On a warm Spring morning, The Nomads headed for Charlottesville, Virginia. Why? I am glad you asked. We decided to visit the home of the Author of The Declaration of Independence, Mr. Thomas Jefferson. It is called Monticello.
On your way to Monticello, which is positioned at the top of a Virginia hill just outside of Charlottesville, you will pass Michie Tavern; a Virginia Historic Landmark that served travelers with food, drink and lodging. Some of which were former US Presidents.
You arrive at Monticello by crossing a big stone bridge that leads you onto the property and into the free parking lot located at the base of the hill on the edge of the on 5,000 acre estate. Adjoining the parking lot you will find the Visitor’s Center, Museum, Gift Shop, Cafe, Theater and Restrooms.
The Visitor’s Center is where you purchase your tickets. The regular pricing between March and October is $8 for children 5 to 11 (under 5 is free) and $25 per adult. During the off-season, November to February, the children’s price is the same. However, the adult pricing drops to $20. In my opinion, it is worth the extra $5 per person to go when everything is in bloom (hint…visit in the spring).
Now, while we were purchasing our tickets, we learned something that will save you big time! If you live in the area, be sure to tell the cashier. If you do not live in the area but you have friends or family who do, ask them to buy your tickets for you. Why? Because you will qualify for the Neighborhood Pass. This is a discount for local residents that gives you one free adult entrance with one purchased adult entrance. As far as we know, there is no limit. Since we currently live in the Shenandoah Valley, we qualified and we almost cut our entrance fee in half. Score 1 for The Nomads!
After you get your tickets, you can go into the theater and watch a short film about Thomas Jefferson, browse the museum, grab a bite, pick up a souvenir or, do what we did and explore the property. At the top of the double set of outside stairs (look for the Thomas Jefferson statue), you can catch a free shuttle up to the main house or, just to the left of the shuttles, you can walk up a winding path to get there. Beautiful sunny, Spring afternoon…we walked.
The walkway is a well-defined dirt and gravel mix with benches along the way to sit and enjoy the surrounding scenery. It will eventually let you out at the graveyard where Thomas Jefferson and his family are buried. There are a multitude of gravestones of various shapes and sizes. However, Mr. Jefferson’s gravestone rivaled all the rest. It was an obelisk that stood about 15 feet tall. It looked like a miniature Washington Monument. The entire graveyard was well-kept, surrounded by an iron fence and had Jefferson’s coat of arms on the main gate that stated “Ab eo libertas a quo spiritus” which has been translated as: “The spirit (comes) from him from whom liberty comes,” or more freely, “He who gives life gives liberty.” Translation and verbiage found on Monticello’s Website and reprinted above.
As you leave the graveyard, you will come upon a very long brick walkway that leads up the hill to the edge of an area called Mulberry Row. This was the central hub of things when the working plantation was in full swing. It had over 25 dwellings, workshops and sheds. The grounds had over 200 different vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices growing in it and it is accompanied by the berry square, orchards and vineyard, complete with a beautiful dogwood in the middle. They grew and made everything they needed right on the property, including making nails and lumber for building.
After you get towards the end of Mulberry Row, you come upon a path that leads to the front of the house. There is a long walkway up to the house. the beginning of which is shadowed by two big Little Leaf Linden trees. These trees are as interesting to me as Banyan Trees. The Little Leaf Linden trees will have limbs that grow in all directions. The ones that touch the ground will grow roots and then head back up into the sky like a new tree. It is a wonder to see.
Our house tour was not ready to start so we walked on around to the north side of the home. We saw stables, an ice house and a privy. Interestingly enough, Thomas Jefferson built almost everything needed to support the services of the house, under the ground. They were called the north and south dependencies because the house “depended” on them.
There is an underground tunnel that connects the north and south dependencies. In the tunnel, you will see where Jefferson kept his wine, beer and other home maintenance areas. Pay particular attention to the main central room at the half way point. In the corners you will see cannon balls on wires. I will get to that when I describe the interior of the home.We continued to the south dependency where we saw the kitchen and smokehouse.
Once we exited the south dependency, we explored around to the back of the house. This is where the garden area is. There is a fish pond and a walkway lined with all manner of tulips that went around the entire back yard. This back yard garden area was one more thing that really wowed us. You saw beauty in every direction and it really complemented the house.
Finally it was our time to go on the home tour (no pix as you are not allowed to take any while inside). Our tour guide was Ms. Marianne Cole. She really made the tour entertaining. A good guide can make the difference between a boring or a good experience. Well, we had a great guide and our experience was phenomenal. It was super interesting to learn that Thomas Jefferson designed this entire house. And he did so with his only real experience or knowledge on the subject of architecture being the one and only book he read about it. From there, he figured it out. This guy was a genius; reading fluently in 7 different languages.
We entered into the main foyer of the home. It had a clock over the door. The clock was actually ran by huge weights on cables. Remember the cannon balls we saw in the underground area? The cables were longer than the distance from the floor to the ceiling, so Thomas Jefferson had them cut holes in the floor in the corners. This room was called the Curiosity Room. It had things displayed that were acquired both locally and from abroad.
As you meander your way through the home, you will see a plethora of unique things. Thomas Jefferson was the first man in the United States to put a skylight in to give natural light. He had an alcove bed that was built into the wall; one side was his bedroom and the other his office. Above his bed was a full walk-in closet. In his office was a table that allowed you to put around 5 books on it and it spun around so that Jefferson could read more than one book at a time and not lose his place. One room was 8 sided as he learned that mathematically you do not have any areas for dark corners to exist due to the angles of the rooms corners. And, in one interesting room, filled with artwork and musical instruments (the Parlor) we were “under the dome” so to speak. This is the room that had the famous dome above it. The image that you see when you look on the back of the US Nickel. Marianne called it “being in the nickel.”
After we finished the tour of the inside of the home, Marianne led us out the door and on the roof area walkway of the north dependency. She brought us to the end to enlighten us about the North Pavilion (the end of the north dependency). This is where his son-in-law had his office. What a view of the garden and the mountains. Just outside of the North Pavilion, you could see a hole cut into the trees. This was done on purpose. It gave Thomas Jefferson a direct view from the dome on Monticello to see the dome at the University of Virginia, which he founded.
Monticello was a fascinating place to visit when Mr. Jefferson lived there and it still evokes wonder and awe to this day. Mama Nomad liked it enough that she wants to go back. If you are anywhere near the Charlottesville, Virginia area, put this place as one of your destinations to visit and explore. Safe Travels.