Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia was Thomas
Jefferson's home for the remaining fifty-six years of his life. He spent forty
years designing it, building it, tearing it apart, redesigning it, and finally
putting it all back together. He loved the house and its' property, and knew the
name of every tree planted on its grounds. And, if one of his trees died, he
knew it. He used his own kilns to bake the more than half-million bricks he used
in the various stages of its construction.
While serving as Minister to France, he filled almost a
hundred crates with furniture and various works of art for the many rooms at
Monticello. While in France he would collect fruit trees and bring them with him
on the long boat trip home.
When Mr. Jefferson was President of the United States, he
would long for his home at Monticello. Whenever possible he would make the long
four day trip there from Washington.
After his death, practically everything at Monticello was
sold at auction. However, to celebrate his 250th birthday, this past April, the
Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation has done a fantastic job in assembling
various paintings, furniture, Natural History specimens, and scientific
instruments he originally collected. Additionally, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Foundation has, for the past seventy years, done a magnificent job of restoring
the house and its grounds. It is truly a sight to see.
In the Foundations efforts to collect his original property,
they have amassed more than one hundred-fifty items, collections from museums,
universities, private homes and Historical Societies. These original items are
on display at Monticello in a special exhibition titled, "The Worlds of Thomas
Jefferson at Monticello."
Some of the many items included in this special exhibition
are a collection of Native American artifacts presented to Thomas Jefferson by
Lewis & Clark; a buffalo robe; his famous astronomical clock that he built
because his old less-accurate clocks caused him to miss the eclipse of 1811.
Also, included are his original dining room tables; a three-inch bell that
Thomas Jefferson's wife, Martha, gave to her nine-year-old slave girl, Sally
Hemings; and more than thirty original paintings. The floor of the entrance hall
has been repainted the grass-green that it originally was, and the walls of the
family sitting room have been returned to its original indigo. These efforts to
return Monticello to its original state will provide visitors an almost exact
feeling as if Thomas Jefferson lived there today.
Thomas Jefferson picked out the site for such a house as he
had planned from his father's estate when he was twenty-one-years old. He named
it "Monticello" which is Italian for "Little Mountain."
Monticello was intended to be fashioned as a traditional
Palladian building, but its location was not practical. It had been said that
building a house on a mountain was most impractical. As a result of it's
impractically, Jefferson paid dearly in his efforts. He had to transport tons of
stone and timber. Once the original structure was up, there was not enough water
in the well to meet the needs. He then had to transport water using carts from
the nearby springs.
Life was uncomfortable and difficult in the early years of
construction, especially for his wife, Martha, who had to live in a house, that
in her lifetime was never finished. She had to tolerate unfinished walls & roof,
being subjected to severe cold winds, brick and plaster dust, all the while
bearing six children in ten years, having lost four of them, until her death in
1782 at the early age of thirty-three.
Throughout the many discomforts and hardships experienced at
Monticello, Thomas Jefferson felt there was a brighter side, in that nothing
like Monticello had ever been built in Colonial America.
Thomas Jefferson was an extraordinary man. In his fifty-six
years at Monticello it seems he always kept himself quite busy. He designed and
invented many things. He would start his day at first light, reportedly when he
could read the hands of the obelisk clock that he designed. This clock was
marked by clangs from a Chinese gong placed on the roof. The gong was powered by
the clock located in the entrance hall. The mechanism was controlled by fifty
pound cannonball weights that would descend slowly throughout the week, falling
through holes in the floor by Friday, spending the next two days falling further
into the cellar.
Some of his other inventions include a dumbwaiter; a
polygraph machine that enabled him to make exact copies of letters as he was
writing them; Venetian blinds he used to regulate sunlight in his greenhouses; a
moldboard for a plow; and his achromatic telescope.
When he was not busy building, designing or inventing, Thomas
Jefferson spent many hours writing one of his more than 20,000 letters, or
reading from one of his more than seven thousand books in his library. His
library contained books in seven languages, two of which were Latin and Greek,
languages he had mastered. When he worked at his desk, he would have no less
than twenty books at a time in which to refer.
Thomas Jefferson spent over forty years in public service. He
was a Delegate to the Virginia House of Burgesses (1769-1793); and the
Continental Congress (1775); Governor of Virginia (1797-1801); Minister to
France (1785-1789); Washington's Secretary of State (1789-1793); John Adam's
vice-president (1797-1801); and President of the United States (1801-1809).
Monticello through all its greatness also had a flaw. An
economic flaw. Although Thomas Jefferson could feed and clothe its inhabitants,
it did not produce enough cash crops to pay for the country-gentleman lifestyle
so accustomed to Jefferson. As a result it was worked by the most oppressive of
labor systems, human slavery. Jefferson did however deplore human slavery and
was optimistic that it would one day be abolished. He knew though that the only
way to run a plantation of this size was through the use of slaves. He did
manage to free a few of his slaves, but by the time of his death the remaining
slaves as well as the remainder of his property were offered for sale to pay his
Throughout his lifetime Thomas Jefferson is remembered for
his wit, his designs and inventions, his writings, and his public service. But
let us not forget that it was he who wrote the Declaration of Independence and
also as President of the United States signed the authorization for the
Louisiana Purchase, thus acquiring for the United States what is now the present
states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North and South
Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Montana. This was perhaps the
most endearing service to his country.
I have had the privilege to visit Monticello on two separate
occasions. It is an experience one would never forget. I recommend a visit to