Thursday, April 29, 2010

Montpelier - Madison's home

The Father of the Constitution and one of the most popular First Ladies lived at Montpelier. James and Dolley Madison beautiful estate was owned by the DuPont family for many years. Only recently was the home restored to how it looked during the Madison's time. The furnishings and finishing touches are still being completed. The home is only 30 miles from Charlottesville (where Jefferson and Monroe lived) and the three families often visited each other. We're glad to live in the age where 30 miles only takes 30 minutes to drive, not days to make the journey.

From the Montpelier website:
"Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Orange, Virginia, Montpelier was the lifelong home of James Madison. Madison was raised at Montpelier, lived here after his marriage to Dolley, returned here after his presidency, and died here in his study surrounded by the books and papers that marked so much of his life's work. It was at Montpelier where Madison researched past democracies and conceived of the system of government that became our republic.
The Montpelier estate features the Madison mansion, historic buildings, exhibits, archaeological sites, gardens, forests, hands-on activities, a new Visitor Center, and a freedman's cabin and farm. Here, in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you can spend an hour or two—or a day or two—strolling the grounds, picnicking, and learning more about the man whose contemporaries called "Father of the Constitution," and the woman who inspired the title "First Lady."
Since 2004 the Montpelier mansion has been undergoing a massive restoration to return it to the home that James and Dolley knew and loved. A $25 million architectural restoration was unveiled on September 17, 2008. Visit now to see the Presidental Detective Story: Rediscovering the Furnishings and D├ęcor of James and Dolley Madison. "

The long winding entrance to the estate. You pass by the racetrack and the horse barns that belonged to the DuPont family who were active in everything horses. (We learned after we got back that one of the older ladies who goes to lunch with us every Sunday was actually raised on the estate. Her father worked there and she inherited a lifelong love of horses and hounds. It's not just the TriCities that is a small world.)

The house in the distance.

The interesting thing about the house was how it changed over time. Since James Madison was born here and his parents still lived in the house, he remodeled it when married to Dolley to turn into a duplex. His mother lived in one half and they lived in the other half during the presidential years. Since Washington used to close down in the summer and the presidents went home and ran the government from there, there were often visitors.

The amazing views. We learned some of the reasons why these Virginian presidents were so focused on expansion. They lived in the shadows of the edge of America. The only expansion was going to be beyond what they knew.

Jefferson helped Madison expand the house when needed during the presidential years. He applied the same architecture themes to this house as his own beloved home. On either side of the house were open air porches with amazing views to enjoy the breezes. As part of the tour, we went out on the one that overlooked the garden.

This side is getting ready for new archealogical excavations of the slave cabins.

The upper porch.

Looking down at a statue of the Madisons.

The front views.

The back side of the house. Underneath the house in the cellar and old kitchens (the duplex extended even to the basement, and each household kept a separate schedule), there were several exhibits based on archealogy and information written in a book by one of the freed slaves who moved to DC and opened a restaurant. When Dolley was penniless at the end of her life, he would often bring her food or money.

The woods that surrounded the back of the house. The trees are ancient and the woods haven't been cleared since before Madison's time.

Some of the proceeds from Virginia Garden Week went to the restoration of the formal gardens and the rebuilding of the wall.

Many interesting parts of the garden.

More beautiful flowers blooming.
The exit to the garden. You can barely see the horses in the background.

Interesting ironwork on the gate. We went back to the visitor center and went through the exhibits. There were some original items owned by the Madisons in one gallery, a gigantic gift shop and some galleries dedicated to the DuPonts. They had changed the home dramatically during their stay, and had some gorgeous rooms. These were preserved in the gallery along with their love for horses.
We enjoyed our weekend in Charlottesville and it was packed with history. It was worth the second trip after we were snowed out the first time!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ash Lawn - Highland, Monroe's home

Very near Monticello is Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of President James and Elizabeth Monroe. The home is small, but has been beautifully restored. It was full of period furnishings and decorations. It is now owned by the College of William and Mary and is used for many purposes. Since we got there in the morning, we got the longer tour and learned many facts about the Monroes and the other Founding Fathers.

Just outside the gift shop, the garden was being prepared. The flowers lining the path were in full bloom. You could hear the cows in the background. This was a working farm in the Monroe's day, not as fancy an estate as the other locations we visited, and many of the working buildings are being restored.

Another beautiful day to enjoy the blooms.

