A few posts ago I mentioned a stop at Monticello. Today, I’d like to elaborate a bit. The trip was definitely worth the effort. Charlottesville is a nice little city dropped in the middle of some amazing countryside. It’s easy to see why three of our presidents lived in the immediate vicinity.
Monticello is the most famous home of Thomas Jefferson. What most people don’t realize is that James Madison and James Monroe lived nearby. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a reason why Monticello is listed as one of the world’s greatest architectural masterpieces but I truly enjoyed Montpelier and Ash-Lawn, the homes of James Madison and James Monroe respectively.
Monticello has the best location by far. Once you’ve made it up the hill to the house, the views are spectacular. The house isn’t bad either. Jefferson created a masterpiece in Monticello. Every detail was carefully considered. As I walked up the entryway to the house, the first thing that struck me was that the house seemed smaller than I thought. When you look at photographs of the house, and you consider the enormity of the man who lived in it, you envision something akin to Windsor Castle. As I got closer, I realized that’s the beauty of its perfection. It’s a very large house in reality but it’s not palatial in size. For the 18th Century, it was most certainly an extraordinarily large home.
The fact that this is the first home in America to have a domed roof, is not the only marvel. When you look at the countryside and imagine how the craftsmen got their materials and tools to this spot you begin to understand the scope of the undertaking. As I started moving around the outside of Monticello it’s true size began to have an impact. The other thing that struck me was the attention to detail.
It’s not just the woodwork and masonry to which Jefferson paid so much attention, it was lots of practical things too. When you look at the house, there are two walkways (one on either side) that lead to the dependencies. Beneath the dependencies are large cisterns that collect water for household use. None of that may seem very amazing but when you consider that Jefferson had a gutter system installed under the walkways that captured the rain water that fell on the walkways and diverted it into the cisterns, you begin to understand the man’s pragmatism.
That pragmatism didn’t necessarily follow all the 18th Century rules, however. In most instances, the facades of things were the most elaborate. If you look at period chairs and case pieces, the backs are seldom ever embellished (most times they weren’t even finished). The architecture seemed to, for the most part, follow the same rules. If it isn’t going to be seen, don’t invest lots of time and money into dressing it up. Well, the back of Monticello is easily as impressive as its front. Jefferson spared no expense in continuing the architectural and aesthetical appeal of Monticello on all sides.
As I said, every detail was carefully considered. From the size and shape of windows and moldings to the layout of the lawn and gardens. Once you enter the house, that attention to detail doesn’t end. Unfortunately, I did not pay as much attention to details before I went on this adventure or I would have arranged to take photographs inside the home for publication. So, you’ll have to settle (for the moment) for the pictures of the outside. From my perspective, that’s enough to make me want to go back. To me it’s a lot like Winterthur, a place where I truly feel at home.
On my next visit I plan to try to show you the inside of the house and, most importantly to me, the furnishings. For now, as I said, you’ll have to be satisfied with some pictures of the outside. Which leads me to my next series of photos that will show you why Jefferson picked this site for his home. I’ve mentioned several times the spectacular views, so here they are.
From the walkway to the one dependency, you can see Charlottesville and the University of Virginia but you’ll have to go to Monticello to see that view for yourself. My pictures and feeble description of the place don’t do it justice. You really need to check it out for yourself. I don’t want to give away too much of what its like to be at Monticello. It is definitely something you’ll want to experience.
Oh, and I mentioned Montpelier and Ash-Lawn, well here’s a sneak peak at the entryway to Montpelier to whet your appetite. It’s still under reconstruction, thought the outside should be finished by now. On my next visit the Charlottesville, I’ll get even more photos of this tremendous home as well as James Monroe’s Ash-Lawn. The work on Montpelier is set to continue over the next year or so. The interior is nearly complete they just need to furnish the place. As they do, I’ll do my best to keep you up to date on what they are doing. Ash-Lawn, on the other hand, is fairly well restored. They have a tremendous staff that truly loves history and puts on a variety of educational exhibits. If you go to Monticello, do not miss Ash-Lawn. If you do, you’ll be sorry.