Putting Things Up, Tearing Them Down

We’ve had our fair share of mediocre and even bad tour guides, over time we’ve learned that the best are personable, knowledgeable, and have a teacher’s spirit, but, of course the material needs to be solid as well. Our Monticello tour guide was the perfect mixture of all three which made the tour of Thomas Jefferson’s amazing home so memorable.

Based on the specificity of the questions they asked, it was clear that many of the other visitors had done their research, but our tour guide never stumbled, answering each question completely and entertainingly. We’re not 100% sure, but based on her great stories, well-rehearsed presentation and  understanding delivery, it seemed clear that she was a retired teacher or professor, likely specializing in history. We could recommend this tour thanks to the tour guide alone, but the home’s architecture and design speaks volumes about our 3rd president.

So striking is the building itself, with its neoclassic design perched upon a picturesque mountain with a striking white dome, that it has appeared on the reverse of the nickel since 1938. In fact, this, along with the University of Virginia and Poplar Forest (both of which were designed wholly by TJ himself as “side projects”) helped spawn the term “Jeffersonian Architecture.”

With little or no formal training, Jefferson combined design styles he’d seen in his travels and the house was constantly in flux. He once said that he loved nothing more than to putting things up and tearing them down. The house includes a number of innovations such as beds tucked into walls, a wine caddy that would transfer wine from the basement to the dining room, and a room specifically set aside as a greenhouse. His lack of satisfaction with this beautiful home and these intimate design details say more about the man who built the house than any book ever could.

Jefferson loved wine and conversation so he developed the wine caddy so the help (read slaves) wouldn’t interrupt or overhear intimate conversation with important dignitaries. He saw beds tucked into the walls while in France as a US Ambassador and considered them amazingly space savers. He loved horticulture and wanted to bring the outside in and created a greenhouse in view of his office to be close to his plants.

The building itself and the surrounding grounds defy appropriate description, so here are some pictures. We also recommend reading a book about Thomas Jefferson prior to any visit to fully maximize your experience. For more information visit the official site here.