Monticello was the home of Thomas Jefferson for most of his life. Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743 and died on July 4 1826. He was America’s Third President of the United States, Congressman, Author of the Declaration of Independence, Governor of Virginia 1779-1781, US Secretary of State, Minister to France, Founder of University of Virginia, Collector of literature, and architect. He inherited the Monticello’s by his Father Peter. By 1768 construction began and Monticello would be Jefferson’s delight who would remodeled it over the forty year period he lived there. This would be his home and where he raised his family. It is also where his six children were born and where 4 four of them died along with Jefferson and his wife.
Jefferson's unique design for Monticello brought together spaces for working, living, and storage beneath the main house, terraces, and pavilions. These spaces included a wash house, carriage bays, an ice house, tow privies, a wine cellars, a kitchen, a smokehouse, a dairy, and three rooms for slaves. These dependencies or area for domestic work, served as points of intersection between Jefferson's family and enslaved people, and were instrumental to the functioning of the house. The were concealed in the hillside to avoid obstructing the landscape around the house.
Tours run throughout the day.
Get an intimate look at the extraordinary house Thomas Jefferson built and furnished for himself and his family. See the furnishings, art, books, gadgets and other objects that reveal Jefferson's unique mind. The guided House Tour covers the rooms on Monticello's first floor and lasts about 35 minutes.
Plantation Community Tour
Gardens and Grounds Tour (April-October)
Seasonal Mountaintop Activity Center
Exhibitions, Film, and Griffin Discovery Room at the Visitor Center
Group Tours: Special rates are available for adult groups of 25 or more, and for youth/student groups. Call 434-984-9880 for more information and to make reservations.
House Tour Schedule Tours are scheduled to run throughout the day, and last approximately 35 minutes.
Even if you do not take any of the extensive tours, this tour is wonderful. To take a tour, you must get a ticket and a bus takes up to the house.
Before touring Monticello, or any of the other nearby attractions, come to the Monticello Visitors Center. Here, one can obtain maps, directions, advice, and most important of all a President's Pass, which gives the holder admission to all three of the best-known historic sites: Monticello, Monroe's Ashlawn-Highland, and Michie's Tavern. They're close enough together that you can see all three in one day--if you get an early start. Also, the center has a short film, historical exhibits, and more.
Tickets are available online or at the center. It's open every day except Christmas, from 8:00 to 5:00 March to October, and 9:00 to 4:30 the rest of the year.
“I am as happy no where else and in no other society, and all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello. Too many scenes of happiness mingle themselves with all the recollections of my native woods and fields, to suffer them to be supplanted in my affection by any other.”
— Thomas Jefferson, in a 12.August.1787 letter to his friend and physician, George Gilmer
END OF DAYS And so he did end his days at Monticello, on the Fourth of July 1826. He and other Jefferson family members are buried at the plantation’s graveyard.
Our cloudy day visit turned wet when the sky opened up just as we reached the cemetery, a short walk from the mansion. The gray clouds and rain added to the somber nature of the place.
The site for the graveyard was chosen by Jefferson in 1773. It is owned by an association of his descendants, traced through his daughters, Martha and Maria; burials are still held here.
Granite obelisks are popular grave site markers; James Madison’s grave site is marked with one. Again, this practice marks a turning to the Old World for inspiration. Even for remembering the dead, these founders of a new nation could not come up with anything new. Jefferson wrote his own epitaph (see photo #1) to be carved on his obelisk. Being president of the United States was not a big deal for Jefferson; his tenure in that office is not mentioned by him. The office of the presidency did not assume its high-profile place on the world stage until well into the 20th century.
Jefferson's coat-of-arms is documented by the use of a seal on several of his surviving papers. His descendants allowed these arms to be used to illustrate Henry Randall’s 1858 biography, to be engraved on Monticello’s coffee urn, and to be incorporated in the graveyard entrance gate (see photo #3).
“I am savage enough to prefer the woods, the wilds, and the indepenance of Monticello, to all the brilliant pleasures of this gay capital [Paris] . . . . for tho’ there is less wealth there, there is more freedom, more ease, and less misery.”
— Thomas Jefferson, from a 6.September.1785 letter to Baron General Friedrich Caspar von Geismar
This bronze of T.J. stands near the recently-completed visitor center. You must first stop at the Visitor Center, buy timed entry tickets for Monticello and be bussed up to the mansion.
This full-length likeness of Jefferson is the work of designer and sculptor Ivan Schwartz, whose company, StudioEIS, is located in Brooklyn, NY. Schwartz created the bronze sculptural grouping at James Madison’s Montpelier too (see Orange, VA entry: “Montpelier, Home of James Madison, Bronze Monument”).
“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth & no culture comparable to that of the garden.”
— from a letter sent by Thomas Jefferson to Charles Willson Peale in 1811
CULTURE VULTURES The vegetable plots are on the edge of the ‘little mountain.’ Jefferson turned to more Old World help for the culture of his earth. Two Italians, Filippo Mazzei and Antonio Giannini, contributed their experience and knowledge with fruit orchards. In 1774, Mazzei gave Jefferson apricot stones and 200 cherry pits, which were planted below the ridge where the vegetables were grown.
