By Karen Rubin
Thomas Jefferson has been talked about so much lately, you would think the Founding Father was only in retirement at Monticello.
Jefferson was not merely a genius. He was a giant of intellect, the standard bearer for Humanism, and oh how we miss him, today. Perhaps because he was precisely that, human, and was so conscious of what it means to be human. He wrote of “inalienable rights” yet lived in a time when society determined that some human beings were not entitled to their full measure. He understood that power corrupts absolutely, so devised a system of checks and balances of three co-equal branches of government. He understood how religion could become tyrannical, so he urged a “wall of separation” between church and state.
The spirit of Jefferson is palpable on the campus of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. All universities have founders, commemorated with statutes, portraits and such. But this campus is infused with his spirit and ideals-he conceived and designed it as an “academical village,” a place where shared learning infused daily life.
He opened the university in 1825. Each Sunday, he hosted students for dinner at Monticello. Among those students was Edgar Allan Poe, a University student in 1826. Poe was among the students, too, who journeyed up the mountain to pay their respects at the funeral of their University’s founder, who died on July 4, 1826
Today, you sense Jefferson’s presence most profoundly in the Rotunda, where the university orientation takes place, and from which you can look out over a lawn flanked by what Jefferson had designed as classrooms and lodgings for professors and the 123 students (West Range No. 13 is preserved as the Edgar Allan Poe Room, while a plaque over the door of No. 31 marks the room of Woodrow Wilson). Today, as the university has grown to more than 20,000, each year, 100 students are selected by other students for the honor.
The Rotunda, in which we stand was situated at the head of the shared lawn. Its dome shape was inspired by Rome’s Pantheon and symbolic of the enlightened human mind. Jefferson made this the library, and not, as in most other colleges and universities of the time, a chapel. (Tours of the Rotunda are conducted daily at 10 am and 11 am.; 2 pm, 3 pm and 4 pm; no admission charge).
The University survived the Civil War, but after fire destroyed Jefferson’s Rotunda in 1895, noted architect Stanford White rebuilt and expanded it; it was returned to the original Jefferson design in 1976.
Thomas Jefferson would have loved the fact that the university’s Leander J. McCormick Observatory is open to the public on the first and third Friday night of each month for about two hours (free admission; 434-924-7494,www.astro.virginia.edu/pubnite ).
You also can visit the University of Virginia Art Museum, offering exhibits art from around the world dating from ancient times to the present day. The Museum maintains a collection of over 9,000 objects in its permanent collection of American and European painting and sculpture of the 15th – 19th centuries including art from the “Age of Thomas Jefferson” (1775- 1825); art from the ancient Mediterranean; Asian art; and 20th century art (free; 434-924-6321,www.virginia.edu/artmuseum ).
Being on the University of Virginia grounds, I felt such a connection, and a momentary calm that I was in the hands of someone who knew enough about what he could not foresee about the future, that he created mechanisms to allow for change.
This balance between progress and preservation is evident in things great and small. You can hop on a free bus at the campus and go downtown, where a pedestrian village has been carved out of a quaint, historic section, much like in Salem, Massachusetts.
A short distance from the campus is the area’s most famous and popular attraction: Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and Statute for Religious Freedom, and the Third President of the United States.
Thomas Jefferson, a true Renaissance Man, began the design and construction of Monticello in 1769, at the age of 26. Perched on a mountaintop overlooking the city of Charlottesville, Monticello is a majestic reminder of Jefferson’s creativity and talent. No other home in the United States more accurately reflects the personality of its owner than Monticello, Jefferson’s architectural masterpiece and beloved mountaintop home.
Monticello is the only house in America on the United Nations list of World Heritage Sites. Indeed, in 1987 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added the University of Virginia and Monticello to the list of World Heritage Sites (a list that includes the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, and Versailles). The nomination for Monticello and the University of Virginia read, “(I) as a unique artistic achievement, a masterpiece of creative genius; (IV) as an outstanding example of a type of a building or architectural ensemble which illustrates a significant stage in history; and (VI) because Monticello and the University of Virginia are directly and tangibly associated with ideas, beliefs, and events of outstanding universal significance.”
Monticello is owned and operated by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which has continued to restore the house and create an authentic Jeffersonian atmosphere and offers daily tours.
