Recently I had a chance to visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville. If you have never been here, I definitively recommend that you visit soon.
The Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center and Smith Education Center was really grand. It is actually brand-spanking new, it had its grand opening on April 15th this year. In addition to a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, a spacious gift shop, they showed a fascinating short film about Thomas Jefferson and had a museum that contained many impressive exhibitions. My favorite exhibit was Monticello as Experiment: ‘To Try All Things’, it explored Jefferson’s use of Monticello as a laboratory for his belief that “useful knowledge” could make life more efficient and convenient.
Here are a few things I picked up on:
- He had a cool notepad made out of ivory, he could jot down notes and observations throughout the day. He could easily wipe the ivory pad clean and reuse it.
- Jefferson was a meticulous record-keeper. He would consistently record the temperature twice a day as well as direction and speed of the wind.
- He had a really cool swiss-army-like knife and a portable desk. Watching the film and exploring the museum at the visitor center let us pass the time until our tour started. We took the shuttle from the visitor center to the top of the mountain where the house and gardens were.
I really enjoyed the tour; our tour guide was really exceptional. Her stories and descriptions really made each room come alive. I took notice of the numerous innovations throughout the house such as wine bottle elevator in the dining room that could be used to pulley up wine bottles from the cellar below.
The outside view was picturesque. He designed it so the slave quarters were out of the line of sight from the patio. Outside also lay a fish pond, where it would have been stocked with fresh fish to be eaten later. Also from outside you could walk through the tunnel that lay below the house. In this tunnel Jefferson had a beer and a wine cellar. On one the side of the house near the tunnel was an icehouse. Jefferson’s workers would fill it up with many truckloads of ice during the winter and it would last most of the year.
Thomas Jefferson called Monticello his essay in Architecture. It took many years to complete, and was expanded at a time to add many more rooms. His house varied considerably from his original design, as he was revising it considerably. I’m just glad I had the opportunity to view it.