Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Monticello and Michie Tavern

Tuesday, May 24 --from Charlottesville, VA
We arrived in the rolling hills of north central Virginia yesterday afternoon and it is  truly beautiful countryside.
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Today we went to see Monticello.  It is not to be missed.  As you all know the land was Jefferson’s boyhood home and as an adult he built a remarkable home on the top of a low mountain that today -– some two hundred and forty-some odd years later -- stands as a shrine to our third president.
We took one of the paid guided tours. You simply could not get an appreciation for all of the history there without a tour.  As a matter of fact, you can’t see the inside of Monticello without a ticket.  And that is good because no tax funds are used to restore or maintain the nearly 3,000 acres of the plantation’s gardens and buildings.
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An abundance of flowers on the path to the visitors center.
The entire estate is one of the most impressive historical sites we have seen in our two years of travel.  The visitors center complex is so tastefully done and not at all commercial.  No junk in the gift shops, no cigarette butts, no trash anywhere -- just beautiful grounds and buildings that are  exemplary in every respect.
Rather than recite a bunch of historical data I’ll let the pictures and brief captions show you what we saw.
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Monticello from the west lawn.
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Thomas Jefferson designed the University of Virginia and from his north terrace he could see the construction of The Rotunda at the University of Virginia which he designed to be the architectural and academic heart of his community of scholars, or what he termed the "academical village."
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Another view of the house.  There are hundreds of magnificent old trees on the property and not one of them dates back to the time of Jefferson.
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Archeological research is constantly being done on the estate.  Here a group of volunteer scholars search for remnants of the original pathways around the grounds.
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Vegetable gardens occupy a stretch of terraced land 1000 feet long by 80 feet wide.   Even today as was done more than 200 years ago, fresh vegetables are used in food preparation for guests.  Only now the fed guests are visitors who pay to dine in the café at the visitors center.
Along the north and south sides of his home but below grade so as not to detract from the visual beauty of the home, Jefferson designed a series of rooms that he termed “dependencies.”  These rooms housed stables, the kitchen, smoke house, wine storage, beer and cider brewing and more.
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Wine cellar
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This dumbwaiter in the wine cellar is directly below the dining room.
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The wrought iron back of the 2.5 inch thick door to the wine cellar. Theft was a common occurrence on the plantation and keys to food and beverage storage were closely guarded.
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I could not get a photo showing the entire kitchen as it was constantly filled with visitors.  But in the section at the lower left-hand edge of the photo is a row of 7 or 8  charcoal fires in grated cast-iron openings that could be regulated more precisely than a roaring fireplace.  French cuisine was regularly served to the Jeffersons and guests.
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The privy.
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A fresh air vent for the privy located at least 500 feet from the house.
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This cistern-like structure was used to hold ice cut from a nearby river.  As soon as ice reached a thickness of one inch, slabs were cut and stored inside this cylindrical structure.  Among the many uses of ice at Monticello was the making of ice cream.
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Our 3rd president is buried in a location of his choice on the grounds of Monticello.  The grave is maintained by the Jefferson family  and to this day family members may be buried there.  Of all his many notable achievements Jefferson chose just these three to be engraved on his tombstone: “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.”
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Following our visit to Monticello we drove to nearby Michie Tavern (circa 1784) where we had one of the best meals in ages.  Then we took a short walk on the tavern grounds and visited this charming old log cabin made of original growth Chestnut that had only recently been moved to the tavern and now houses a gift shop (nothing from China).

It was a busy day.  Tomorrow we head north to Harrisburg PA.
Stay tuned.

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  1. George, I enjoyed this post and tour very much! I have always wanted to visit Monticello, now I am certain it’s a must. Great job!!!


  2. What a place that is! Thanks for taking us along. :)

  3. Great tour. It is a very impressive place.

  4. Now the great thing about George's post, are all the photos and text. Fortunately for me, I've been to Monticello and things look a little different. I guess that goes without saying since it was 1983, that I visited the site. Thanks very much George. At least you have this account to go back to after the day comes that you have to "hang up the keys". Enjoy everything while you can. Unfortunately, there's no turning back after the fact!

    John (aka GypsyJohn)