Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Summer Vacation Part II: Monticello

With the kids at day camp, Alexe and I took a short drive down to the house of Thomas Jefferson. 

A private organization has been working diligently to preserve the house and grounds, slowly buying back the original 5,000 acres that Jefferson inherited, and with a sizable donation from the same chap that is funding the expansion of the Kennedy Center, they've built a sprawling visitors center with a museum and gift shop at the base of the mountain.

The house was interesting, a highly renovated (and re-renovated) passion project by a wealthy and eccentric politician.

The grounds were amazing.  These gardens are located in a massive terracing project that Jefferson directed.  It took a crew of several slaves three years to carve into this side of the mountain and create a terrace that resulted in a micro-climate with a longer growing season than the surrounding area.

It is beautiful, and we were there when everything was green and lush.

My girl.  In her element.  

There were fun aspects of the house: the servant areas and storage all being below ground and interconnected, similar to the most European large houses.  Most aspects of the house that were lauded as brilliant originalities of Jefferson were things he had seen in Europe while an ambassador, and built in the United States for the first time by someone with the time and resources to have them done.  

My favorite was the water collection system and underground cistern.  The wings of the terrace that cover the underground slave facilities and connect to the two offices set apart from the house have tin roofing under the wood decking, and a gutter system that feeds all the runoff to a large holding tank under the back yard.

I love her priorities.  

This fish pond, a larder for fish caught elsewhere and held until they were to be eaten, was a fun and simple thing that we are building at home for Caspian.  

If my impressions from our visit don't sound as enthralled with the brilliance of Jefferson as one might expect, this is one of the contributing reasons.  This cabin is a recreation of the finest slave quarters that Jefferson had built for his favorite family our of the 200+ slaves he had working for him. 

As a politician, ambassador, and writer, Jefferson was an amazing mind, positioned at the best time and place for the United States of America.  In other aspects he was the recipient of his own and his wife's large inheritances; and after a lifetime of puttering on his farms, houses, and retreats, everything/everyone he had owned had to be sold to cover his debts.

That being said, I had a wonderful time wandering around with Alexe, and picking up fun ideas to take home.

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