The more formal entrance (which we exited through) opens onto the formal gardens. We wandered around for a bit and then decided we had time for Montpelier before heading home.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Morven - Virginia Garden Week

After Monticello, the weather was still beautiful, so we went to the nearby Virginia Garden Week activity and toured Morven. MORVEN HOUSE AND GARDENS are on the National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Landmarks Register. Below is the official info:

The handsome, three-story brick manor house at Morven was completed in 1820 by local builder Martin Thacker in the late-Georgian/Federal style on land that Thomas Jefferson knew as Indian Camp, part of the original Carter land grant. The Stone family owned the Morven estate for most of the 20th century. John Kluge bought it in 1988. He gave his 7,378-acre estate to the University of Virginia Foundation in 2001. This gift included the historic Morven Farm, ten other working farms, and numerous houses and buildings. The main house and other buildings have been restored and adapted for University programs. Visitors will experience the 19th century ambiance of Jefferson’s time, while also seeing the 20th century additions of the Stone family and the recent Kluge interiors by David Easton. Selected antiques, Oriental rugs and documentary reproductions complement the elegant wallpapers, carpets and fabrics that have remained at Morven.
The grounds contain a number of unusual trees, including a pair of Osage oranges, the state champion Chinese chestnut, and a lovely dove tree. The extensive gardens form a series of distinct outdoor rooms, with thousands of tulips, pansies, forget-me-nots, lilacs, wisteria, spireas, deutzia and a rose garden. Annette Hoyt Flanders renovated the garden in the 1930s. Morven was a charter property open for the first Historic Garden Week in Virginia in 1929.

This is a once a year opportunity for the public to tour the estate that is owned by the University of Virginia. We were glad we took the opportunity, the gardens were beautiful. The house just completed restoration and this is only the second year it was open.

A gigantic pot of Amaryllis was at the entrance to a cute facility that looked like it was used for board meetings and other conferences. We were looking for where the tickets were sold, but had to keep going.

What looked like gigantic slabs of rock was actually an art installation made of metal. Guess that is what happens when owned by a university - random art.

Approaching the gardens, there was fun things to see tucked among the plants.

The views were amazing. This is near Monticello, but not up on the mountain, so was a different view.
The house that we toured briefly. Was interesting to see how the restorers tried to retain the historical and functional. Since the house is used frequently, there was a mix of antique and reproduction furniture.

Entrance to the garden.

Everywhere you looked, there were more plants blooming.

A white wysteria in one of the open spaces between the garden "rooms". Each had a different theme like spring, summer, roses, hydrangaes, etc. Several like the Japanese garden are still a work in progress.
Little tiny floating flowers looked like some one had sprinkled the pond with blossoms from trees, but they were actually growing in the pond. The flowers were so thick, you could barely see the small orange fish underneath.

Lilacs and tulips.

These were fun peonies, a very different variety than usually seen.

The little cottage tucked in the edge of the garden was probably used by a caretaker in the past. Now, it was open inside for meeting space.

Some of the plants were just starting to grow, the grounds were designed for all seasons, but were spectacular in the spring. After our adventures wandering around these two amazing estates (Monticello and Morven), we made our way to a coffee shop in Charlottesville for the free Wi-Fi and a chance to relax. There are lots of fun shops in the downtown mall area - the streets were blocked off and it was an open air mall with lots of restaurants tables in the middle. A very European feel. We finished the evening with dinner at a Creperie. It was a tiny shop with just a takeout window, but the crepes were filled with yummy things! Ryan had chicken, provolone and apples. I had the chicken, swiss, asparagus option. Finished off with a dessert crepe with dark chocolate and strawberries. That's one things we'll miss about the East Coast when we go home - all the great food options!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monticello - Jefferson's home

Monticello - Jefferson's home was worth the trip. Set on a mountain top, the views were incredible, and the innovations he adopted were fun to see.
The mountains in the distance and the vegetable gardens in the foreground.

Some of the 160 species of trees that he had planted.

Our tour of the house ended at the sundial.

Looking back at the house. Interesting to see how bright the colors were that were favored in Colonial and Federal times.

All of the necessary but not so pretty things were hidden underneath the house so not to block the view, but remain closeby.

One of the overlooks.

The back of the house. You can see some of the 20 oval flower beds near the house.

The beds in the sun were blooming, but the ones in the shade were in various stages.

Beautiful peonies.

Amaryllis in the green house.

This is an interesting shot because it is very similar to the Mount Vernon greenhouses. The fires were built underneath the floor to keep the greenhouse warm.

Tulips - after the house tour, I wasn't up for another tour. (The tour was interesting, but the questions from our fellow tour members were excessive.) So, we took a self-guided tour of the grounds instead of the group tour.

The most interesting room in the underneath part was the ice room. Ice from nearby lakes was cut in the winter and stored in the ice room to be used all summer long.

The front of the house.

After Jefferson's stay in Paris, he completely redesigned the house. What was originally one floor was split in two.

The vegetable gardens.

Walked through the gardens to see what was growing.

Iris and cabbages in the part that was in the full sun.

The cemetary at Monticello is still owned and used by the descendents of Jefferson.

There were several wreaths in front of the gigantic headstone for Jefferson.
We then followed the trail back to the visitor center for lunch, to view the movie about Monticello, the small museum and the gigantic gift shop. We learned all sorts of facts about Jefferson and his amazing home.