During a 30-minute guided house tour (confined to the first floor), you get to see the books, gadgets, art, furnishings, and objects that reveal Jefferson’s extraordinary mind. The admission ticket also includes access to the grounds and two optional outdoor guided tours, of the Plantation Community and of the Gardens and Grounds, which are offered daily April-October (adults/$14; $6/child). Tours of the house are conducted continuously throughout the day.
Located beneath the main house and its terraces, the dependencies contain the kitchen, workrooms, storage areas, and slave quarters where members of Monticello’s enslaved community tended to domestic tasks.
Jefferson considered gardening to be a fine art. The Flower and Vegetable Gardens, the Grove, the Orchards, and the Vineyards at Monticello were a botanic laboratory of ornamental and useful plants from around the world. These gardens are open to anyone with a ticket to tour the house. Free guided tours of the Gardens and Grounds run hourly; there is also an audio tour of the Monticello Mountaintop, narrated by Sissy Spacek.
Mulberry Row was a center of light industry and housing at Monticello and hummed with activity during Jefferson’s day. Today, visitors can walk along its shady path and see the remains of Monticello’s Joinery and the foundations of many of the site’s original buildings. Mulberry Row is featured in seasonal guided tours of the Plantation Community, which run hourly and are free to anyone with a ticket to tour the house. Mulberry Row is also featured in our audio tour of the Monticello Mountaintop, narrated by Sissy Spacek.
Jefferson is buried at Monticello along with members of his family and their descendants. His gravesite is marked by an obelisk inscribed with his own epitaph.
In addition to the tour of Monticello and the gardens, you can get the grand view of Jefferson’s plantation and the surrounding area from Montalto, the neighboring mountain that rises 410 feet above Monticello. The 90-minute Montalto Tours are offered at 1 and 3 p.m. daily, weather permitting, from May through October. (You should take care to not schedule your House Tour within two hours of the start of your Montalto Tour). A House/Montalto combination ticket is $24/adult, $10 for kids.
Monticello is a fascinating place to visit with kids, who will be enthralled at the gadgets that Jefferson invented. Special Tours for Children and their Families are offered daily, mid-June 15-mid-August, at no extra cost. Geared for children ages 6 to 11 and their family members, these guided tours of the Monticello house include a special focus on topics of interest to children and hands-on opportunities. These special tours are conducted daily, on the hour between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. from June 15-September 8. Tickets are $14 for adults, $6 for children 6-11, and free for children under 6. Register for tours at the Ticket Office upon arrival at Monticello.
Signature Tours, an intimate tour of Monticello for groups limited to 20, are offered Friday nights at 6:30 p.m. from mid-April through the beginning of September. These tours feature parking on the mountaintop; an hour-long guided exploration of Monticello that includes the rooms on the main floor of the house, the third-floor Dome Room, and the cellar-level dependencies; an orientation visit to Mulberry Row, the center of African-American life on the plantation; and ample time to stroll the scenic gardens and grounds. Attendees must arrive no later than 6:15 p.m. (the tours are not handicapped accessible). Tickets for Signature Tours are $35 per person. Ticket reservations must be made in advance with a credit card by calling 434-984-9822.
Because of the extraordinary popularity of visiting Monticello, and because walk-up purchases are limited in number in summer, it is recommended that you purchase tickets in advance for visits after June 14 through the online ticket service.
The Monticello Visitors Center is located approximately one and a half miles from Monticello and is free to the public. It features the exhibition “Thomas Jefferson at Monticello,” which explores many aspects of Jefferson’s domestic life and displays personal memorabilia, artifacts discovered during archaeological excavations, and architectural models and drawings. You also can see an award-winning film, Thomas Jefferson: The Pursuit of Liberty. For families, there is also a free Hands-on Learning Hours (600 College Drive, Charlottesville, VA 22903, 434-984-9822,www.monticello.org.
The area has become a center for vineyards and wineries-there are 12 within 30 minutes of where we were happily ensconced, at the Boar’s Head Inn-but the tradition goes back to Jefferson, himself. You can visit Jefferson Vineyards, located right on Mr. Jefferson’s original 1774 vineyard sites, just one mile south of Monticello (free admission; 1353 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, VA 22902, 800-272-3042, 434-977-3042, www.jeffersonvineyards.com ,firstname.lastname@example.org ).
