Monday was to be our last full day in Virginia, so we traveled to Charlottesville to visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. We were only about 25 miles away, so it was an easy, picturesque drive on Highway 250. The one thing that stands out in the Virginia countryside are their meandering, twisting, winding roads with little or no shoulder. They are good roads, nicely paved, but I sure wouldn’t want to be driving Lucy over many of them! The scenery in this area is magnificent. I can only imagine how awesome it is in the Fall!
We arrived at the parking area and Information Center around 11:00 AM. This area is free to the public and includes a museum, theatre, snack bar, souvenir shop and ticket office. We decided to explore that area later on as our tickets for the house tour were at 11:40 and we didn’t want to miss that. Monticello is 1/3 mile from the Information Center and you are shuttled to the house. You must have a ticket to ride the shuttle. No one is allowed past the shuttle station without one. You will be allowed to walk back if you’d like, but not going. The basic tour is $22 per person. They also have specialized tours where they’ll take you to areas of the house not included in the basic tour. Of course, this will cost you more. We stuck to the basic tour. Apparently most folks do and, for a Monday morning, it was surprising how many were there! Tours start every 10 minutes and our 11:40 group had to be divided in half because it was too large. So one group of 25 went at 11:40 and another of 25 at 11:45 quickly followed by the regular 11:50 tour. This is a busy place! I can’t imagine what it’s like on weekends.
We hopped on the shuttle for our 1/3 mile trip uphill. Monticello means “little mountain” and the views from this little mountain spanned miles and miles. Jefferson even had a small pavilion built next to his vegetable gardens so he could sit and admire the view. I could see why. When you looked out from there, the beauty was absolutely breathtaking. It just made you want to stand there forever and drink it all in.
One of the first things we noticed upon arriving at the front of the house was the missing tree. Less than 2 weeks ago one of the now famous Southern tornadoes came through the front yard and sent this tree into another towards the middle of the yard. We were told that the trees around the house are cabled to force them to fall away from the house in case of severe weather. The cabling system worked well in this case. Had it not, the tree would have come down on the house right above where a tour group was gathered waiting out the storm. They were some very lucky people!
I was disappointed that no cameras were allowed inside the house, but the grounds and exterior were, in my opinion, far more beautiful than the inside. The house was a study in Jefferson himself. He was always changing things; a work in progress. He would travel to Europe and come back with several ideas that he just had to have at Monticello. Once, after returning from a trip to France, he removed part of the roof and added the dome, the first of its kind in the US. He installed things like a wine dumbwaiter next to the fireplace in the parlor. While entertaining, he could place the empty wine bottle in the little dumbwaiter and send it to the cellar where a slave would replace it with a full bottle and send it back up. Very clever ;) That’s an idea for all you out there with wine cellars! We don’t happen to have one :)
Another of Jefferson’s ideas and one that many considered pure genius, was surrounding the house with huge verandas adding to the stately look. What wasn’t visible was all the “workings of the house” that went on underneath. It was here that the laundry, kitchen, stables, privy, bathing room, wine cellar, ale room etc. were housed. It was a convenient place to locate them with easy access from the main house but they were out of sight, out of mind, and didn’t clutter up the house.
The gardens are well tended by professionals today and the vegetables harvested are given to the Monticello employees. A nice job perk!
Jefferson was a complicated man. In addition to being the 3rd president of the United States, he was a plantation owner, slave owner, philosopher, historian, as well as the founder of the University of Virginia. He died in debt and most of the furnishings, books and other things of value were sold off to help pay his debts. Monticello was sold to Uriah Phillips Levy in 1834 for $2,700 and remained in the Levy family until acquired by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1923. The Levy family is credited with saving and preserving Monticello for the American people as it was in great disrepair when purchased.
Thomas Jefferson and about 200 of his relatives are buried in the cemetery behind the house. If you are a white descendant, you qualify for burial there. I wonder how the Hemings family feels about that.
Today, Monticello is the only US home on the United Nations World Heritage list. That’s pretty impressive.
About 2:30 PM, after having wandered the grounds, garden and cemetery, we headed back to the Information Center where we took in the museum and then headed down the road another 1/3 mile to historic Michie Tavern for a late lunch/early dinner. (Thanks to E Squared and Mui for the recommendation!) They serve a buffet style lunch daily consisting of fried chicken, roasted chicken, pulled pork, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, beets, stewed tomatoes, cole slaw , cornbread and biscuits. The wait staff are all dressed in period costumes and seem to really enjoy what they are doing. As we were walking up to the building, we were asked if we had ever been there before. When we replied “no”, the comment back was, “well, what were you waiting for? We’ve been frying chicken for 40 years and you just now decide to show up?!” :) It was a nice experience, the food was very good and hot but it was a bit pricey for a lunch buffet, so I doubt we’d do it again but it did help make the experience. We each had the buffet and a bottle of local lager and the tab came to just over $50 with tax and tip. Of course, because it was so late for lunch, we didn’t have to worry about dinner later :) I really liked that part :) Doesn’t it look good? We ate on the open air porch so were able to take in some of the other buildings and the atmosphere while we enjoyed our meal.
All in all, the entire day was a great experience and one not to be missed if you happen to be in the area.
Tuesday morning we left Small Country and headed to Pennsylvania. We are now at Dogwood Acres in the Cumberland Valley. While here, we plan a couple more excursions. Stay tuned…and thanks for stopping by.