Posts Tagged ‘Monticello’


Monticello House

Today I was due to drive from Staunton to Richmond with a slight diversion to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.

As regards the drive, I decided to not use the Interstate (I64) but instead to drive along the older US Highway – 250, since you ask. I’m glad I did this as, although slower – traffic lights, speed limits, and so on – it gave me more of a view of Virginia. I was driving through places instead of driving past them, as it were. The nature of Highway 250 changed several times – in some places, especially around the towns, it was what we would call a dual carriageway with at least two lanes in each direction, sometimes more; but in other places, especially between Charlottesville and the edge of the Richmond metropolitan area, it was a simple two-lane single carriageway road that winded its way through the countryside.

I did end up on the Interstate at one point. I found that Monticello was very badly signposted, what signs there were seemed to take me first onto the Interstate and then back off it, and I remember driving up and down at least one stretch of road several times. But I found it eventually.

Monticello itself is a bit of a curate’s egg. The house itself is attractive and quirky – clearly a personal vision – but rather disappointingly only the main floor of the actual house is open. There are two higher floors (containing bedrooms, nurseries, another sitting room) that aren’t. You can only go round it in a guided tour, which takes less than an hour, and photography is not permitted inside the house. All that said, it was still an attractive house, and gave you a good insight into what Jefferson himself wanted from his dwelling place.

What is undeniably magnificent is its setting – on top of a mountain (ok, perhaps just a hill) and at the centre of an estate. This is where some of the questions about Jefferson’s life emerge. The estate was actually a plantation, and during his live Jefferson owned over 600 slaves; yet this plantation owner was also the man who drafted the Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. A puzzle.

To their credit, the owner of the property (the Thomas Jefferson Foundation) does not shrink from this and does admit the contradictions in his life. They are also doing archeological work on ‘Mulberry Row’ where the slave quarters were, and have (and are continuing to) reconstruct some of them. It’s also the case that the interpretative material all over the house, the gardens, the working areas in the basement (which is open for casual inspection), and the re-created buildings on Mulberry Row do highlight the experiences of the african americans held in bondage there, and traces their family histories as far as is known.

A worthwhile visit.

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