A diary of my visit to two cities in the center of the founding of my country: Boston and Philadelphia Oct. 14 - 24, 2005

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

October 24, 2005 – Two more Presidents

It took me almost an hour to go the 5 miles or so to Monticello. I took the “scenic” route…through town….twice. That’s what happens when you don’t ask for help. As soon as I asked someone, I was there in 10 minutes.

Monticello is beautiful. I know I said that Mt. Vernon was beautiful. Monticello is a different view entirely, but just as gorgeous. The house is a lot different. Jefferson spent 40 years building his house. He studied a lot of architecture and implemented both classical designs and some of his own ideas into his home. There are a lot of little inventions that make the house interesting. There is a clock in the main foyer, with a face on the inside of the house in the foyer, and on the outside on the front porch. Both sides tell the same time and are run by the same mechanism, located in the house. The mechanism involves several weights that hang down on either side of the room. The clock is close to the ceiling. The weights start the week at the top of the room, close to the ceiling next to the walls, and end the week under the floor (Jefferson had to cut a hole in the floor to allow them to hang properly). They slowly pull down all week to make the clock run. At the end of the week the clock is wound, bringing the weights back up to the ceiling. It is all over my head, but that is the best explanation I can come up with.

Jefferson’s front room had a collection of Indian artifacts, sent back by Lewis and Clark on their expedition west. He had several animal antlers, and other scientific specimens. His private museum was one of the first two museums in the country.

Jefferson’s house is octagonal in shape. I think this was for space reasons, but I don’t remember. (My mind is quite full of facts.) His bed was built into an opening in between his bedroom and study in order to conserve space. He had daughters, a sister, and their children living with him. They said that he had about 27 people living there most of the time.

Another high-tech aspect of his house is the presence of dumb-waiters in his dining room. These lifts enabled bottles of wine to be brought up from the cellar, directly below the dining room, without leaving the room. He also had two indoor outhouses (inhouses???), which was highly uncommon.

Jefferson chose the location of Monticello because of the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In order to maintain the view, he had many of his outbuildings (kitchen, storage, slave quarters, cellar, etc.) built underground, with a tunnel connecting them to the main house. Jefferson owned four farms in addition to Monticello. He was an avid farmer, involved in the day to day operations of the farm. He wrote a five volume encyclopedia on the state of Virginia, much of which was devoted to the agriculture of the state.

Jefferson and Washington both loved their homes, and preferred to be there instead of in Washington or Philadelphia. There service to our country was just that…service. They served because of their passion for freedom and desire for America to be great. They gave up much personal gain for their service. Jefferson died with $100,000 of debt, extremely high for that time.

Visiting the homes of the first three presidents was fascinating. All three homes were very different, as were the men who lived there. They all knew each other well, even if they did not always like each other. Jefferson and Adams were great friends during the Revolution. They served in France together during the war, negotiating for help. Jefferson was Adams’ Vice President, though not by choice. Adams won the election and Jefferson came in second, making him Vice President. Later, the Constitution was amended to allow for separate elections for President and Vice President. It was during their Presidencies that they represented different political parties and were bitter enemies. After they were both retired to their homes, their mutual friend Benjamin Rush, also a signer of the Declaration, tricked them into resuming their letter writing. They remained great friends until their death.

Ironically, Jefferson and Adams died on the same day, within hours of each other. The day was July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

I left Monticello and drove about five miles to Ashlawn, the home of James Monroe, our fifth President and signer of the Constitution. I didn’t have time to drive the 30 miles to Montpelier (James Madison’s home). I only spent an hour or so at the Monroe home, but it was small and that was all the time needed. One of the rooms in the house had its original wall paper! It was actually painted cloth that was hung on the walls. It looked great, especially considering that it is almost 200 years old. Incidentally, James Monroe also died on July 4th, but it was several years after Adams and Jefferson. After the tour, I had visited the homes of five of the first six Presidents in ten days.

I drove the two hours back to Dulles airport and flew home, arriving around 10:00 PM. I was tired and my feet were sore. I had a marvelous trip that exceeded my expectations. I was able to see more than I had planned, and I learned a great deal. On my last day, I walked 10, 164 steps. It is great to be home and in the 21st century.


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