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The Jefferson Brand

Considered by many to be one of America’s more estimable cities, Charlottesville, Virginia, has through the years hitched its brand most tightly to the star power of one man: Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson’s physical legacy—Monticello and the University of Virginia—is by any standard remarkable. But it is his intellectual, even moral, legacy—author of the Declaration of Independence, Founder, president—that rightfully holds prominence of place, and one that, until fairly recently, was boasted about without reservation.

Back in the dark ages when all the world came and went by train, the old Chesapeake & Ohio depot at the east end of Main Street featured a big sign to make sure you got the connection right away: “Welcome to Charlottesville: the Home of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.” Just west of the depot, you could catch a glimpse of the university Rotunda from the dining car window. Today, the Charlottesville/Albemarle Airport carries an equally proud and updated message: Jefferson quotations circle a replica rotunda just outside the TSA line, and the baggage claim area features snazzy digital likenesses of the great man’s house and the grounds of his university.

For a long time, it seemed a good and proud fit. Then came the summer of 2017...

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Timothy C. Jacobson, a Saybrook consultant, has over 30 years of experience as a historian and consultant. He is the author of a dozen books on subjects ranging from medicine and health care to education and agriculture, construction and finance, train travel and art.

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