We spent Friday touring Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and James Monroe's Ash Lawn-Highland. Very different homes, but both worth the visit.
Monticello, which is Italian meaning "little mountain," is appropriately named as it does sit on top of a mountain just outside of Charlottesville, VA. There is a gorgeous view from the front of the property. The house itself is not the impressive when you first drive up to the front of it, but as you walk the grounds and come around to the back of the house, it is breathtaking to take in the beautiful gardens and full layout of the house that is unseen from the front.
All of us know Jefferson's accomplishments; writer of the Declaration of Independence, congressman, vice-president; and 3rd president of the United States and much more. But he felt that one of his biggest contributions to this country was the founding of the University of Virginia. He was also an avid reader, scientist, farmer, and architect.
Monticello was Jefferson's passion for over 50 years. He designed and oversaw all aspects of its construction. The gardens were used for exploring many of his agricultural theories. Unfortunately, many of his ideas were unprofitable and he died in debt which forced his family to sell everything to pay off those debts.
Fortunately, for us, the Levy family who bought Monticello in 1834 from the family who bought it from Jefferson's family, greatly admired President Jefferson and maintained the home in much the same condition as it was during Jefferson's residence. It was from the Levy family that the Jefferson Foundation purchased Monticello and allowed it to be opened to the public.
Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He is buried in the Monticello cemetery as is his wife, Martha. This cemetery is owned by an association of Jefferson's descendants and is still in use today. It's interesting to note that of all of the accomplishments that could have been used as his epitaph, Jefferson himself stated that only the three that he felt were the most important be written on his tombstone: "Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia." Wonder what we would have chosen, if we were Jefferson?
Next stop - Ash Lawn-Highland!