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Natural Bridge: Thomas Jefferson’s historic legacy celebrates 250th anniversary

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A ceremony held Friday at Natural Bridge celebrated the 250th anniversary of its purchase by Thomas Jefferson from King George III.

Equivalent to approximately $200 today, Jefferson paid only 20 shillings for the natural phenomenon in Rockbridge County.

“Today I think Thomas Jefferson would be proud to see what the bridge has become: our 37th state park,” said Matt Wells, Director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, as reported by Richmond-Petersburg WWBT.

Native Americans long considered the site a sacred place and many owners took possession before Jefferson’s purchase. He wrote specifically that Natural Bridge should become a tourist attraction. Natural Bridge is today a Virginia State Park.

“It wasn’t, you know, a land conservation easement. There wasn’t really any notion of a state park or a national park, but he does use the phrase public use several times,” Rockbridge Historical Society Executive Director Eric Wilson told WWBT. “And he’s clearly eager to promote to his friends in Europe, to his friends in Rockbridge or Albemarle County, come see this thing.”

The Virginia American Revolution 250 Commission is coordinating a multi-year effort to educate Virginians and tourists on the Commonwealth’s role in the birth of the United States.

“And to see this connection back to one of our founding fathers, and a President of the United States here in Virginia, I think all of that is so significant with educating people travelling through and also living here in Virginia,” Botetourt County Del. Terry Austin, who is chair of the commission, said.

Jefferson’s purchase included the bridge and 157 acres, but the Natural Bridge State Park encompasses more than 1,500 acres.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.