The Fascinating History of Clifton Inn

Clifton is a Virginia historic treasure. It’s original property was part of 2,400 acres granted to William Randolph in 1735. The land was then passed from William Randolph to his son, Thomas Mann Randolph. Years later, Thomas Mann Randolph passed the land to his son, Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., who was Governor of Virginia, a member of the U.S. Congress and the Virginia House of Delegates, and the son-in-law of Thomas Jefferson (married to Jefferson’s only surviving offspring, Martha). Randolph first built his office on this property in 1795, to conduct business in trade. He and several partners planned the town of North Milton, which was directly across the river and adjacent to the Milton canal that supported agricultural commerce in the Albermarle region.

By 1826, this Clifton site became Randolph’s brooding refuge, while his wife and children were residing at Monticello. Strained relations with his Jefferson family were accentuated when his son, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, was appointed executor of Thomas Jefferson’s will, in part because Randolph was so much in debt. In March of 1828, in failing health and low spirits, Randolph moved to Monticello’s North Pavilion, where he died on June 20, 1828.

In 1830, Thomas Jefferson Randolph sold the property to Fontaine Wells, who then sold it in 1835 to Stapleton C. Sneed. In 1851, Stapleton C. Sneed sold 305 acres to Richard Wyatt for $8,000. During the Civil War, the wife and children of Colonel John Singleton Mosby, the “Grey Ghost of the Confederacy” sought refuge here, after being driven away from their home near Middleburg. When Union troops were in the area, Mosby would have supplies delivered to a secret hiding place outside the main house.

In 1891, Richard Wyatt’s heirs sold 305 acres (first recorded reference as “Clifton”) to J. Cummings McKennie for $3,000. Clifton remained a private residence until 1983, when it was purchased by its current owners, T. Mitchell and Emily B. Willey, who carefully renovated the property and opened the Clifton Inn as an elegant five-room bed and breakfast hotel in 1985. Historic dependencies on the estate, the liveries, carriage house, law office, and Collina farm house, were restored over several years, creating additional guest accommodations. The Clifton Inn’s now famous Restaurant, was opened to the public in 1991. Since then, the Restaurant has served Charlottesville’s local clientele, and travelers from around the world.