A Travellerspoint blog

Day 94 - Monticello (Photo's Added)

We visited Thomas Jefferson's home in Charlottesville, VA. Monticello is the only house in America designated as a United Nations World Heritage Site

sunny 48 °F


Miles Driven - 95
Weather - Sunny, but quite cold
Camped at - Giant (Supermarket) parking lot


On the map, it didn't look this far away from the campground? Fire the Navigator!


Today I resolved to visit Monticello first, then maybe stop by other attractions on the way back to the campground as time permitted. We passed by a lot of interesting things - afterall, the campground we had stayed in was right in the middle of several major Civil War battlefields. President Madison's Montpelier was also along the route we took to get to Monticello. I didn't stop for any of these. Then as fate would have it, we didn't go back to the campground or back on the route we had come by - so didn't visit any of those sites afterall. You can't always count on being able to do things later, if it's important - do it while you can.

Anyway, we did make it to Monticello (pronounced Monta chello BTW. Monticello is Italian for 'little mountain', so in Italian would be pronounced chello. Who knew?) Of course, no photo's allowed inside but I have a couple to post of the grounds. It was sunny, but VERY COLD again - so I didn't wander around the grounds as much as I might have otherwise. Here is the first view of the house we had after we took the shuttle bus from the visitors center to the house.


Our tour didn't start for another fifteen minutes or so, so we decided to wait over at the gift shop where it was warm. On the way, a kind stranger agreed to take our picture, which shows a little of the view available at Monticello.


We have used the Lewis & Clark Expedition as an inspirition for this trip, so it seems entirely appropriate that we should visit the home of the President who made it happen. Unfortunately, Thomas Jefferson died deeply in debt, so the family had to sell the house and many furnishings shortly after his death in order to satisfy his creditors. Some original objects have been restored to the house, but some are 'period appropriate'.

One very important aspect of Monticello is that it was designed by Thomas Jefferson himself. This was a gradual process that took over 40 years, of building, modifying, adding on, rebuilding. However, Jefferson was a man of many talents and interests - a widely recognized Polymath (I had to look that up - a person with encyclopedic, broad or varied knowledge or learning). John F. Kennedy commented while addressing a group of Nobel laureates, that it was "the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House—- with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." Jefferson invented a new plow, experimented with crops, served as a major Statesman, author and jurist for the new country, and of course designed Monticello.

We started the tour in the Entrance Hall. Given all of Jefferson's activites in the Continental Congress and other government positions, he frequently had lots of guests. There were 28 chairs in the Entrance Hall to accomidate them. There was also a map showing only 16 states, since it was made before the Louisanna Purchase. There are also forty or so exhibits on the walls representing various gifts received in exchanges with the western tribes during the Lewis & Clark Expedition. While Jefferson presided over this huge expansion of the country, he himself never travelled farther west than the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are clearly visible from Monticello. His world revolved around the eastern seaboard, as did most American's of that era. Yet he had the foresight to expand the country greatly through this purchase.

We also visited the family's parlor, which was quite small. They preferred this space to the big, open public area's like the Entrance Hall and main Parlor. Thomas Jefferson's rooms were just beyond the family parlor and were very interesting. He read seven languages and collected a lot of books on many subjects. In fact, he had a reading platform built that rotated and could hold 8 books open at once (four on each of two levels. They sell replica's in the gift shop - not cheap however). He also hated wasted space, so didn't want a grand staircase (all staircases in the house are very skinny - not suitable for tour groups and we just got to see the first floor). He designed his bed in an alcove and had the space above it used for storage (a closet).

The main parlor had the usual musical instruments. Jefferson played the violin, so music was very much a part of the household, not just for entertaining. There are a number of paintings hanging in the parlor, but the three he cherished the most were of John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. Jefferson believed that these were the three greatest men in history.

The dining room was interesting, it was in the northwest corner of the house, which is also the coldest corner. Jefferson designed it with double pane windows - way ahead of his time! But the room I liked the best was the tea room, a smaller room just to the side of the dining room. It was separated from the main dining room by folding glass doors.

Finally we visited the Madison room. The nickname comes from the fact that James Madison and his wife Dolly were close friends of the Jeffersons and frequent guests at Monticello. This is just one of the bedrooms in the house (the only other bedroom on the main floor besides Jeffersons), but the one the Madison's stayed in. It also has an alcove bed in it (good for saving space & heat I suppose, but it would be hard to make the bed).

While I can't share pictures of the interior, there is a web site available you can use to get some idea what the house is like: Monticello Explorer

After the tour, I was able to take a few more pictures of the outside which show the house a little better. It is located at the top of a hill, so has wonderful views in all directions.


We were also invited to tour the basement area on our own, which we did. This area is called "Dependencies", or areas for domestic work. It is concealed in the hillside so the work area's wouldn't block the views or affect the landscaping. On one end was a very large, deep circular pit. This was used to store ice and was large enough to last through the summer. Apparently the Jefferson family was very fond of Ice Cream! There was also a wine celler, rooms to smoke meats, kitchens and slave quarters (for the cook and maybe some household staff).

