Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest
1542 Bateman Bridge Rd, Forest, VA, USA
www.poplarforest.org - (434) 525-1806
Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest Reviews
Jefferson slept here… Nov 27, 2015
So who knew Thomas Jefferson’s had a plantation in addition to Monticello? I certainly did not, until quite recently, but a splendid discovery.
Poplar Forest is a 4,800 acre plantation Thomas inherited from his father-in-law in 1773. Though producing some income, Jefferson rarely trekked to Poplar Forest until late in life. A notable exception was in 1781, when Jefferson was governor of Virginia and chased out of Monticello by pursuing British troops. Thomas and his family holed up in this off-the-radar spot for two months.
The haphazard attention ended in 1806. A year into his second term as President of the United States, Jefferson sought refuge. At Monticello he would be surprised by folks pressing their nose against the windows to catch a glimpse of him! While serving as President he traveled here to supervise installation of the octagonal foundation and the basic structure would be in place by the time his duty to the country ended.
After his Presidency ended in 1809, Jefferson would pursue improvements to the structure and landscaping in fits and starts. It was clearly a leisurely retreat, as revealed by the following quote (at the age of 69):
“I write to you from a place 90 miles from Monticello…which I visit three or four times a year, and stay from a fortnight to a month at a time. I have fixed myself comfortably, keep some books here, bring others occasionally, am in the solitude of a hermit…”
I attribute part of my ignorance of Poplar Forest to its quite recent restoration. Jefferson was notorious for racking up debts and after his death the property was sold by his burdened heirs. Damaged by fire in 1845, the building was altered and more or less deteriorated over the next 150 years. Fortunately a charitable organization formed in 1983 to restore the site. They have made great strides in the attempt to return it to the master’s day, but there remains a considerable effort.
Though incomplete (as I write this in winter, 2015), Poplar Forest is a compelling destination. Requiring research and meticulous methods, the supporting infrastructure is in place and quite nice. The Museum Shops and restroom facilities are top notch and there is an Archaeology Lab and Preservation Center worth visiting. Unlike Monticello, very few original pieces cram the interior of the original building, but my tour guide was well versed and pointed out a wealth of interesting details. Because the few period pieces are on loan, no photography is permitted indoors.
The grounds similarly draw one’s interest. To create the illusion of extended wings with bastions at the end, Jefferson instructed giant mounds to be built some distance from the octagon and had willow trees planted on top of them. If you are familiar how willows are found along river banks, they clearly require much moisture. That is hard to come by in an elevated pile of dirt: they all died. Only sharing to reveal one of a host of tidbits picked up during a fun, engaging tour.
Part of the Gone to the Dogs...now "Virginia" travel blog
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