Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Madison's Montpelier

Having already taken my brother and his wife to just about every historic home in the immediate Fredericksburg area, on Saturday we decided to head to Montpelier, the home of our fourth president, James Madison, and his wife, Dolley. From my house, Montpelier is a peaceful 45-minute drive in the country. We had been there many years before, when the house was as much a preservation of the lifestyle of the duPonts (the last private owner) as it was of life in Madison’s day. This visit saw everything changed, as the home has been completely restored to its appearance when the Madisons lived there: the elaborate extensions the duPonts added have been torn down, the pinkish stucco removed from the exterior, and the rooms inside restored to their 1820’s form. (The pink extension on the left of the photo at top is slated to be demolished this week.) The grand re-opening is set for the fall, but the majority of the work has completed.

You could easily spend an entire day at this estate. There are guided tours of the mansion, elaborate gardens to stroll, a “restoration tent” demonstrating building crafts, and galleries showcasing artifacts and furnishings from James and Dolley’s life, as well as representing the duPont era. Two videos introduce visitors to the historical and political highlights of the Madisons’ life, and audioguides are available with additional detailed information about every aspect of life on the estate. There are slave quarters, cemeteries, archaeological sites, and forest trails. Adult admission is steep ($14), but worth it if you leave plenty of time to see it all.

For a little extra fun, we used my brother’s GPS on the trip. I had never seen one in action before, and was actually sad there weren’t more twists and turns to give the tiny lady (Jill) who lives in the GPS device more to do. Technology is awesome, and I’m certain there’s a GPS in my future. On the way home, we took her advice just for kicks, and right before the intersection in Orange, we let her lead us down a hilly road, stopping just as she recommended we turn left onto the railroad tracks. Recalculate, Jill.

A view of the gardens, established in Madison's time, and renovated by Annie duPont in the early 1900s:

The Madison Temple, a classical gazebo built over the estate's ice house:

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