From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia
When passing through what is now Rockbridge County, Virginia, on 23 August 1767, Thomas Jefferson viewed the Natural Bridge, probably for the first time. At that time he took notes on the inside back cover of his 1767 Memorandum Book. These notes were the basis for Jefferson's famous description of this "most sublime of Nature's works" in his Notes on the State of Virginia. By 1773 Jefferson had taken steps to become the owner of the rock bridge and in 1774 he received a patent for a 157-acre tract which included it (MB. 10 June 1773, cash accounts, 15 September 1773, legal section; Land Patent Book, XLII, 657-68). Jefferson often thought of building there "a little hermitage" where he might spend part of every year (TJ to William Carmichael, 26 December 1786). Although this project was never carried out, he did make at least three more recorded visits to the bridge, in 1815, 1817, and 1821, and possibly in 1781.
In 1809, a financially disastrous year, Jefferson tried to sell the tract, and he periodically leased it for saltpeter mining and use as a shot tower. By 1815, however, he had "no idea of selling the land. I view it in some degree as a public trust, and would on no consideration permit the bridge to be injured, defaced or masked from public view" (TJ to William Caruthers, 7 September 1809; 15 March 1815). The Natural Bridge was sold in 1833 as part of Jefferson's estate.
--Original author: Lucia C. Stanton, April 1995