We left for Monticello early that morning, while it was still cold and a little overcast. By the time we got to the mountain, we were warm and it was getting muggy. We didn’t get lost, but had a hard time finding the turn for his home – there is no sign on the main road for it. I went into the visitors center and bought the tour tickets – $100 for the four of us. We had read about it and decided to go for the history, but really didn’t want to spend that much. We found out later that we could have ridden the shuttle up to the house, walked around on our own, and taken the slave tour or the garden tour for free. We wouldn’t have seen the inside of the house, however, and I wanted the kids to see it.
We were on the 9:15 a.m. tour, and even though it was early, our guide really just phoned it in. He had been working there since 1985 and was a wet noodle! He wasn’t interesting, barely informative, and really herded us from room to room quickly. It’s not all his fault – it was as crowded a tour as Ben & Jerry’s, and they pack us in the same way each 15 minutes. We’d stand in a room, he’d describe 3-4 things, and ask for questions. Then he herded us to the next room, shut the door behind us, and repeat.
Fortunately, the house itself is interesting. Jefferson studied architecture, and he was very proud of the design. The 1,000 acres had been in his family for years, and while he was growing up he’d roam the mountain and dream about what he would build someday. He started clearing the land in 1768, and moved into the South Pavillon in 1770. In 1772, his wife Martha moved in and they lived there while work was continuing on the main house. It’s the cutest little house on 2 levels, and it became a guest house. You can Google Monticello and see how incredible the place is. It has a dome, which he became famous for, and an east and a west entrance. He didn’t want to ruin the view, so he put all “the dependencies” almost underground – the kitchen, storage, stables – all of it is under decks that extend from the house. Ingenious for the heat and for keeping all the hustle and bustle away from his work area.
Because he was a busy, brilliant man. Member of the House of Burgess. Lawyer. Ambassador to France. Author of the Declaration of Independence, and author of the Statue of Virginia for Religious Freedom (which is a precursor to the First Amendment), 3rd President of the United States, and a founder of the University of Virginia. He also designed many of the university buildings. He was an avid learner all his life, and while in France, he spent more on buying and sending books home than on any other items. He kept meticulous records of what he spent all his life, but he was not good with money, and later died in such debt that his daughter had to sell the property. She had moved in with him (and her 11 children) after his wife had died and he was so busy helping to run the new country – he was Secretary of State, VP, then President. He wasn’t proud of being President, however, because he didn’t like all the criticism, and it isn’t even listed on his tombstone.
After the house tour, we went outside to look around the huge gardens. The picture below is Nate, Eliza and Dan, (probably thinking, “another picture?”) in front of the west side – which is the side on the nickel. Only the family entered on this side, however, and it was the east side where visitors came in to the house. The house looks small, half the size of Mt. Vernon, but it’s deceiving because of everything underground and it still had plenty of room for the whole family.
We didn’t take the Slave Tour, but we did take the house tour with a descendent of Sally Hemingway, the slave that Jefferson had relations with after his wife died. Supposedly Martha had him promise that he would never marry again. He had 200-300 slaves, with 80 of them living on this property. After he died he did not set them free because he thought the land needed to be worked, and knew it was not possible to maintain without all of the slaves. He was a very exacting man, but supposedly treated them well.
We took the Garden Tour from a very classy woman who knew everything about the plants of which Jefferson was so proud, but kept calling us, “darlings”. She would end each sentence with it, and then move to the next plant or fact. I wanted to laugh out loud, and barely contained myself. The tour itself was excellent. Jefferson loved plants, and designed the gardens while living elsewhere. He would send packets of seeds home, with the exact location where he wanted them to be planted. The picture below was my favorite; the variegated colors are beautiful. Unfortunately, I can’t read my own writing to see what it’s called! I do know it was planted by “TJ in 1786.”
The last part of the Garden Tour was the actual 1,000 foot food garden. Jefferson had his slaves working on it for 3 years, and one even dictated a book about it. They took away the red clay, brought in loads of manure, and planted according to Jefferson’s specifications. He even hired a young man from England to help design it perfectly. It has a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside, and if they hadn’t battled with the scarcity of water on the mountaintop continually, he would have expanded it further. He said that he wished he had figured out the water problem during his life, or that he shouldn’t have built on the top of the mountain.
We hiked down the hill to the visitors center, watched the movie about his life, went through the museum, and then headed home. I’m glad we spent the time and money to see Monticello, and I’d recommend it to anyone in the area – if you can find it!