"Another of my wishes is to depend as little as possible on the labor of slaves" J. Madison.
I have to say of the three presidential homes in the Charlottesville area, Montpelier is my favorite. There are several reasons for this. First, I really like the Madisons, visiting the house will reinforce the fact that this was a very affectionate couple who remained close to the end of his life. Second it is such a beautiful family home and third, since I have been curious about the restoration for 9 years, it was amazing to get to see it again.
We first visited Montpelier during its major restoration in 2005. The Dupont wings were removed and the original house was brought down to the lathes. It led to some interesting discoveries including an original door that connected the bedrooms of James and Dolley. It had been covered during renovations after their time.
Coming back twice recently, in November 2013 and January 2014 gave us a more complete picture of life at Montpelier and frankly, having seen the house striped down to bare bones, I was fascinated with the reconstruction.
Montpelier was James Madison’s home before he married Dolley. It was constructed by James’ father in 1760 and it was in the family until 1844 when Dolley sold it. Over the years, the house underwent many changes especially during the time that the Duponts owned it. They added an addition 33 rooms which were removed when the house was restored.
The results are outstanding and while the house has been fully restored, there are ongoing excavations on the property to understand even more about what it was like when the Madisons lived here.
You begin your tour at the Visitor Center. There is a video to watch and a small museum to visit. There is also a large exhibition space which has changing exhibits. The gift store is also located in the visitor center. Tours of the house are guided and offered on a timed schedule. You need to be able to walk easily, it is a little distance from the visitor center to the actually house.
Once you are welcomed into the house you will notice that it has a center hall and to the right are the rooms used by James Madison’s mother and to the left are the rooms shared by James and Dolley. The house is not huge but the tour is very interesting. You also tour the upstairs. When the official tour is over you can go outdoors and look at the basements.
The grounds are extensive and there is a beautiful garden and also the area where the slave cabins have been identified. Finally you can walk out to the graveyard where the Madisons are buried. Along the way you will pass the slaves graveyard. There was a lot of walking involved in our visits here but all worth the effort.