Keep reading for what to see for FREE at the Monticello estate!
Virginia is home to more than a dozen homes of former U.S. presidents, including Thomas Jeffersons' main home and Poplar Forest, James Monroe's Ash-Lawn Highland, James Madison's Montpelier, and George Washington's Mount Vernon.
I'll start with a review and tips for visiting one of the best known-- Jefferson's masterpiece mansion on a hill overlooking Charlottesville. To learn about other presidents' homes, go to these links:
Back to Monticello...
Thomas Jefferson was one of the most important, influential, and amazing founders of America. And the home he personally designed continues that tradition.
At a White House dinner in April 1962 honoring Nobel Prize winners,John F. Kennedy addressed his eminent audience with this opening:"I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."
Born in 1743 at Shadwell, Virginia, Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and the third president of the United States.
More than anywhere, Monticello best reveals Jefferson's brilliance as not only a politician and thinker, but also as an architect and inventor.
Meaning "small hill" in Italian, the house and plantation was Jefferson's retreat from the rigors of Washington. Set on a shapely hill overlooking the historic and lovely city of Charlottesville, the house boasts spectacular views of the world-renowned University of Virginia (UVA) which Jefferson founded, and the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains.
Before I get into the tour, a word or two about Jefferson. He was an extremely complex man, and it's easy to try to judge him for condemning slavery while personally owning slaves.
Then there's the Sally Hemmings issue. Did Jefferson really father four children by his family slave? Here's the latest about the Sally Hemmings issue.
In addition to the regular mansion tour, the site offers Family-Friendly tours, "signature" tours, "behind the scenes" tours, "Slavery at Monticello" tours, and garden tours.
It IS possible to visit Monticello for less if you know how. To learn how, plus all the details and prices of the various tours, AND what parts of Monticello you can see for free, click here.
Drawing from the immense intellectual and cultural elements of nearby University of Virginia, the museum boasts some of the most interesting docents I've ever heard. For them, being a docent is not just a job...it's a testament to their love and admiration for this remarkable American.
My favorite docent was actually a friend of ours. A former airline pilot and amateur Thomas Jefferson expert, Jeff, was not just extremely knowledgeable, but also a stitch. On one tour, he "planted" another docent in the front hall of the house. A few minutes into Jeff's presentation, his "plant" asked, "What goes in that alcove there?" Actually, nothing did, but the tour group didn't know that.
Quick as a beat, Jeff yelled, "Oh my gosh! Someone's stolen the statue! Quick! Lock all the doors!" The tour group was totally psyched out until Jeff started laughing. Unfortunately, Jeff is not longer a docent at Monticello, otherwise I'd tell you to ask for him.
But I digress...what will you see and learn on the tour? Secret staircases and wine "elevators." Some of Jefferson's inventions, including thefirst "photocopier." Artifacts from Lewis and Clarks' historic expedition out west. The ridiculously short-looking bed that somehow fit the 6-foot-plus ex-president. The secret staircase that led up to his closets.
I could go on, but let me just say that this is so worth the admission fee!
Afterward, reserve time to explore the grounds and enjoy the beautiful view ofCharlottesville and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Charlottesville is a great place for a romantic weekend getaway, perhaps at nearby Boar's Head Inn or at Prospect Hill Bed and Breakfast.
Monticello is located on Route 53 near the intersection of Interstate 64 (Exit 121) and Virginia Route 20 (about two miles southeast of Charlottesville). The address is 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Virginia 22902. Charlottesville is about 70 miles from Richmond, 110 miles from Williamsburg, and 125 miles from Washington, D.C.
It's is open daily (every day of the year except Christmas) from 8 am to 5 pm, March-October, and from 9 am to 4:30 pm, November-February. The grounds are open an additional hour.
Parking is free and is located at the base of the hill. You'll park your car, walk up to the Ticket office, then take a bus up the hill to the house and grounds.
If you can, don't take the bus back. Instead, visit the house and grounds, then walk east to the Jefferson family burial grounds. It's interesting to see where the family members and descendent were buried (including one who recently died in the Iraq war). If you continue east, you can take a 1/4 mile path that will eventually lead you back to the parking lot.
It's a breathtaking, peaceful walk, just you and the trees, squirrels, and nature. During the spring and summer, our kids like to keep a look out (especially on the walkway railings) for a variety of strange spiders and funky insects (hairy brown catterpillars, lime-green inchworms, horny grasshoppers, and weird walking stick insects).
Other attractions in or nearby include Ash Lawn-Highland, Montpelier, and Michie Tavern, a restored, 18th century tavern and inn offering unique tours, eclectic gifts, and authentic colonial fare served by costumed tavern “wenches.”
For my review of Michie Tavern (including the answer to the question, "What's a toe-stir?"), click here. Right next to Michie Tavern is Carter's Mountain Orchard, the best view in lovely Charlottesville.
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