Jefferson’s love of wine led him to plant a grape vineyard (see photo #5), and again Mazzei and Giannini helped with its cultivation. They also helped with orange, lemon and olive trees; none of these semitropical trees survived the climate of the Piedmont. Jefferson, always experimenting, believed that if he threw enough mud against the wall some would stick.
Rosemary (see photo #4) and other herbs are grown in amongst the vegetables, rather than in a separate herb garden.
The cute little Garden Pavilion (see photo #1) stands like a sentinel; it was designed by Jefferson.
“And our own dear Monticello, where nature has spread so rich a mantel under the eye, mountains, forests, rocks, rivers. With what majesty do we there ride above the storms! How sublime to look down into the workhouse of nature, to see her clouds, hail, snow, rain, thunder, all fabricated at our feet! And the glorious Sun, when rising as if out of a distant water, just gilding the tops of the mountains, and giving life to all nature!”
—from a letter, dated 12.October.1786, by Thomas Jefferson to Maria Cosway, Jefferson’s Continental romance while he was Minister to France
STORMY WEATHER Jefferson knew his beloved Monticello with rain and clouds, and now we do too.
In the above quoted letter, Jefferson uses the royal we; it could not be ‘our dear Monticello’ because Mrs. Cosway, the Italian-Anglo wife of the well-known and sought-after miniature portrait painter Richard Cosway, had never visited Monticello. Maria Louisa Caterina Cecilia Hadfield Cosway was an accomplished artist as well as a composer, musician and society hostess.
For as much as the Founding Fathers, Jefferson included, disliked the Old World, that is where they turned for all their inspiration, for government and architecture. Jefferson used the style and form of Ancient Rome’s glorious Pantheon as the model for his home. Even its name comes from an Old World language. In Italian the names means little mountain; Jefferson was calling his plantation Monticello as early as August 1767.
The lesser-known eastern façade of Monticello (see photo #4) is the carriage entrance; it is where Jefferson’s guests would arrive and the mansion; and it is where we entered for our house tour. The portico of the eastern facade has a compass rose on its ceiling (see photo #5). It is directly connected to a weather vane, designed by Jefferson, that records the weather conditions at Monticello. Jefferson and others could look out the windows and see the wind’s direction and record it without leaving the house. The weather vane is still in operation.
Americans carry around a portrait of Monticello’s western façade; it is on the U.S. nickel’s reverse side. Jefferson chose to direct this part of the house in this direction as a gesture to the nation’s future in the west.
Our tour was scheduled on the hour, we used our time waiting to walk up the hill towards Monticello. We viewed the private family gravesite and gardens. The views and greenery were incredible. Meticulously manicured fragrant nurseries & orchards with hundreds of varieties of herbs, fruits, berries, and vegetables. There must have been a thousand grape vines in the vineyard.
Our guide brought us through the first floor of Monticello for :45. We saw the decorated Entrance hall, tea room, formal dining room, library, green room, cabinet & bedchamber. Afterwards, we walked under the house viewing the wine & beer cellars, ice house, privy, and kitchen.
We walked through the West Lawn viewing colorful & meticulous flower beds. Hundreds of varieties of spring, late spring & summer blooming flowers were artistically displayed.
The new visitors center opened the day before our arrival. Staff was very friendly & helpful. Artifacts, photographs, and documents provided insight into the Jefferson family, presidency, home. and time period. Restrooms sparkled, gift shop was enormous ....
Thomas Jefferson was an avid gardener, who developed new strains of fruits and vegetables. His garden was his pride and joy. Today, the employees at Monticello still grow produce for their own use (one of the perks of the job). So it looks very much as it did in Jefferson's day.
The West Lawn has a gorgeous flower garden along the path. It also offers great views of the house and grounds. Just off the path is a small pond, for keeping fish caught in local streams.
Be sure to hike down the hill to visit the Jefferson family cemetery. Nearby is the slave cemetery. On the way is a nice view of Montalto (see my tip for that).
Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant renaissance man, very gifted in many ways. Not only was he a great statesman, but also an inventor, horticulturalist, philosopher, and architect. He designed his estate at Monticello, which is Italian for "small hill".
Tour guides take you through the home, which is about 95 percent original. This is a museum, and should be treated with great respect. No photos are allowed inside. But they are allowed on the grounds and in the "Dependencies".
The Dependencies are facilities which provided logistical and administrative support. Here are the beer and wine cellars, storerooms, slave quarters, and now a small museum. They are connected directly to the house by an underground "all-weather passageway" (Jefferson thought of everything). This is just as interesting as the home itself.
Tickets are available online or at the site itself. Open every day except Christmas.
By the way, to those unfamiliar with American coins, the nickel has a likeness of Jefferson on the front and of Monticello on the back.
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