hill and Walnut Mountain


Protecting water quality in the Rivanna River watershed.


Late on June 3, 1781, having discovered a surprise British raid, Jack Jouett set off on a perilous 40-mile ride from Cuckoo Tavern to Charlottesville. Captain Jouett galloped through the night, reaching Monticello around dawn to warn Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other Virginia legislators meeting there. Jouett arrived several hours ahead of the British, and the patriots eluded their would-be captors.

Alerted by Jouett, Dr. Thomas Walker helped secure their escape. Walker, the legend goes, delayed Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s 180 dragoons and 70 mounted infantrymen at Castle Hill. A noted western explorer, Walker had settled in the Southwest Mountains near Charlottesville and built his Castle Hill home in the 1760s.

Politician and diplomat William Cabell Rives married into the Walker family in 1819 and expanded Castle Hill Manor. His granddaughter Amélie, who earned fame as a novelist and playwright, occupied Castle Hill until 1945 with her husband, Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy of Russia. Rumors persist that Amélie’s spirit, or perhaps that of another female descendant, continues to dwell there.

It was the specter of development, however, that led former owners Ray and Stewart Humiston to write The Nature Conservancy into the latest chapter of Castle Hill’s rich history. Their donation of a conservation easement to the Conservancy ensures that development will be permanently restricted on the 1,203-acre farm.

They also donated 345 adjoining acres that, combined with 33 acres donated by a neighbor, created the Conservancy’s Walnut Mountain Preserve. The landowners donated another conservation easement to Albemarle County on these 378 acres.

Together, these easements enhance Albemarle’s efforts to preserve its rural heritage. At Walnut Mountain, the Conservancy will work to restore old-growth forest and ultimately use the preserve as a demonstration site where landowners can learn about managing for old growth.

The Castle Hill and Walnut Mountain projects complement the Conservancy’s ongoing work to protect water quality in the Rivanna River watershed, where the Conservancy is working to preserve forests, restore streams, retire development rights and maintain natural flows and safe drinking water for people.