Exploring Monticello

A visit to Monticello should be at the top of everyone’s list when visiting Charlottesville. The grounds are extensive and you could easily spend an entire day there. Tickets cost $24 each which includes a guided tour of the first floor of the house and then you are welcome to spend as much time as you like exploring the grounds. There are two optional guided tours included in the regular admission price: Gardens & Grounds and Slavery at Monticello. Or you can just opt to explore the grounds on your own, which is what Rob and I chose to do. Additionally, they offer tours of the upper floors of Monticello, but those tickets are $42 each, they only do a limited number each day, and they sell out quickly. So, maybe next time we will see the rest of the house…

Thomas Jefferson spent much of his life involved in a variety of public service positions and his life was full of notable achievements. Undeniably, Jefferson’s greatest achievement was drafting the Declaration of Independence. To see a brief timeline of his life and other achievements, click here. Despite his very full schedule, Jefferson managed to find the time to design every aspect of Monticello; a project that he continuously updated and modified over a period of 40 years. He was a self-taught architect and began building Monticello when he was 26 years old after inheriting the land from his father. The house is situated on the summit of an 850 foot high peak in the Southwest Mountains. The name Monticello derives from Italian meaning “little mount.” Visitors are shuttled to the front entrance at the top of the mountain.

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No pictures were allowed to be taken inside the home, but if you would like to get a glimpse of the interior rooms, click here. The view of Monticello from the West Lawn (rear of the house) is more famous than the view of the front of the home. The West Lawn is vibrant with beautiful gardens and butterflies galore. There is also a fish pond that was more function, than decoration. Fish were caught in nearby bodies of water and then “stored” in the fish pond until needed. A fabulous idea for an era before refrigerators!

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Jefferson was always very outspoken about his views against slavery. However, he owned more than 600 slaves in his lifetime. He inherited about 175 slaves and the numbers naturally increased by the procreation of enslaved families. Jefferson purchased fewer than 30 slaves during his lifetime, which still seems like a lot to me for someone so outspoken about the abolition of slavery. But it is reported that he purchased these “few” based on labor needs and also to unite spouses. A fascinating aspect of Jefferson’s design of Monticello was the incorporation of hidden “dependencies.” Dependencies were necessary service rooms that remained accessible to the family and the slaves that worked there, but they were not visible to the public or even guests visiting the home. Two wings connected by an underground passageway provided the work spaces for the slaves that maintained the household. The kitchen, smokehouse, carriage bays, ice house, etc. were all connected to the home for easy access, but remained well out of public view. Did Jefferson have a guilty conscience for owning slaves, thereby designing his home in such a way to mask his contradiction?

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My favorite part was the wine cellar fully equipped with a dumbwaiter that lifted wine directly to a hidden compartment in the fire place of the dining room! While Jefferson was hosting a dinner with guests he would simply send the empty bottle down in the dumbwaiter and that was the signal for the slave in the wine cellar to promptly replace it. Now of course I am NOT an advocate of slavery. But I AM an advocate of speedy wine replenishment! Pure genius.

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Thomas Jefferson chose his grave site at Monticello and he also wrote the epitaph for his tombstone. “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statue of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.” It is said that these are the accomplishments that Jefferson was most proud of and what he wanted to be remembered for. Some might wonder why becoming a U.S. President didn’t make the cut. But Jefferson wanted to be remembered for what he gave to the people, not what the people gave to him. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after signing the Declaration of Independence.

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Categories: Destinations, United States, Virginia | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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