Saturday, October 12, 2013

Field Trip to Montpelier and Monticello

     An added treat to enhance our studies in historic preservation was an over-night field trip on October 10-11 2013 to the presidential residences of Montpelier and Monticello, both located near Charlottesville, Virginia.  This was our first overnight class trip and everyone was excited to experience these famous historic sites as well as the fine dining and shopping of Charlottesville.  Many historic sites operated by the national Parks Service were closed due to the government shutdown, but luckily, neither Montpelier nor Monticello were effected.  I was unable to go with the class at the last minute, but I was with the group in spirit!

     Montpelier, the home of James and Dolley Madison, was the first stop on the excursion.  The class toured the ca. 1797 Greek Revival mansion, getting a personal look at the period furnishing and architectural details of the drawing room, dining room, library, and bedchamber.  Dolley Madison had a strong local connection to our group, as she was a native of Guilford County, North Carolina.  She and James Madison entertained hundreds of guests sat Montpelier in the years following his second term as president.  Financial problems led to Dolley Madison selling the mansion and plantation in 1844, and an ongoing effort continues to locate and acquire as many of the original furnishings as possible.

     Thomas Jefferson's legendary home Monticello is much more familiar to the average American than Montpelier.  The mansion's exquisite architecture, designed by Jefferson himself, places it among the most famous of American structures.  The west front view with its commanding octagonal dome is prominently featured on the back of the nickel, with Jefferson himself on the front.  Touring this amazing residence gives insight into the true genius of  Thomas Jefferson, as the rooms are filled with his numerous inventions and experiments.
The interiors of Monticello radiate with an ingenuity that goes far beyond the standard architectural features of their time, showing a bold hand with form and color.

                            The incredible play of light and shadow in the dome room.

     In all, the experience of visiting Montpelier  and Monticello exemplifies the very best in historic preservation and shows the importance of continuing to identify and protect structures that demonstrate the best design characteristics of their time periods.  At various times throughout their long history, both Montpelier and Monticello have faced uncertain futures.  Thankfully, concerned people were there to protect these irreplaceable parts of American history.


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