Mr. Jefferson's Country
Story by Fyllis Hockman
Photos from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello
o many people, Monticello and Charlottesville, Virginia are synonymous.
Indeed, even more than his famous home, the presence of Thomas Jefferson
the Man can be felt throughout the quiet college town, about a three-hour
drive from Washington, D.C.
For any history buff, a tour of Monticello is heaven,
but even those less historically inclined will be enthralled by fascinating
displays of Jefferson the Creative Homeowner. In fact, Jefferson
governor, ambassador to France, secretary of state, and the third president
of the United States when asked his profession, replied: "I'm
a farmer." Indeed, gardening and architecture, two of his life-long
passions, are reflected throughout his beloved home and grounds.
Few homes anywhere more accurately reflect the personality
of their owners than does Monticello. From the time his vision began
as a young bachelor to his death as a widower with 12 grandchildren,
Monticello remained at the center of Jefferson's heart. He was responsible
for almost every detail of its design, construction, furnishings and
remodeling, a process that spanned over 40 years.
The fact that about 75 percent of the furnishings are
original helps bring to life the sense of Jefferson the Private Citizen.
For example, handsomely adorning a wall of the front entrance are several
sets of antlers that Lewis
and Clark brought back as personal souvenirs from their famous Louisiana
Purchase expedition no easy task considering the travel conditions
of the time commissioned by then-president Jefferson in the early
Many innovations designed by Jefferson, influenced by
his years in Paris,
were ahead of their time. Doors that automatically open continue to
operate today, 190 years later. A seven-day wall clock which indicates
both day and hour still chimes. Jefferson introduced dumb waiters, first
seen in a Paris cafe, to Virginian society, as he did skylights, twelve
of which shed light throughout the mansion. And a desk constructed to
display five open books at a time attests to Jefferson's renowned literary
Even the dinners he served, prepared by a slave who
was trained by a French chef, reflected Jefferson's cosmopolitan tastes.
A list of guests reads like a Who's Who of early American history. The
statesmen, politicos and socialites who walked here before you
among them James Monroe, James Madison, Daniel Webster and, of course,
the Marquis de Lafayette wrote many a chapter in our country's
history over coffee and brandy.
Interestingly enough, the many political positions he
held meant little to Jefferson. Writing his own epitaph, he focused
instead upon three accomplishments: Author of the Declaration of Independence;
Author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father
of the University of Virginia. The latter becomes more than self-evident
to borrow a favorite Jeffersonian phrase once you get
A visit to the University of Virginia brings you back
to modern times but only for a moment. Jefferson's vision of
his "Academical Village" became reality during 1817-1826 and
the University continues to function much as its founder intended. Welcome
back to the 1800s.
In addition to offering arguably the finest education among public institutions
available to capable students "regardless of wealth, birth or other
accidental condition or circumstances" producing more Rhodes
Scholars than any other state university UVA maintains a tradition
of student self-governance, including a student-run Honor System (that,
unlike some, actually works at least most of the time
Although the University has expanded since Jefferson's
time the initial student population of 40 has grown to over 20,000
Jefferson's original buildings remain much as they were. The
Rotunda, a scaled-down version of the Pantheon in Rome,
was designed to maintain architectural balance in harmony with the five
Pavilions on either side, which house classrooms and faculty residences.
The original library it housed was considered a temple to knowledge
rather than religion.
Jefferson envisioned a scholarly community where students
and professors live in close proximity to share knowledge and together
nurture a life-long commitment to education. To help achieve that goal,
he intermingled students' rooms among the Pavilions, connecting them
with low colonnaded walkways.
The expansive Lawn between the two rows of buildings
and the serpentine walled-gardens weaving in, out and around the Pavilions
provide quiet space for personal reflection and personal connections
between teacher and student. This was a radical approach to education
at the time.
Jefferson's "outdoor classroom" afforded both
students and faculty the opportunity to experience first hand examples
of classical architecture not readily familiar to the American public.
The stately columns forming the Pavilion's facade reflect Ionic, Doric
and Corinthian models of Greek and Roman temples. Attesting to the durability
of Jefferson's forward-thinking aesthetics, the American Institute of
Architects has proclaimed the Academical Village the most significant
architectural achievement in the nation's first 200 years.
The 54 student rooms along the Lawn are astonishingly
unchanged since the University opened. The 15-foot-square rooms contain
a wooden bed, an old-fashioned secretary's desk, fireplace and a small
free-standing wooden closet which contains a sink. Other plumbing facilities
minor amenities such as showers and toilets are located
a bracing winter's walk away.
Upon first viewing, I assumed they were just another
historical attraction that recreates living conditions in this
case, of students in the early 1800s. Imagine my surprise to
find that students today actually vie for the honor of living there!
A select few fourth-year students who have made substantial contributions
to the University are chosen for the opportunity to closely approximate
the lifestyle of the scholars of the day who lived and studied in these
It is not surprising that Jefferson invested so much
heart and soul into his final triumph. The University embodies Jefferson's
three greatest passions: his vision as an educator, his talent as an
architect, and his skill as a gardener. Even more so than at Monticello.
The very essence of his dream the interactive
student/faculty community, the student-run University governance, the
personal code of ethics (which has recently come into serious question
still permeates how campus residents think and act today. Thomas
Jefferson is alive and well and still attending the University of Virginia.
As he is throughout the rest of the area. Walking tours
trod streets upon which Jefferson no doubt frequently strolled, past
businesses, taverns and other local establishments he patronized. It
is with good reason that Charlottesville and environs are often so lovingly
referred to as Mr. Jefferson's Country.
If You Go
A stay at the venerable Boar's Head Inn, built in 1965
with a restaurant dating back to 1834 and now owned by the University,
continues the connection with Jefferson. Famous for his healthy lifestyle,
Jefferson studied the healing properties of many herbs and botanicals
and these same plants are currently being incorporated into spa
treatments designed to treat specific ailments. As promoted by the resort:
"Where the past combines with the present to make a healthier future
- while making your experience historic." Jefferson still lives
at Monticello, studies at UVA and relaxes at the Boar's Head Spa
For more information, go to visitcharlottesville.org
and Assateague: Islands that Cling to a Colorful Past; Dying
in Virginian Skies; The
Newseum: Where the News is News; The
Cherry Blossoms of Washington D.C.; Visiting
New Hampshire in Winter