Friday, December 18, 2015

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

One of the many great things about living in Washington is the proximity to so much of our nation's history. Last weekend, during unprecedented warm December weather, I took a day trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, home to our third president Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson was a renaissance man and one of his many hobbies was architecture.  He designed his own home, Monticello, over the course of many years and spent his retirement between here and nearby Poplar Forest, his country house he also designed (see my post of Poplar Forest from my visit there in 2009 HERE). 

Jefferson was a man of many extraordinary ideas; one of which was building this classically Palladian structure on top of a country mountain overlooking Charlottesville. Interesting to note that his baby, the University of Virginia, is visible from the house down the mountain. Building here was not practical at the time (and even today). How did one get water to the top of such a tall hill in 1800? Everything had to come up and down the very steep mountain in all sorts of weather; It was worth it for the view! 

One arrives at the north side of the house and into a deep entry porch which features both a clock (the chimes of which could be heard throughout his working farm) and the information from a roof mounted weather vane in the ceiling (seen above).  Notice the clock isn't perfectly centered over the door!
As it is the holiday season simple & natural Christmas decorations are to be found tastefully throughout the house. I loved these wreaths featuring natural decoration; apples, pine cones, dried flowers and the like. 

While a large house it is by no means a mansion; Generations of Jefferson's family lived here in his time and shared 2 privy's found on either side of the house. 

Jefferson's personal accommodations were much more spacious than that of the rest of his family, including this conservatory above off his office.

The iconic rear facade has been featured on the back of the 'Jefferson' nickel since 1938 when it replaced the buffalo nickel. 

As you can see we could not have asked for nicer weather, particularly in mid December: 72 degrees F and sunny!

The rear yard reminds me of his design for the University of Virginia Mall, with dependency buildings linked through walkways covering service spaces. 

This unique sundial below features ears of corn, this is a farm afterall! 
The passageway seen below goes underneath the house to provide access to the lower levels. It also has the advantage of  keeping servants (who were slaves at Jefferson's time) out of the eye-site of the house and to provide protection from the weather.
Underneath the walkways seen at the rear of the house are the other service spaces; kitchens, storerooms, etc; Everything necessary to keep an estate house in running order.
Just below the house are a number of other service buildings including the iconic pavilion with beautiful mountaintop views located on the edge of the mountain top vegetable garden.
Now with electric waterpumps it's much easier to achieve a house with such views but at the time it was a burden!

These western views are stunning at sundown. 
No doors, just large triple hung windows. The bottom 2 sashes move up into the wall to allow access into the room.
 Chairs of the type that were common at Jefferson's time reside in the space.
 Many of the out buildings from Jefferson's time have been torn down or lost over the years but the foundation has plans to restore them all.
You can't beat the classical architecture nor the mountain top views! Be sure to drop in for a tour of Monticello if you are in the mid-Atlantic region. Charming Charlottesville offers great shopping and restaurants as well for a weekend getaway.


Divine Theatre said...

Thank you for the tour, my friend. I am excited to hear that the foundation plans to rebuild all structures. I have long been enamored of Monticello.



Daniel Shigo said...

Thank you for the photo with the house and two persons which gives one a sense of scale! You make me want to visit! Great stuff.

Hels said...

I love Palladian homes in any case and thoroughly enjoyed my guided tour around Monticello. I don't remember the pavilion with the mountaintop views, though. It was always important to have a site for relaxing in the home, a place where formal responsibilities can be let go for a while.

But is it true that Jefferson did his own architecture? When Jefferson began redesigning dad's house based on buildings he saw in Europe in the 1790s, was he trained himself or did he require a second architect who could share and supervise?

Chronica Domus said...

Several years ago my family and I took a pilgrimage out east to visit every building TJ designed. It was one of the best experiences we ever had and would repeat the entire trip. One visit is not nearly enough to absorb all the brilliance of TJ's designs. I loved the human scale of Monticello as a comfortable family home.

Karena said...

Stefan thank you for this tour, I have always wanted to visit this most historical estate, and certainly plan to see Monticello one day soon!

The Arts by Karena
The Reason for the Season!

Stephilius said...

Thank you for this, Stefan. I've always wanted to visit; I'm such a lover of the Palladian, early American and otherwise.

But why is the clock not centered above the door? It's enough to give me a fainting spell.... ; )

Kerry Steele- Design du Monde said...

I took my Mother in-law a few weeks ago. We did a "behind the scenes" tour. It was worth the extra money. We got to see Jefferson's indoor, skylit privy in the tiny space beyond the foot of his bed, LOL! They also take you to the third floor and inside the rotunda.It was one of the chillier and windy days after Thanksgiving so we did not tour the grounds. Lovely visit though.

Row homes and Cobblestones said...

Stefan I enjoyed this post very much. I have never visited Monticello except in books and my imagination. You have inspired me to make it an early Spring mini vacation. Delightful photos.

Hels said...

Happy 2016!

I forgot to say I am managing the History Carnival for January 2016 and need nominations for your own blog post or someone else’s by 31/1/2016. The theme I have chosen is History of the Visual, Performing, Musical and Literary Arts, but all good history posts will be welcomed. Especially architectural history!

Examine previous History Carnivals at

The January 2016 nomination form is at

M. Denise C. said...

A wonderful post. I love that place and want to see it again someday. Happy 2016!

Thombeau said...

What a terrific post! Like many, I've been intrigued by Monticello since childhood. You are fortunate indeed to have it so near!

As for bringing water up to it back in the day, would that not have been yet another duty imposed upon slaves? (Not to bring up an unpleasant topic, but the idea did pop into my head.)

Anyway, thanks for this guided tour!

Deana Sidney said...

It's the proportions, I am mad for Jeffersonian proportions. Such a perfect human scale. Just the place to write and reflect. I really do want to get there one day!!