On Saturday afternoon I took a trip with four other field school students to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville,Virginia. I had never been there before, so this was an exciting new experience for me. We arrived in the morning and made our way to the visitor’s center to purchase tickets. I was immediately impressed by the facilities at the site’s entrance, which included the ticket sales building, a café (with excellent coffee and muffins), a museum, and the museum shop. Once we got our tickets we were given the option to either take the shuttle directly to the house, or to walk up the trail. We decided to walk and stopped at the cemetery where Thomas Jefferson, his immediate family, and his direct descendants are all buried. After that we continued up the hill until we reached the top, where we were met with an absolutely breathtaking view over the Blue Ridge Mountains. We spent quite some time taking in the scenery before moving on to other sites, like the gardens and the mountaintop shop. By this point I was already quite pleased with my experience there, but I was even happier once we got to the house.
Thomas Jefferson was an amazing architect, who designed his home himself and incorporated his love of science and learning into every aspect of it. Our tour started on the porch, which has a compass rose on the ceiling that is attached to a weathervane on the roof. This allowed him to check the wind from inside the house, which was useful in his daily recordings of the weather. We learned about the basic history of the house, and then stepped inside to the main entrance hall, which was filled with items that demonstrated Jefferson’s intelligence and worldliness. There were original artifacts, as well as replicas on display. This room also featured a clock that is attached to a calendar system. The clock moves a weight to different days that are written on the wall to the right of it. The next room we entered was the family room, which is to the left of the front doors. That is where the family spent most of their time together, and where Martha Jefferson Randolph conducted her business. There was an abundance of portraits and engravings on the walls, and even a copy of the Declaration of Independence. We then moved into the library, or “sanctum sanctorum” as Jefferson called it. He kept all of his precious books in this room, and according to our guide, would not allow anyone else into it. The library now features many books that have the same titles as those that Jefferson would have had, and also some that he actually owned. It was with a large donation of books that once sat in this room that Jefferson helped to rebuild the Library of Congress. This room is also attached to his office, which featured his desk, chair, a copying machine, and many other items, and to his bedroom. His bedroom was very large and featured a skylight on the ceiling and a ventilated closet above his bed. This room is where Jefferson passed away, 50 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was signed. After that we moved into the parlor, which is where Jefferson entertained his guests. It featured portraits of people he admired and instruments he and his family played. I learned that Jefferson was a violinist, and even composed some music in his time. The last rooms we saw on the tour were the dining room and the bedroom that was most frequently used by James and Dolley Madison during their visits.
After the tour was over we were free to walk the grounds and look at the lower level, which included the ice house, stables, kitchen, cellars, and more! The house, which looks relatively modest from the outside, is absolutely incredible on the inside! I was amazed by everything I saw, and I can’t wait to go back to see it again!