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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ash Lawn - Highland

Ash Lawn-Highland, home of our 5th president, James Monroe, lies just 2.5 miles south of Monticello. Talk about opposite end of the spectrum! Where Monticello is everything you would expect in a president's home, Highland is not. It is a very humble dwelling. The property was purchased in 1793 because of Monroe's close friendship with Jefferson. Actually, knowing what Monroe was looking for, Jefferson chose the property and used his gardeners to start its orchards.

The property was called "Highland" by President Monroe because he also owned a home in Fredericksburg which he called his lowland home. Its name was changed by
a later owner because of the ash trees that line the driveway. Monroe and his wife, Elizabeth, moved to Highland in 1799 and their first, formally invited, guests were James & Dolley Madison. Thomas Jefferson was a frequent guest and needed no invitation.

The home as it stands now is not the original structure of Monroe's era. The yellow, two-story portion to the left of the dwelling was added after a fire in 1840 destroyed that end of the home. However, the white one level portion of the home is the original building in which Monroe lived. All of the other
buildings on the property are also original structures.

The most fascinating part of the property, to me, is the approximately 400 year old White Oak tree standing in front of the house. It is a gorgeous tree and, most likely,
the only one that was there at the time Monroe lived at Highland.

Although Monroe had wanted to retire to Highland, poor health and finances forced
them to sell the home. Again, it is because of the subsequent owners that we have the property to tour. The last owner was Jay Winston Johns who bequeathed the property, now known as Ash Lawn-Highland, to Monroe's alma mater, the College of William & Mary. Mr. Johns wanted the public to share in the history of the property.

President Monroe held more titles/offices than any other president, but his favorite (the one that he preferred to addressed by) was Colonel. Other than President of the United States, Monroe was also a U.S. senator, ambassador, four-time Virginia governor, and Secretary of State and War at the same time. He was also the one who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase - without the express permission of Jefferson. He was only to purchase some of the land - not enough to double the size of the United States at that time!!

Some other Monroe trivia is that was elected to his second term of President without opposition. He would have been elected unanimously, but there was a token vote against him so that George Washington could remain the only President elected unanimously. And Monroe also died on July 4th, as did Jefferson and John Quincy Adams - three of the our first five presidents!

We had a great day touring properties that were home to such dynamic men. It was a privilege. We need to be grateful to those who had the foresight to salvage these homes and the history that goes along with them.

Randy & I are resting this weekend! Just enjoying the campground and some down time. We will head further south on Monday, stopping in Natural Bridge, VA for a week. Looking forward to exploring that area.

Take care of each other. We'll be posting again soon. Until the next time . . .

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