Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Thomas Jefferson's MONTICELLO

Monday morning, (Oct. 5th) we drove to Monticello, just outside of Charlottesville, VA. There we spent the day learning about Thomas Jefferson's mountainside home. Monticello means "little mountain" and it was a fascinating experience to be able to spend the day learning more about Thomas Jefferson, and some of the amazing things he accomplished in his lifetime.

This amazing man who at 26 became a member of the House of Burgesses, at 32 attended the Second Continental Congress and a year later drafted the "Declaration of Independence", then served in Virginia's House of Delegates, elected Governor of Virginia in 1779, elected to Congress in 1783, began diplomatic service to France in 1784, 1789 returns to United States and in 1790 appointed first U.S. secretary of state, six years later was elected vice president, and in 1801 elected 3rd President of the United States. While he was President, he commissioned Lewis & Clark expedition, concluded the Louisiana Purchase, re-elected President for second term, sold his personal library of 7,000 books to Library of Congress, in 1817 designed and planed University of Virginia, and on July 4, 1826, dies on the 5oth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It's hard to comprehend all the things he accomplished, but it was so interesting to learn more about our 3rd President. In 1768 Jefferson began leveling the Monticello mountaintop for his house. (Much of the land- 3,000 acres - surrounding the mountaintop were inherited from his father, he later acquired another 2,000 acres.) That began the 40 year period of design, construction, and remodeling to create his mountainside estate. The house is extraordinary, not only in design, but in the way Jefferson related it to the landscape. The open-air living spaces in the form of L-shaped terraces served as extensions of the main floor. . . a concept unheard of at that time. While Jefferson was living in France he was greatly influenced by the architecture and incorporated many of those elements into his Monticello. The house went through several periods of redesign, changing from a two-story structure to a three-story structure. By the time Jefferson retired in 1809, the remodeling of Monticello was largely completed.
Being able to see this home was such a treat for me. Every detail of the house, gardens, and surrounding properties were unbelievable. Jefferson was not only interested in architecture, landscape, and farming, but in every aspect of his life, he was improving and inventing new and better ways to do things.

Near the visitor center was a statue of Thomas Jefferson, he wasn't a large man but he knew how to get things done.

These school children were visiting Monticello on Monday while we were there. Dressed in their little caps and long dresses they looked like they belonged there. They could have been the children of guests visiting the estate in the mid 1700's. Behind the children are some of the gardens.
This area is called the "dependencies". These structures were built under the terraces that extend off the exterior of the house. These spaces were designed for working, living, and storage beneath the main house, terraces and pavilions. They included a wash house, carriage bays, ice house, two privies, wine cellar, a kitchen, smokehouse, dairy, and three rooms for the house slaves - the ones who did the cooking for the main house. All of these structures are concealed in the hillside and under the terraces to avoid obstructing the views around the house.

This is a view into the kitchen area. In that day, kitchens were totally separate from the house. It had a large fireplace, several smaller cooking area, shelves, and several large tables for preparing food and lots of pans, kettles, and cooking utensils. Just inside the door was information about the slaves who did the cooking. It was all so interesting.

This is a view from on top of one of the two terraces. Potted trees, flowers and benches for seating were all along the terraces. From these terraces you had a beautiful view of much of the gardens and landscaping on the backside of the house.
Besides growing huge gardens,
Jefferson also had vineyards,
orchards, and berry squares. He experimented with new varieties to see what would grow best in the local climate.

This is the garden pavilion where he and his quests would come to enjoy the view of the gardens and orchards. He loved to spend time in the evening overlooking his gardens. Who wouldn't?
This pavilion stood behind the vegetable gardens and overlooked the orchards and vineyards. The 2-acre gardens were divided into 24 "squares", according to which part of the plant was harvested- roots, leaves, or fruits.
It really was a beautiful view from inside the pavilion. You can see how the gardens and vineyards were terraced--all divided and spaced so they make a beautiful pattern along the hillside. Jefferson said, "No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden." Of all his accomplishment and titles, he liked being called a farmer the most. His gardens were living laboratories for the study of plants from around the world. He chronicled a lifetime of gardening activities in his Garden Book, and kept detailed journals and meticulous records of everything he did. It's hard to imagine how he had time to keep such detailed records . . these handwritten accounts are so meticulous they are almost works of art.
This is the south pavilion. It's one of two small structures that were built at the end of the terraces. Jefferson and his wife lived in one of these buildings while Monticello was being built. His wife died in childbirth in 1782, after having lived in this small building for almost 10 years. She didn't live long enough to see the completion of the house - - remember it wasn't completed until 1809 when Jefferson retired there after serving 2 terms as President of the United Stated.
Along this 1,000 foot section of the estate, Jefferson planted Mulberry trees. It was in the shade of these trees where enslaved and indentured workers and craftsmen lived and worked in small stone and log buildings. At one time, Mulberry Row, consisted of 17 structures, including a blacksmith shop and nailery, joinery, carpenter shop, smokehouse/dairy, and five log cabins for some of the slaves. The cabins were 12 x 20 with earthen floors and wooden chimneys. For most of his life, Jefferson was the owner of 200 slaves. It was these men and women who worked the land, raised and harvested the crops, grew the gardens, cooked the meals. They were the craftsman and workmen who did whatever was required of them by their owner. On his deathbed, Jefferson freed several of his slaves, but it wouldn't be until another 40 years passed before slavery was abolished and this sad period in our history would finally come to an end.
Our day spent here at Monticello was so interesting. We'd learned so much about our 3rd President and what an amazing man he was. After we finished visiting the grounds, we spend another couple of hours in the museum and visitor center. The museum used the latest technology to tell the story of Monticello and the man whose planning and vision made it all happen. It was fascinating. We felt so fortunate to be able to learn some of the history of this part of Virginia. We had spent a wonderful day together . . . a day we'll long remember!

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