Thomas Jefferson was one of the most important, influential, and amazing founders of America. And the home he personally designed continues that tradition.
|A view across the front lawn. Thomas Jefferson Foundation/
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 house tour, there are two other options:
|Jefferson's amazing study is full of inventions. Thomas Jefferson
Tailored for children ages 6-11, these tours include hands-on opportunities and stories of more interest to kids. I would whole-heartedly recommend that you stick with this one for little ones under 7.
On our tour, the docent started by letting kids touch and hold items from a basket of things related to Jefferson, like a fake bear fur (to represent the types of things famous explorers Lewis and Clark brought back to Jefferson when they returned from their explorations out west (Jefferson was the one who sent them on their expedition).
Believe me: It'll keep their attention, and there's no extra charge for the Childrens tour. The only drawback? They're only offered in the summer, September, October, and select dates the rest of the year.
You have to register for this tour at the Ticket Office. The tour lasts about 30 minutes, and begins on Monticello’s East Front at 10, 11, noon, 1, 2, and 3 daily on these dates:
Spring Break- All week
Summer- Early June through early September (excluding July 4)
Intimate, in-depth guided tours of the house (including the Dome Room, which you can't see on regular tours) and dependencies (the cellars and outbuildings, which you usually just view by yourself) are Wednesdays/Fridays at 6:15 pm and 6:45 pm Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays May through September. Tickets are $45 per person and must be purchased in advance at www.monticello.org or by calling (434) 984-9822.
New! Behind the Scenes Tours
See recently opened and never-before-seen rooms, including second and third floor bedrooms, the Dome Room, and an interactive exhibit "Crossroads" under the house. Offered 10:30 am and 2:30 pm daily, June-Sept. Tickets are $37 per person and must be purchased in advance.
For admission prices, admission deals, and two wonderful things you can see for FREE at Monticello, 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 the first "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 of Charlottesville 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.
Gardens and Grounds Tours
Garden lovers will enjoy these guided tours, free with admission. Monticello spends millions a year on their decorative gardens, keeping the vegetable gardens, grove, and orchards as close to as in Jefferson's time as possible. Tours last 45 minutes and begin on the West Lawn at 9:15, 10:15, 11:15, 12:15, 1:15, 2:15, 3:15, and 4:15 daily, April 1-Oct. 31.
|The orchards are a great place to run around!
Plantation Community Tours
Learn how Jefferson's slaves lived and other aspects of early African-American life at Monticello through these 45-minute tours (free with admission). Meet in front of the Museum Shop at 10, 11, noon, 1, 2, and 3 daily, March 15-Oct. 31.
Acoustiguide Grounds Tour
Dislike group tours but still want to learn about the grounds? For $5 you can rent an Acoustiguide (a recorded tour you listen to with headphones) with commentary narrated by Sissy Spacek, so you can learn while enjoying the grounds at your own speed. Available at the Ticket Office and Museum Shop.
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 near Charlottesville 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 our 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 Charlottesville.