“…all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello.”

If you’re a fan of Thomas Jefferson or just American History in general, put Monticello on your next-to-visit list. The gorgeous plantation was built on top of a 850 foot high mountain in Charlottesville, Virginia, about an hour outside Richmond, starting in 1769. It wasn’t finished until 1809, though Jefferson continued to work on it until his death in 1826.

I was lucky enough to visit Monticello this past Saturday and was completely in awe of this amazing home.

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Jefferson went to William and Mary to study natural philosophy, but in his downtime he learned law, languages, and architecture.  And yes, Monticello’s design came out of the brain of a man who was untrained but not uneducated. Jefferson was obsessed with architecture and Monticello (which is Italian for ‘little mountain’) was heavily influenced by neoclassical design.

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The house itself is a sight to behold, a beautiful 43 room structure, but the grounds are equally as magnificent.  Unlike any other plantations, Jefferson built long L-shaped terraces jutting from each wing and placed the necessary servant rooms (kitchen, smokehouse, wine and beer cellars, etc.) underneath each terrace.

South Terrace

South Terrace from below

North Terrace from above

North Terrace from above

Jefferson first moved to Monticello in 1770. The house was far from being completed and Jefferson lived in a one room building, called the South Pavilion.

South Pavilion

South Pavilion

When Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772, he brought his new bride to Monticello’s South Pavilion. Their first child, Patsy, was born there in late 1772.

South Pavilion interior

South Pavilion interior

After Martha died, Jefferson left for France in 1984 as America’s Ambassador. While living abroad, Jefferson fell in love with European architecture and rebuilt Monticello to fit this new obsession. Monticello’s most noticeable addition was a dome that capped the top floor. A beautiful apartment, the dome was rarely used because it was hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

Inside, Monticello boasts thirteen skylights (the first house in America to do so), 18 foot high ceilings in various rooms, eight fireplaces, and a dumbwaiter which brought wine from the cellar to the parlor, to name a few attributes. Today, about 1/3 of the glass in the houses windows and doors is original.

Jefferson's greenhouse off his private wing.

Jefferson’s greenhouse off his private wing.

Monticello started its life as a tobacco plantation, but due to the damaging effects of the plants on the soil, Jefferson later switched to wheat.  He also grew over 300 different types of vegetables, various herbs, and ran an orchard and a vineyard.

Vineyard

Vineyard

Vegetable garden and Garden Pavilion

Vegetable garden and Garden Pavilion

View from the Garden Pavilion

View from the Garden Pavilion

Monticello was also home to at least 200 slaves during Jefferson’s life. They lived on Mullberry Row, named for the Mullberry trees planted along the path. More than 20 structures were built along this small stretch of land. Unfortunately, all that stands today are stone foundations and the fireplace from the joiner’s shop.

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Jefferson died in his bedroom at Monticello on July 4, 1826. He had been slipping in and out of consciousness for days and it’s believed he held on only to die on the 50th anniversary of our country’s independence. Jefferson requested to be buried at Monticello and even wrote his own epitaph. He is buried alongside his children and wife.

Jefferson's grave marker

Jefferson’s grave marker

Jefferson’s presence is felt throughout the house and the grounds, whether or not that presence is actually him or not is up to the visitor to decide. In a few pictures I took, though it was a clear and beautiful day out, orbs and hazy blobs show up in the photographs. Could it be Jefferson himself coming back to check on the house he loved so dearly? Take a visit to Monticello and decide for yourself!

Further reading:
Monticello website
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello by William L. Beiswanger
Twilight at Monticello by Alan Pell Crawford

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