Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thomas Jefferson's Beloved Home: Monticello



"No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden." T. Jefferson


For many years I was not a fan of Thomas Jefferson, mostly due to the fact that not only was he a slave owner but he likely fathered children with a slave. I wrongly believed that he never freed Sally Hemings and her children, he did free the children. Perhaps he could just not bear to part with Sally, we will never know. The fact that Sally, even though she was a slave, was his deceased wife’s half-sister makes for interesting possibilities. But I digress. 

We began our visit with a stop at the Monticello Visitor Center. This will give you a good overview of the man and the home. There are loads of displays, a video, a cafe and a very nice gift shop. Take the time to watch the video before you go up to the house, you can visit the museum either before or after. There are some very interesting displays about the slave families that lived at Monticello. 

Monticello, the home that Jefferson designed, can only be visited on a guided tour. You may want to pre-order your tickets online especially if you are visiting at a busy time of year, the behind the scene tour is very popular. You are bused up the hill and taken through in groups. The grounds, gardens and the cemetery you may visit on your own though additional tours are also offered.  Last year, we took  two tours at Monticello; the regular house tour and the behind the scenes tour. With the behind the scenes tour, you get to visit the dome at the top of the house. It is well worth the extra time and cost. 


On the house tour we learn that Jefferson was very much the gentleman farmer and beyond his ventures into politics, enjoyed his time spent building the home of his dreams. He was a man who lived by a schedule and there is a clock in every room. We were there at 11:45 a.m. and he would have been writing letters at that time. The desk in his private sitting room was made by John Hemings.

A visit to his book room is eye opening. What we see are the books he acquired after 1815 when he sold his personal library to the Library of Congress. He kept meticulous records of everything he owned and where it was in his library. He learned Spanish in order to read the original explorers travel journals.


Jefferson was a self-taught architect who was influenced by the style of Paladio. The friezes on his bedroom ceiling are taken from Paladio’s book. The design of the University of Virginia was the hobby of his old age. He chose the location so that he could keep his eye on it from Monticello. 

Additional displays are located in the basement of the house and also in the north and south terrace cellars. Pavilions are located at the end of both the south and north terraces which can also be visited. Mulberry Row is where the former slave quarters were located as well as many of the building necessary to keep an estate the size of Monticello running. 



It is easy to walk from Mulberry Row to the cemetery. The bus that drops and picks up at the house also stops at the cemetery so you can get back on there. 


Allow at least three hours to visit here. More if you really want to see everything.

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