Boar’s Head Inn
The Boar’s Head Inn, a member of Historic Hotels of America, where we stayed has a direction connection to both Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia.
In the 1730s, the inn property was the site of Terrell’s Ordinary, a modest inn where westward travelers stayed the night.
The original portion of the inn today was constructed from an 1834 water wheel grist mill, which was located at Bellair, the estate of Martin Dawson, a neighbor and financial advisor to Thomas Jefferson. The mill escaped destruction during the Civil War (despite an effort by the Union to burn it). More than a century later,in 1965, inn founder John Rogan purchased the mill, had it dismantled and reconstructed. Today, it houses the Inn’s award-winning Old Mill Room restaurant and Bistro 1834, as well as 39 guest rooms.
The mill’s original fieldstones, heart pine beams and planks, and massive grist stones are now prominently featured throughout the Inn and all 159 guest rooms and 11 suites are decorated with colonial style; vintage antiques decorate the public rooms. The rooms have wonderful amenities-luxurious bedding, voice-mail telephone, high-speed Internet access, cable television, mini-refrigerator and coffee maker; most have a patio or balcony with views of the lake and landscape, some have fireplaces.
A country resort occupying 573 acres with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Boar’s Head Inn was purchased in 1990 by the University of Virginia Foundation. Since that time, the University of Virginia Foundation has invested almost $20 million to renovate and upgrade the Inn. The University uses the incredible indoor tennis facility and its championship 18-hole golf course for its teams. Beginning in 2002, and for five consecutive years, the Inn attained the prestigious AAA Four Diamond Award.
Boar’s Head Inn’s Old Mill Room restaurant has been awarded the coveted AAA Four-Diamond rating for the 19th consecutive year. It offers delectable interpretations of regional cuisine. The inn also offers Bistro 1834, an intimate room where you can linger over cocktails and conversation, or enjoy the view from the veranda; the Café at the Sports club; and the Birdwood Grill, which is opened seasonally for light fare.
The Boar’s Head Inn is a place to linger. It offers an unparalleled sense of luxury and style. It is set out more like a small, colonial village than a resort, such that when you drive into it, you literally leave the rest of the world behind. It offers afternoon tea, and on Friday and Saturday afternoons (5-5:30 p.m.), wine tastings.
In addition to the state-of-the-art indoor tennis center with 12 courts plus outdoor courts (rated among America’s top 50 tennis resorts) and 18-hole championship Birdwood Golf Course (which recently underwent a $1.1 million makeover), it offers a luxury spa offering more than 30 different treatments including a room dedicated to couples treatments, expansive sports club, four outdoor pools.
Boar’s Head Inn (named after a London inn popular during Shakespeare’s time, when the boar’s head was first known to symbolize hospitality and good food) offers children’s activities, adventure education and vintner programs, cooling classes, hot-air ballooning (sunrise flights are offered daily; sunset flights are offered on weekends) and complimentary use of fishing poles and bicycles.
The inn offers various packages including summer Family Fun Package; bed-and-breakfast; golf-and spa; unlimited golf; spa for two; step back in history; romance; and wine tour (200 Ednam Drive, Charlottesville, 800-476-1988, 434-296-2181, www.boarsheadinn.com , or visit Historic Hotels of America, 800-678-8946,www.historichotels.org).
No trip to Charlottesville/Albemarle County is complete without a visit to its five historical gems: Monticello, the Grounds of the University of Virginia, Ash Lawn-Highland, Historic Court Square and Michie Tavern, ca. 1784. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson was not the only Founding Father to come from this part of Virginia.
Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of President of the U.S., James Monroe, is an historic house museum, 535-acre working farm, and performing arts site in Albemarle County, Virginia. President James Monroe and his wife, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe of New York, owned Ash Lawn-Highland from 1793 to 1826 and made it their official residence from 1799 to 1823. A close friend of Thomas Jefferson. James Monroe’s 550- acre estate recreates the atmosphere of a working farm, with strutting peacocks, spinning and weaving demonstrations, open hearth cooking demonstrations and tours of the house and gardens. (1000 James Monroe Parkway, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902, 434-293-9539, www.ashlawnhighland.org, email@example.com ).
