Magnificent Monticello

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On the occasion of Independence day of the United States Of America on July 4th, reminded me of a  renowned personality who was the 3rd President of US, to present to you all our readers! He is Thomas Jefferson.


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Thomas Jefferson


Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), philosopher of the American Revolution, is the best remembered as the author of the Declaration of Independence. The ideas of the Declaration – that "all men are created equal, have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"  – established the foundations of self government and individual freedom. Jeffersons’s eloquent words of 1776 still inspire people around the world. He was also the founder of the University of Virginia and the third President of the United States of America.


Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 at Shadywell, Albe Marle County, in Virginia. He died at Monticello on July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of America’s Independence.


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The front view


We decided to drive down to Jefferson’s house – Monticello just to write this travelogue on July 4th, 2007! The word Monticello in Italian means "Little Mountain". Monticello was not just a house but also an ornamental landscape, a farm, a plantation, a small mountain and a large and diverse community! It embossed the interests, talents, ideals, ambitions, and dreams of Thomas Jefferson. Monticello is the only house in America that has been designated as a United Nations World Heritage Site.


It was a scenic drive of about 2 and half hours south of Washington DC, to reach Charlottesville where the ‘Monticello’ is located.


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The rear view


Monticello’s design is called the "neoclassical" because it is a new version of the classical styles of ancient Greece and Rome. Thomas Jefferson Designed the Monticello, The University of Virginia and the Virginia state Capitol. He learned about the architecture from books and from buildings.


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South pavilion (Here lived the Jeffersons during the construction of Monticello)


It took more than 40 years to build Monticello which has 33 rooms on four floors. The first Monticello was 2 story, eight room house. After serving French as an American Minister for 5 years, inspired by the neoclassical houses seen in Paris, Jefferson transformed Monticello into a 3 story, 21 room structure with a dome constructed over the west front of the house, the first on an American house and it was referencing to the ancient Roman architecture.


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North pavilion


The tour of the house was about 30 minutes in which we got a chance to view the details of inner architecture of the building. Unfortunately photography was not allowed inside the house and hence I regret for not having any pictures to present to you folks how magnificent was really Monticello looked inside 🙁


The main floor of Monticello contains 11 rooms. The first room is the Entrance Hall, where Jefferson created a museum. Exhibits here included maps, European maps, Arts, and bones, horns and skins of extinct animals. He had also placed a clock which was designed by him. It not only displayed the hour, minutes and seconds but also displayed the day of the week. The items displayed here were reflecting his interests and achievements.


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Cook’s room


The Parlor which was the "living room" at Monticello is the next room. Jefferson, his family and guests gathered there to read, play music and games.   Jefferson played the violin. Many of his 12 grand children played musical instruments, including the English guitar, harpsichord and the piano. Jefferson taught his grandchildren to play chess.  At night, Monticello was lit by the candles and lamps that burned whale oil! 


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On the table at the corner, we were brought to the attention of a "Camera Obscure" which was used to make silhouettes.  Many portraits were displayed in this room of whom he admired and have met them. And outside on the West lawn area Thomas Jefferson used to organize races for his grand children and the winner were rewarded with dried fruits.


The Dining room and the adjacent Tea room was the coziest room with French glass windows and beautiful mirrors placed opposite to the windows, brought more brightness in the room. Jefferson’s stay in France had heavily influenced Monticello’s cuisine and James Hemings, a slave accompanied Jefferson to Paris and was trained as the chef in Monticello.


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The private rooms on the main floor included Jefferson’s suite, first one is the Master Bedroom, a guest room and a sitting room where his daughter Martha  used  to home school her children. Martha Jefferson, wife of Thomas Jefferson had passed away after 10 years of marriage and he was left behind by one surviving child Martha Jefferson Rudolph, who moved in to Monticello with her family later.


Jefferson had a great passion of reading and had a Book room or a library containing thousands of volumes. He could read in seven languages namely English, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Greek and Old English.  Besides the lover of books, he was scientist too. He invented the "polygraph" which made copy of the letter he wrote which is now the main core of working for the Xerox machines! Adjacent to this room, there is a Greenhouse containing   aviary and plants, a much relaxing area.


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The 2 upper floors of the house contained 9 bedrooms used by Martha Jefferson Rudolph and her family.


Jefferson’s unique design for Monticello brought together spaces for working, living and Storage beneath the main house, terraces and the pavilion.


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The all weather passage connects the house and two Pavilions


The spaces included a Wash house, Carriage house, an Ice house, a Wine cellar, Smoke house (used to cure the meat), a Diary, a Kitchen and Cook’s room.
The Kitchen was among the best equipped in Virginia with French cookware .The cookers worked in multiple burner charcoal fired stove. The Cook was Edith Fossett and her husband Joseph Fossett and her children who lived in the Cook’s room.


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South Pavilion which is located at the end of the terrace was the first building erected on the mountaintop. Jefferson and his wife Martha lived here while Monticello was under construction.


North Pavilion is located at opposite of the South Pavilion but the other side of the house, which provided study room for his son in law.


Gardens and Fields


Monticello had a large plantation on 5000 acres. Apples, peaches, pears and grapes were among the fruits grown at Monticello. The Vegetable garden was 1000 feet long and different varieties of vegetables and herbs were grown here namelyPeas, Cabbage, Basil leaves, Rosemary, Eggplant , Tomatoes, Sweet potatoes, Cucumber etc. The vegetables and herbs provided food for Jefferson, his family and guests.


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Tobacco was grown as a cash crop and later switched to wheat cultivation to retain the fertility of soil. He also has Spanish Merino sheep for their prized wool.


Jefferson Grave site


Thomas Jefferson is buried at Monticello with other members of his family in a graveyard chosen by him in 1773. Laid out upon the death of his closest friend and brother – in – law, Dabney Carr, this plot is located on the southwest slope of Monticello mountain – is owned by an association of Jefferson’s descendants and is still used as a cemetery.


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It took us nearly 3 hours to explore the entire estate, plantation which revealed the passion and achievement of Thomas Jefferson. Cherishing the treasures of Monticello, it was time for us to hit the road.


Author: Rosanne DSouza- USA