Readers and Writers Retreats

Castle Hill—its very name exudes a storybook charm. Located twenty minutes from Charlottesville in the heart of fox hunting and wine country, this grand, historic estate has charmed visitors for over two hundred and fifty years with its magnificent eighteenth-century mansion, fabled gardens, and sweeping mountain views.

Four presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe—have trod its hallways. But one cannot talk about Castle Hill without discussing the colorful Rives family who lived here for two centuries. Family members wrote about the history around them: from the invasion of the British to the secession of the South, from the politics of the Founding Fathers to the Victorian oppression of women. The most infamous family author was Amélie Rives, who grew up at Castle Hill in the late nineteenth century. Inspired by her family’s estate, she became a best-selling and notorious novelist, whose work scandalized polite society with its frank depiction of women’s sexuality. She was a gorgeous siren—one look at her nude self-portrait tells all—and the literary elite fell at her feet. Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, and William Faulkner were all in her thrall.

In 2005 this rich history was imperiled when developers were poised to build over two hundred homes on the property. Fortunately, Ray Humiston and his wife, Stewart, stepped in and bought the estate, donated four hundred gorgeous mountain acres to the Nature Conservancy, and put the entire estate into permanent protective easement. Now Castle Hill and its gardens have been lovingly restored and brought back to their former state of grandeur, and the stage has been set for this magical home to continue its legacy as a gathering place for writers.