Saturday, June 12, 2010

Birthday Trip Pt 4~James Madison's 'Montpelier'

On Sunday, the last day of my journey to Virginia, we went to James Madison's 'Montpelier' plantation.

James Madison was the 4th President of the United States, he succeeded Jefferson. He was the author of the US Constitution.

It was an extremely scenic drive NW from Charlottesville to Orange, VA where Montpelier is located. It took about 30 minutes on a road that had more curves than I do. Beautiful farms, country manors, lush foliage, was very similar to my drive through Kentucky a few years ago.

We arrived very early in the morning, which was good because it was shaping up to be a SCORCHER of a day. This was the first view up the long drive. Very impressive in person.

We made our first stop at the Visitor's Center. We watched a 20 minute film about Madison and his wife Dolley, as well as the restoration project that is still underway.

Chuck was a little 'meh' about going to see Madison's house, before we got there. We almost changed out minds about going, and taking a trip up the Blue Ridge Parkway instead. After we started the tour, however, I know he was very glad we came.

As with the tour at Monticello, there are no pictures allowed of the inside of the house.

The front door:

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were very good friends. They often made the few hour trip to each other's plantations. Jefferson shared his builder with Madison, so much of the architecture of the house is similar to the style of Monticello.

The view off of a second floor patio, towards the Blue Ridge Mountains (which you can't see through the haze in the air):

The house is actually quite empty inside. The way the tour guide described it is that Monticello has had a hundred years or more of love put into restoration/maintenance. A man named Levy owned Monticello for a long period of time, and kept it as close to Jefferson had it as possible. Montpelier didn't have that luxury.

Dolley Madison was a gregarious, robust 26-year-old woman. She was a widow with a young son, when the 43-year-old James married her in 1794. Her son was named Payne Todd, and Payne seems to have been a fitting name for the type of person he was.

Payne was the major reason for their persistant financial troubles. He was a major gambler, and accrued a lot of debts. After Madison died, Dolley sold Montpelier (which was originally built in 1764), as well as most of their belongings to pay off the creditors. She died penniless in 1849. She was given the largest state funeral in history though, to date.

She also made it to the era of photography, which was rare for people of the Revolutionary period.

The house eventually fell into the hands of the DuPont family, in 1901. And from the sound of it, they completely effed up the place. Not only did they add on to the house till it was 36,000 sq ft, but they covered it in pink stucco. Yep, PINK STUCCO. With a green front door.

The film at the beginning of the tour showed a picture of old Mrs DuPont sitting in the house as she had looked like the inside of a trailer. A tacky, 36,000 sq ft trailer.

They owned the house till 1983, and restorations on the 'bones' of the house began in 2003. It took until 2008. The entire house was covered in a white tarp for awhile.

Each shingle on the roof is handcrafted:

And now, the interior restoration...wall colour, furnishings, fireplaces, stairs, underway. There are a few pieces that Madison owned which are still in the house: a four poster bed, a sofa, and a desk among them.

The rear of the house:

The back of the house has a path leading down into the gardens. A sculpture of James and Dolley sits here. It's really nice, although from Dolley's description, her boobs should probably have been made a lot bigger.

Chuck thinks James Madison was a lucky man! Their age difference is almost as wide as ours. :)

There are two trees from Madison's period that have survived.

One is a black walnut. Which are everywhere in Virginia.

But this one is the most interesting to me. It's a 'Cedar of Lebanon'. The Marquis de Lafayette brought this one to the Madisons as a gift.

Lafayette visited the Madisons twice. I think this also had a lot to do with Dolley. Everyone just loved her. She really set the standard of what the character of a 'First Lady' should consist of.

Montpelier has a large garden area. It's a lot different than the one at Monticello. It's much more about design, more green, less flowers, no vegetables. Quite a few Grecian urns.

Some of the peonies were still in bloom:

The Montpelier grounds also house a chapter of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. It's a fantastic organization that rescues old, retired racehorses that might otherwise not be cared about, abandoned, or put down. These horses have put in their time working for their owners, and now they're getting rewarded by these awesome people.

I think the woman said they had over 60 horses at this ranch, which were all out in the giant pasture hiding in the shade of the trees. The oldest of the old horses hang out near one of the horse barns.