The whole issue of slavery is an interesting one. Thomas Jefferson inherited 20 slaves from his father and another 135 from his father-in-law. He was the largest slave owner in Albemarle County. Yet he opposed slavery and proposed outlawing slavery in the Declaration of Independance as well as other documents. It is a contradiction that has been studied by a number of experts, of which I certainly cannot be numbered. From what I've read so far, it appears he felt that it needed to be outlawed by the government first. Also by that time the Colonies had fairly restrictive restrictions against just freeing slaves. There was a process called manumission, by which an owner could free a slave but it was somewhat lengthy. Apparently Jefferson intended to free his slaves after he got out of debt, which didn't happen.

When we finished visiting Monticello, we tried to go to James Monroe's house a couple of miles farther down. Just at the entrance to Monroe's house was a terrible accident. It was a fairly narrow two lane road with no shoulders, so I didn't even try to turn around. It took us over an hour before anybody could get past the accident site - so by then it was too late to tour the place.

After driving Mom crazy wandering around Charlottesville, I finally pulled over and decided I'd better plan where to spend the night. Since it had turned out to be a lot farther between the campground and Charlottesville then I'd thought, I decided not to go back to Fredericksburg tonight afterall - but just crash somewhere locally and drive back in the morning (thinking we could still visit Madison's home and some of the civil war sites on the way). I also still wanted to try to get to Mount Vernon and Alexandria. However fate intervened. When I checked the weather report, it turned out a 'Clipper' storm was on it's way and all of VA was expecting 1-3" of snow. I conceded defeat - Mom was right, we should have headed further south by now. I will have to give up on my other VA (& Maryland) plans until another trip, if ever.

We stopped at a Giant grocery store to stock up (supplies were again low - send out the hunting party) and they said they didn't have a problem if we just stayed there, so we did. Surprisingly it was reasonably level and quiet and we slept just fine.

Posted by jl98584 18:51 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


Hi Ladies - Just read your placeholder entry for the 4th. Wanted to wish you a Happy St. Nicholas Day today, Dec. 6. The Dutch House is decorated so festively for this European holiday. I hope you listened to your feelings and moved on to NC OuterBanks to see Kitty Hawk and Manteo. Just a word on East Coast weather - it gets cold all the way down to FL. There's still so much to see - Charleston, Stone Mtn., St. Simons Island all before you get to FL. But do plan to be someplace warm for Christmas. It's so weird to hear Christmas Carols while wearing shorts!! Mimi

by dutchhouse

Nice to hear from you!

We will be in Kitty Hawk, etc. today. Looks like there's a lot to see in that area. Yesterday we finally heard from my niece, so have arranged to spend Christmas with her in Atlanta - she works in retail, so will be so busy the next two weeks that it would be hard for her to get off - so looks like it's OK that we're running late.

by jl98584

I don't see the long message I thought I sent a couuple of days ago, hope you got it. Anyway, Bob's computer crashed early in the trip, but we're fine, having a great time, now using Lyndon's laptop at Rotorua, but must eat and get out to see the sights. Had a glorious trip around the South Island with him. Leave Wed. night for home, arrive the same day.


by msj

Alas, I haven't seen any other comments from you since you left MI. Glad to hear from you however, I've heard it's very beautiful down there, now I'm a little jealous.

by jl98584

Sorry you never got it. Now at motel after rainy day touring Rotorua Maori sites (cutting--getting "too-long" message).

Had 3 days with family in Wellington--museums, parks, gift shops, etc. Then So. Is. with Lyndon--Milford Sound, Mt. Aspiring NP, Mt. Cook NP, Dunedin, Invercargill, Bluff (southernmost city), Wanaka, Te Anau, Twizel, Christchurch, and others--saw Yellow-eyed Penguins, rare Black Stilt, Blue Penguins, various other birds--I now have 50 NZ ones from this trip (not bad with 2 nonbirders). This evening, saw a Myna walking in our motel yard.

We attended one symphony concert, otherwise just did sightseeing and got to the next city in time for L. to appear--fortunate, as he was concertmaster for the tour. Yesterday he had a concert in Auckland--Bob and I walked around in the rain while he rehearsed and performed, about 4 hours. An underwhelming city.

Our San Diego week was interesting, too--the usual many good friends at meetings, a great restaurant each day, took walks and saw some sites. However, the Ramada we were in was old, with a very small room--not what Wyndham made us think we'd get free for 3 nights in exchange for 2 hours of sales talk. And the latter lasted 3.5 hours; when we got to the last of 4 people to deal with us, and told him we never buy anything on the spot, he suddenly turned nasty and plainly told us to get out--which, of course, only confirmed our prior decision not to let them talk us into a timeshare.

Bob's laptop crashed right after we got to NZ. He and L. spent much time and were finally assured that new software will be waiting for us at home. But everything was lost--my diary of a week, his financial records (but only that week, as he'd backed up everything at home). L. took his on our tour, but often one of them needed it, and we didn't have much free time in motels.

Continue to enjoy your trip--I hope the weather allows Shenandoah Parkway and Great Smokey NP--they should not be missed.

by msj

I am SO sorry we didn't have time to get you started with this blogging stuff! It would be so great if you could put your trip experiences and photos up here to share. Have you put them on Flickr? I haven't been checking it lately.

by jl98584

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.