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!

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