"Monticello" Monticello Estates by smschley

Monticello Estates Travel Guide: 10 reviews and 20 photos

Monticello was the mountaintop home, gardens and plantation for Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and the man largely responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence. Over a 40 year period this architectural masterpiece was always being expanded and modified. Jefferson described the house as his "essay in architecture," but today it is recognized as an international treasure.

While minister to France under President George Washington, Jefferson first saw in person the Palladian style with its arched windows and columns and was "smitten" by a small Paris house with a dome. He brought these inspirations back to Charlottesville, Virginia, and began reworking the house he'd begun in 1769 on a small mountain (monticello is Italian for "little mountain") south of town. In fact, he continued to tear down and rebuild until 1809

The dome, of course, was unheard of as a dwelling, and the angled corners of the floorplan were another eccentricity. The building appears smaller than it is. Jefferson achieved this by having the first two floors share tall windows. Above them, a balustrade hides from view 13 skylights—possibly the first ones installed in a house in the United States. Inside, Jefferson included many more features, such as a weighted, seven-day clock of his own invention.

Jefferson wanted to edify visitors from the moment they walked in. Displays in the hall include maps, copies of Old Master paintings, a model of a pyramid, and items collected in the West by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. As president, Jefferson had commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition. Buffalo hides given to them by Indians drape the balcony; antlers they collected are on the wall. Monticello's 33 rooms are spread over three stories and a basement. The upper floors, where Jefferson's daughter Martha raised her 11 children, are closed to the public. But the first-floor tour of Jefferson's bedroom, study, library, parlor, tea room and dining room provides plenty of insights.

Jefferson was a fascinating, complex, and sometimes contradictory man. He owned slaves yet wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men were created equal with unalienable rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Jefferson inherited slaves from both his father and father-in-law. In a typical year, he owned about 200, almost half of them under the age of sixteen. About eighty of these lived at Monticello; the others lived on adjacent Albemarle County plantations, and on his Poplar Forest estate in Bedford County, Virginia .

Jefferson was long rumored to have taken a slave named Sally Hemings as his mistress. In 1998, DNA tests confirmed that he likely fathered one, if not all, of her children.

Monticello's house slaves lived and worked in L-shaped wings called “Dependencies.” Jefferson designed the Dependencies so that they were attached to the main building but out of sight and physically separate from the floors occupied by Jefferson and his family. The Dependencies housed the kitchen, smoke house, ice house, dairy and stables, and were connected to the cellar by an all-weather passageway; their roofs formed the terraces for the main floor.

  • Last visit to Monticello Estates: Aug 1998
  • Intro Updated Feb 17, 2005
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smschley

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.”

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