Thursday, September 22, 2011

Vacation Day 4 – Monticello

After walking over 20 miles on the Appalachian trail for Nathan, it was time for us to do something for me.  So we took a short drive down to Charlottesville, Virginia, to visit the home of one of our founding fathers – Thomas Jefferson.

If has always been one of my life-long dreams to be a history buff, so while that has never actually really happened, I still love taking any opportunity that I can to learn about history.  American history is particularly fascinating to me.  So needless to say – I LOVED our visit to Monticello.  First of all the grounds are amazingly beautiful.  They have a huge vegetable garden planted.  A garden that they believe based on historical accounts would have been very similar to what would have been there in Jefferson’s time.


It was filled with tons of different vegetables and herbs.  One really strange thing for me, was that their rosemary was blooming all over.  I have rosemary in our tiny little garden and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it bloom.  It was lovely and so fragrant.  Even the butterflies thought it was wonderful.


At the back of the house,


is a beautiful garden walk, filled will all types of flowers and plants.  These are only a few of them:

Story Board 3 copy

The house itself was so fascinating.  Jefferson designed all of it himself.  There are influences from French and Roman architecture as well as some things that were completely unique to him.  They have restored the downstairs of the house to be pretty close to what it would have been when Jefferson was alive.  About half of the furniture and artwork is original that the heritage society has been able to locate in the last 80 years.  However they don’t let you take pictures downstairs because some of the artwork is borrowed and the society does not have photographic rights for those pieces.  So the following pictures I borrowed from the Monticello website.


Thomas Jefferson was a great collector of books.  His first library of books actually burned early on when he was first building his property.  But then he began his collection again.  He collected thousands of books.  During his later years he had amassed over 6,000 books.  Which is pretty impressive considering the time period that he lived in.  After his retirement from political office, he decided to sacrifice his collection of books, and sell them to the government so that the Library of Congress could be established. (This picture is also borrowed from Monticello’s website)


Shortly after this, in a letter to his close friend John Adams, Jefferson wrote, “I cannot live without books” and so he began collecting them again.  I would have to agree with him.  I don’t think that I could live without them either.

His home design was so interesting.  There is the big home that you see here:IMG_3795

It was set right at the top of the hill.  Then to the left and right of it were build two additional wings of the house that were mostly underground and then an underground passage that connected the two wings.  These were where the house servants lived as well as where the kitchen, stables, ice house, and brewery were located.


After the downstairs tour, we did the “behind the scenes” tour of the upstairs.  They have only in the last year and a half opened up the upstairs to the public.  And even then, only on special tours of 15 or less people at a time.  I had booked our behind the scenes tour 2 months in advance or there would have been no way that we would have gotten in!!!

And of the tours it was by far the most interesting.  Mostly due I think to our tour guide.  She shared so many personal quotes from letters written by Jefferson to family and friends, and also from letters written by his daughters and grandchildren.  After Jefferson retired from his political career, which included several years spent in France as the foreign minister there, and of course his two terms as President of the United States, he returned to his beloved Monticello.  However, he found the enormous house to be a lonely place (his wife had passed away many years earlier), so he invited his daughter and son-in-law, along with their ELEVEN children to come and live with him.    Now he truly had a full house :)

The upstairs has not yet been fully restored with period furniture but it was amazing all the same.  Almost all of the beds were in the little recessed alcoves and the bed frame was built right into the walls.IMG_3832

He was one of the first people in America to incorporate skylights into his home,


The detail that he had put into the rooms were lovely,


He was definitely a dreamer.  Out of this window you can see a hill, which he purchased and planned to put a space observatory on it.    That would have been something!


His designing also was very focused on saving space.  He had the most narrow stairs in such a huge home.  It was crazy!


Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant man.  But for all of his brilliance, he was also something of a contradiction.  This is the man who penned the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  And yet, he was a slave owner.  During his life, he owned over 600 slaves.  It is quite clear that he treated his slaves well.  In fact he was the only slave owner, to promote one of his slaves to the position of foreman of his plantation.  But for all his good treatment, they were still slaves and did not have the freedoms that he proclaimed belonged to every man.  In addition to this flaw, it has also been shown that he is most likely the father of 6 children born to one of his slaves, Sally Hemming.  It is a bit difficult for me to reconcile these ideas with someone that did so much for our country and for whom I have such respect for his writings.  I guess that is why God is the judge of man and I am not.  Regardless of some of his flaws, he was still a brilliant man who was instrumental in shaping our country.  And he had a beautiful home.


Jefferson wrote his own epithet.  The three accomplishments in his lifetime that he valued most are carved on the monument at his gravesite.


He wanted to remembered as the author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Articles of the Freedom of Religion for Virginia, and as the founder of the University of Virginia.  He wanted to be seen as a champion of liberty, of religious choice, and of education.  Three extremely noble causes.


Laurel Shaw said...

What a great tour! It's absolutely beautiful there!
I love that kitchen!! & Maybe one day we will have gardens like that.
A girl can dream!!
Great post! keep 'em coming!

Lena said...

Wow! What a great day you had! Oddly enough checked out "A Thomas Jefferson Education" from the library today :)

Becky Shuler said...

Thanks for sharing pictures and history! I learned something today from reading your post!! Thank you! The house is just beautiful! I can't get over how narrow that stairscase is!

Kim Jarvis said...

I've always wanted to be a history buff too! Maybe one day I can squeeze that into my life. One of the things that I'm looking forward to the most in the next year is checking out all of the historical sites that are up here. My pictures won't be nearly as great as yours though!

Pam said...

Thanks for the "mini-tour"! Loved seeing the pictures of his home and learning about some of the info you shared. : )