Jefferson’s Monticello

Thomas Jefferson was a smart man. He knew quite a bit, contributed quite a bit, but in my mind, he was smartest when he chose the site and design of Monticello. Monticello is the only presidential home to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s not hard to see why it made the list.

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We could not have asked for a more beautiful day for our visit—sunny skies and a 70 degree day meant we could enjoy every moment walking around the house and every view.

And the views! Stunning is not a word I use often, but we were truly stunned by how beautiful this mountaintop plantation was. Our experience would have been different had we come just a day earlier when our guide said the site was so hemmed in by fog and misty rain that the views were almost completely obstructed. And, despite the beautiful weather and the Labor Day holiday weekend, the site was not crowded, making our views even more unobstructed. 🙂

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We booked our tour online the day before our visit to take advantage of the online discount, so we had a short wait in line for our will-call tickets before we headed to the shuttle up to the house. Our tour guide, Liz, was awesome. Her enthusiasm and wealth of knowledge pulled us in and kept us engaged even more than we already were. Old houses are our jam, and when you throw in politics, Tim is really in. It’s a shame no photography is allowed inside, but perhaps we saw more because we weren’t so focused on taking pictures, but on soaking in every item in every room.

The first room on the tour was the entry hall, which Jefferson used as a natural history and Native American museum of sorts. This was Tim’s favorite room. We were both intrigued by the ingenuity on display in this room in the form of a clock complete with a pulley system that noted the day of the week. The French doors into the parlor were geared so that when one door closed, the other closed gently as well. These were all inventions of Thomas Jefferson’s creation. Another invention in the dining room also captured our attention: a dumb waiter installed on either side of the fire place to bring full bottles of wine up from the cellar and return empty ones back to the cellar. Tim was already thinking how we could outfit something like this in our house. And I was drooling over the library—Jefferson was a voracious reader, and the books on display speak to that. Some of the books in the collection were books actually owned, touched, and read by the man himself. For an antique book collector such as myself, it was swoon-worthy!

After the house tour, we enjoyed a walk around the grounds and underneath the house where the domestic operations were centered. There are two other tours included in the ticket price, a gardens and grounds tour and a Slavery at Monticello tour offered at the top of every hour. We caught the tail-end of the Slavery at Monticello tour, and it was powerful. If we’d had more time, we would have been sure to catch both of these tours.

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Before we left, we stopped at the Robert H. and Clarice Smith gallery back at the Visitor’s Center. The gallery had interesting artifacts and exhibits that explored deeper into Jefferson’s life, both at home and abroad.

With only two and a half hours to spend at Monticello, we really got to see quite a bit. I think if we’d had another hour and a half or two, we would have really experienced everything—the extra time would have been nice for these two old house nerds. I think the average person would have been satisfied with two and half or three hours.

Monticello would have never been on my radar had we not been looking for things to do around Crozet, so I’m grateful for the happenstance that brought us there! Next visit, I think we’ll go for the neighborhood tour and check out James Madison’s home and Michie Tavern. If it’s old, we’re probably going to love it!

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