Montpelier, the lifelong home of President James Madison (father of the U.S. Constitution, author of the Bill of Rights, chief architect of the American Republic), since December 2003 has been undergoing a complete restoration which will return it in size, structure, form, and furnishings to the home that James and Dolley Madison knew in the 1820s. Until the completion of the project, which was expected to take four years, portions of the home are open to visitors, providing visitors with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the restoration of the lifelong home of an early American President and patriot.
Visitors are able to see Madison furniture, as well as vignettes from the restored house- the Madison dining room and the Dolley Madison bedroom-at special exhibits in Montpelier’s Education Center, located just beyond the back lawn of the mansion. During restoration, Montpelier is offering special Restoration Tours of the mansion, daily “insider briefings” and visual presentations on restoration, and new guided walking tours of the estate’s landscape (weekends, mid-March through October).
Montpelier is also home to the James Madison Landmark Forest – a 200-acre old-growth forest. This remnant of the original hardwood forests that once blanketed the Piedmont of the United States was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1987 by the U.S. Department of Interior. Many of the stately trees of the forest are 200 to 300 years old and range in size from 36 to 60 inches in diameter. The undisturbed forest, also known as the “Big Woods”, harbors a large population of wildlife, and its floor is rich with native plant species. A series of interlocking, self-guided trails have opened this natural treasure to Montpelier visitors. These include a handicapped-accessible trail to a new Viewing Deck, the .3 mile Turkey Foot Loop, the .5 mile Poplar Run Loop, the .2 mile Spicebush Loop, and the .5 mile Mountain Mill Road Trail, built on a Madison-era road trace. Access to the Landmark Forest is included with admission to Montpelier. ($9/adults, $8/seniors/ $4.50/child; take Route 20 north from Charlottesville. 11407 Constitution Highway, Montpelier Station, VA 22957, 5400 672-2728, www.montpelier.org).
Each has played a role in the history of the nation, and their tours, special events, and educational programs ensure that the spirits of the past remains vibrant today. The Charlottesville/Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau sells the Presidents’ Pass, a combination discounted ticket for touring Monticello, Ash Lawn-Highland, and Michie Tavern, ca. 1784 Museum.
The Blue Ridge Parkway travels 217 miles through the Commonwealth of Virginia, allowing visitors to travel from its beginning at the southern end of the Shenandoah National Park to the North Carolina border, near Fisher’s Peak (540-377-2377, www.blueridgeparkway.org ).
Shenandoah National Park lies astride a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge Mountains bordering Albemarle County. The Shenandoah River flows through the valley to the west, with Massanutten Mountain, 40 miles long, standing between the river’s north and south forks. The rolling Piedmont country lies to the east of the park. Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that winds along the crest of the mountains through the length of the park, provides vistas of the spectacular landscape to east and west. The park holds more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Trails may follow a ridge crest, or they may lead to high places with panoramic views or to waterfalls in deep canyons. Many animals, including deer, black bears, and wild turkeys, flourish among the rich growth of an oak-hickory forest. In season, bushes and wildflowers bloom along the Drive and trails and fill the open spaces. Apple trees, stone foundations, and cemeteries are reminders of the families who once called this place home. Camping, horseback riding, cottages, and lodging are available at different locations along the drive.
Another fairly unique attraction, especially for those like me who have become fans of “The Waltons,” television show, is The Walton’s Museum, a blend of history, nostalgia and entertainment. The same building where young Earl Hamner, Jr. attended school now houses replicas rooms from “The Waltons,” the memorable television series he created. Step back in time and memory to John-Boy’s bedroom, the Waltons’ kitchen and living room, and Ike Godsey’s store, which also serves as the museum’s gift shop. The museum also has an exhibit room with models and a soapstone display and a Recipe Room. ($5/adults, $4/seniors, $2/child 6-12, 434-831-2000, www.waltonmuseum.org ).
The Charlottesville/Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau sells the Presidents’ Pass, a combination discounted ticket for touring Monticello, Ash Lawn-Highland, and Michie Tavern, ca. 1784 Museum.
For further information, contact the Charlottesville/Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau, 877-386-1103,www.SoVeryVirginia.com.
© 2006 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com .