Jun 20, 2009

The visit to Monticello and Montpelier

"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."

This is said to be the most well-known sentence in the English language. They are the opening words to the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, whose home at Monticello, in Charlottesville, VA, we enjoyed visiting for the first time this year.

Jefferson designed every aspect of Monticello ("little mountain" in Italian) and it is considered an icon of American architecture. It was a plantation, as well as a retreat and laboratory where Jefferson spent time applying the latest thinking to make life and labor more productive and efficient.

Here we stand with him at the new-this-year $43 million Visitor's Center which was quite impressive. There is an education wing, a fantastic gift shop, and a very nice cafe. A free shuttle picks up visitors from this location and takes them up the famous house on the hill.

The scenery from every direction is just fabulous...here are some of the gardens on the property.

One interesting thing we learned when we saw Jefferson's grave site, chosen by him in 1773, is that it is owned by an association of his descendants, and is still used as a cemetery.

Our next stop was to visit James and Dolley Madison's home at Montpelier, about 30 miles from Monticello, and nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. James Madison is considered the Father of our Constitution. Here we recalled some more famous words:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Though Montpelier was the life-long home of James Madison, his grandfather having acquired the land in 1723, his widow Dolley Madison (famous for saving the portrait of George Washington during the War of 1812 when the White House was burned during her husband's presidency) sold the home in 1844. In 1901 the duPont family purchased Montpelier and enlarged the house from 22 rooms to 55, and preserved the grounds. Finally in 1984 it was transfered to the National Trust, and in 2003 work began to restore the house to the way it was when the Madison's lived there.

Again, the scenery was breathtaking...

We didn't have nearly enough time to see everything at Montpelier, but we did have a tour guide to take us through the mansion. We both were awe-struck as we stood in the very room where Madison researched past democracies and conceived of the system of government that became our republic...and where our Constitution was drafted.

We seem to have a thing for these bronze statutes...which seem to be just about everywhere we visit! Montpelier is still undergoing restoration and it is facinating to see the quality and detailed care that is taken to preserve and restore this national treasure.

We would probably recommend seeing Monticello and Montpelier in two separate days instead of one like we did. We didn't have time to do a leisurely audioguided tour of the Montpelier grounds, or see many of the exhibits, which we regret.

Back in downtown Charlottesville, we enjoyed a free trolley ride ...

to the pedestrian mall...

and enjoyed a fabulous Italian dinner outdoors...a perfect ending to a really nice 5 day get-away!

Thus ends my ramblings about it and I hope you enjoyed touring with us!


HilariousB said...


I lived in Charlottesville for a year, and this brought back so many great memories for me! Monticello and Charlottesville's Mall look just like I remember them. The last time I visited Montpelier, the renovations hadn't even started ... but it still was a beautiful home with breathtaking grounds and gardens. Your blog makes me want to go back for a visit!

Jacquelyn said...

we really had a great time...and it was sooo nice to get away, just the two of us Thanks for commenting!