I'll say it again,these horses looked OLD.

You can sponsor them at the ranch, and they also adopt out the horses. Much like social services check on children, they also check up on the adopted horses periodically to make sure they're being treated well. Great place.

Although I don't think I'm allowed to adopt a horse. Chuck's afraid of them. He rode one once, and he said it kept trying to bite him. I said that I thought the horse was probably just a good judge of character :P

I think he was sad that he didn't take this opportunity to pet these ones like I did. They could barely raise their heads, let alone bite anyone.

Montpelier also has it's own Archaeological Center on the grounds. There is an ongoing dig, especially in the area where the slaves lived and worked.

It was Sunday, so the archaeologists weren't working, but on other days you can actually eat lunch in the picnic area and watch them work.

We took a stroll down to the Center, where you can poke around in their archives. There are drawers of buttons, glass, porcelain, nails, etc. All of the archaeology tools are covered in orange clay.

On the way back up from there, we stopped at Madison's 'temple'

And we came across some horse graves. I've never in my life seen a horse with a headstone. These were racehorses that were owned by the DuPonts. They were sired by Man O War, which was a very famous racehorse. Battleship is the most famous of the offspring that are buried here.

We took some last pictures of the house and grounds before we headed down to the Madison cemetery.

The Madison cemetery was quite a sweltering walk away from the house, near the Visitor's center.

Madison's monument looked about the same as Jefferson's, but nothing really was written on it except his name.

Madison died in his study in 1836, at the age of 85. He had SERIOUS rheumatoid arthritis. He couldn't even move during the last year of his life. But they say his mind stayed sharp till the end.

Dolley's remains actually had to be moved to this cemetery from the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, where she was originally buried.

Some interesting things I learned on my summer vacation to Montpelier:

~Although Dolley sold most of their belongings, some of the things have been recovered. The visitor's center has more of Dolley's things than James'. Among them are her engagement ring, her bible, her smelling salt case, and her snuff box. Since most respectable women didn't smoke in those days, they took snuff instead. As did Dolley.

~Even when James was old and sick and bedridden, the parties hosted by Dolley at Montpelier carried on. James was placed in the study, which was just off of the dining room. He couldn't come out and sit and converse with the guests, so she just opened the door to the study so he could participate in the festivities.

~James and Dolley were introduced to each other by Aaron Burr. Aaron Burr was the
third vice president of the US, under Jefferson. He was more famous, in my opinion, for killing Alexander Hamilton (first Secretary of U.S. Treasury) in a duel. But hey, at least he did some good matching up these two opposite-seeming people first! James and Dolley were inseparable for most of their 42 year marriage.

~James was a very quiet, very small man. Reports on his height vary, but he was between 5'2" and 5'4" tall, and 120 lbs. He was neither charismatic nor physically imposing. But he was extremely well respected for his knowledge. He came prepared to every meeting, and stated the facts. He was mentally ready for anything opposition could throw at him.

~Dolley and James were huge collectors of art. They had a few original portraits of the Fathers of the Revolution, as well as other famous paintings. Most of them have been lost to private collectors. There is one large one from the 1600's hanging in the Visitor Center gallery. Once the collector realized it had belonged to the Madisons, he graciously lent it to the gallery at Montpelier.

~Since I ended my last post about Monticello with relatively well-known facts, I'll end this post with some. Madison's presidency was marred by the War of 1812. It was unfortunate timing, because otherwise his presidency would have been more revered. The Madisons were the first presidential couple to inhabit a completed White House.

Dolley is most famous for saving the portrait of George Washington when the British burned the White House during the war. What a cool chick she was. Shame about that pesky son of hers...

Thus concludes my birthday trip to Virginia. Hope you enjoyed it!

We travelled home on Sunday evening, and the next day was my actual birthday on May 31. I invited some good friends over, and I made some DELICIOUS ribs and collard greens. The cake was strawberry shortcake.

Thanks to Chuckles for not putting 29 candles on that thing. It might have burned the house down....


Jayne said...

