Sunday, April 20, 2008

James Madison's Montpelier

On our way back to Connecticut, we spent two nights in Virginia and took a day to visit Montpelier, the home of our former President, James Madison, called the Father of the Constitution. His stately brick home in Orange, VA is undergoing a complete renovation. The guided tour inside is limited in scope due to the ongoing work but it is fascinating. You can see the lath inside the plaster walls being carefully cleaned and restored with horsehair from the animals that live on the farm here. Unfortunately, photos of the inside of the house, even unrestored sections, are not allowed. But here are the working barns behind the main house.

James Madison died in 1836. His widow, Dolley, sold Montpelier in 1844 due to financial difficulties. The home changed hands several times until it ended up with the Dupont family of Delaware, associated with the chemical company. The wealthy family constructed numerous wings onto the sides and back of the house, stuccoed over the brick, but never substantially altered the front and main sections of the house. They were aware that they owned a historic property and were careful to save or reuse as many original components as possible, such as doors and fireplace mantles. In 1984, Marion duPont Scott, the last family member to own Montpelier, passed away. By her bequest, the house transferred to the National Trust. After years of feasibility studies and historical reserach, the restoration to return the house to its style in 1820 finally began in 2003. The exterior was completed in 2006 and the interior is expected to be done in September of 2008. Furnishing the interior will be the next step. The woman on the left was our guide as we stand ready to enter through the front doors.

The logo symbol used by the Montpelier Foundation is "The Temple." This place was built by Madison as a place of quiet reflection for "Liberty and Learning." The ornamental structure also served a practical purpose. Underneath, Madison had an ice house constructed. That way, Dolley could serve ice cream, her favorite dessert, to guests.

When Madison lived here, these brick walls housed the vegetable and herb gardens.

Today, they contain formal flower gardens. During our visit, there wasn't much in bloom due to the time of year. A note to geocachers: there is one virtual geocache at Montpelier. The clue is to find the inscription, "Feare God and Obey the King." It's found here in the garden but I won't spoil it for others. But I did note the irony in the inscription in the garden of the man who drew up the United States Bill of Rights.


Amana said...

Great work.

Anonymous said...

Seldom have I seen such a fine conservation of a National Treasure. The Madison's Montpelier (thank goodness for the last of the DuPonts and her foresightedness) that we see today is one of the most intensive reclamation projects ever undertaken on an historic house of this size. Considering how much it had been altered, I applaud those involved in making the decisions to go the distance when restoring Madison's lovely Montpelier. In three words? WHAT A HOUSE!