If you are expecting something on the scale of Jefferson’s Monticello or even James Madison’s Montpelier you will find Ash Lawn a severe disappointment. We went in knowing very little about what to expect and were indeed very pleasantly surprised by the simplicity we found.
From the outside Ash Lawn looks a great deal more like John Adams home in Quincy Ma. than any other presidential home I have visited. That being said the grounds are lovely and of course John Adams didn’t have slave cabins.
One of the really interesting things we learned on our tour, and the house must be visited on a tour, is that Eliza Monroe went to school with Hortense Beauharnais, the stepdaughter of Napoleon Bonaparte. Her portrait as well as her brother Eugene’s hangs at Ash Lawn. There is also a portrait of their headmistress Madam Campan. The women remained friends for life and Eliza even named one of her daughters Hortensia Monroe Hay.
We arrived just as a tour was forming but the size is controlled so we waited for the next tour, which turned out to be much smaller. While we were waiting we toured a small room with some interesting items, including an 1830 engraving believed to be the last from life likeness done of the president. There are seven ongoing archaeological projects going on at Ash Lawn and these are covered in this room as well.
Tours leave about every ten minutes and last 40 minutes. Group sizes are usually between 15 and 20 and this can make it seem quite crowed in some of the rooms.
Ash Lawn really is two houses that have been basically stuck together. A fire devastated part of the house in 1880 and a new Victorian wing was attached; the wing is quite a bit larger than the original house.
Our guide was very knowledgeable about the Monroe’s and we learn a lot about his early life in Westmorland County, his time learning law with Thomas Jefferson and his service in the Revolutionary War. He was wounded at the battle of Trenton and the bullet remained in his shoulder for the rest of his life.
We move through the parlor, the drawing room, the study, the master bedroom and the children’s room. Much of the furniture that we see in the rooms has been donated or is on loan. Many of the pieces belonged to the Monroe’s including the cradle and President Monroe’s desk where he wrote the Monroe Doctrine. Also a mirror in the bedroom is original to the White House.The tour continues to the kitchens which are entered from outside and then you are free to tour the cabins and grounds on your own. There is a very fine gift store. Allow about 75 minutes to make