Great post Kyna. I've never been up to that part of the country and have never been to this house. I'm so glad they are restoring it to it's former glory. I'd love to go, if only to see the horses at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's farm. I've heard good things about what they do for retired racehorses, who may otherwise end up in not so nice places. My own ex-racehorse is 31 years old now, which is truly ancient for a horse. He, unlike the horses you mention that could barely raise their heads, still likes to run round the pasture and act like a kid -- typical male!!

Al said...

Happy late birthday.

Thanks for a great post!
I loved the tour.

One of my ancestors helped set fire to the Whitehouse. We were kind of on the opposite side in the War of 1812 :-)

Edith Hope said...

Dear Kyna, I am so pleased that you found the time and took the trouble to share your birthday trip with us all. I for one have found it absolutely fascinating as well as being full of information that I did not know before. For someone like me who is very unlikely to visit all of these wonderful, historic places, this has been an enormous treat. Thank you so much.

AaronVFT said...

Nice trip! The scenery, monuments and plants are beautiful!

debsgarden said...

This was a very interesting post. i learned more about the Madisons here than i did in school! Poor Dolly. Her love for her flawed son shines through history. I really enjoyed your photos. I can't imagine the place covered in pink stucco!

Marguerite said...

I love the idea that the Marquis de Lafayette brought a tree as a gift. I think this was more common years ago but what a shame it's not more common now!

Carol said...

Interesting post Kyna. Somehow the place seems lifeless but what can I say ... I love rambling lush gardens... I love your photos of the flowers and trees. Happy belated Birthday! You are my son's age! ;>)

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

Pink stucco? accounting for taste. I would have expected better from the Duponts. Only people with legions of staff would dare have a 'house' that is 36,000 square feet! I have a tough enough time keeping up with the dog hair on the floors here :P

I honestly don't know how on earth you left without convincing Chuck you needed to adopt a horse, or three. How wonderful that they're using the grounds for such a worthy cause.

That strawberry shortcake looks divine!

Meredith said...

Chuck clearly has discretion, to know when to stop with the candles. Y'all are so cute together. :)

I recently watched a documentary about Dolley Madison, and I got an education about the early years of the American presidency in the process. I hadn't realized how very fluid the whole thing was then, how they were trying to strike the right notes with the people, somewhere between "stately" and "common man," never veering too far toward "monarchy," and yet still give enough pizazz and shine and pomp to the office to make it seem official and give authority abroad and confidence at home. She was an amazing woman, to help the president successfully navigate all that.

Msrobin said...

Thanks so much for the historic tour, but of course I enjoyed the flowers the most! Love those roses near the brick doorway. Happy belated birthday!

Britta said...

Dear Kyna, what an interesting blog so full of informations and beautiful pictures - thank you for that! It's fine that they peeled the house out of the pink stucco. And you had a beautiful birthday treat.

Shyrlene said...

Kyna - belated HAPPY Birthday! You sure celebrated in style. The photos and tour were fabulous - you really have a gift! -Shyrlene

Kyna said...

Jayne: I forgot that you had horses :) Yeah, they really are some good people up there.

Al: Well, what happens in history, stays in history lol

Edith: I'm glad you enjoyed everything. Especially about places I would have thought you'd find a little boring lol. I tried to make my nerdiness seem as interesting as I could :)

Aaron: Thank you!

Deb: I always try to find the weird trivia about things. That's what I like to hear, instead of same old-same old.

Marguerite: I would love it if people brought me trees as gifts!

Carol:I do agree with you about the gardens being lifeless. I wasn't as impressed as I'd been with other places. But I was expecting that. I don't think the Madisons were as interested in gardening as Jefferson was.

CVF: I think would have said, 'Its the horses, or ME. Take your pick' LOL

Meredith: Yep, and they say that he might not have won his campaign if it wasn't for Dolley. She definitely spiced him up lol

MsRobin: Thank you! :D I'm very glad you enjoyed it :)

Britta: 'Peeled' was exactly the right word for it! lol

Shyrlene: Flattery will get you everywhere :D lol Thanks for reading!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Wow, I read this whole post. Love it! Love history, love gardens, I mean... nice. As to your subsequent post about irrational fears, I hate phones, too. Would rather drive then talk on the phone, and hate it when they ring. I get buterflies in my stomach when the phone rings. You know that Men at Work song? "Who could it be now knocking at my door. go away, I don't want you invading my home." Something like that.