The Road to Monticello

Charlottesville Travel Blog

 › entry 7 of 107 › view all entries
Charlottesville/Monticello Welcome Center

The day of our road trip to central Virginia arrived! This was to be a perfect September weekend! The official last day of summer would see clear skies and temperatures around 85F (30C). Our daughter's friend spent the night at our house so we could get right on the road in the morning. Both were looking forward to the trip. We left at 8:00 AM, heading out of Springfield on the Fairfax County Parkway towards I-66.  Picking up I-66 at Fairfax, VA, we took it 14 miles through Manassas to Gainesville. At Gainesvlle, 25 miles from our home, we exited south on to Lee Highway (US Highway 29) which we would follow all the way to Charlottesville.

Monticello reception center

Once upon a time, Gainesville marked the beginning of rolling Piedmont farmland with fields full of dairy cows and horses lining the highway. In the 1990s, the Disney Company purchased a large tract of land here with the intent to build a major new theme park called Disney's America. Landowners in neigboring Fauquier County fought Disney and development until the entertainment giant gave up on the idea. Today, Gainesville is home instead to new housing tracts and suburban shopping centers.

The fields now begin a bit past Warrenton, some 12 miles further on. Soon, one passes Brandy Station, famous as the site of the largest cavalry engagement in North America, during the Civil War. Shortly, thereafter, Highway 29 skirts the city of Culpepper on a by-pass. A new high school is under construction here, indicating a growing population.

Shuttle Busses
  Madison, the gateway to the Virginia wine country, is the next town beyond Culpepper. The Prince Michel Winery beckons travelers on Lee Highway, while other wineries are located on byways off the main road. (My wife and I have done a trip through the Virginia Wine Country, but there was to be no time for that today.) 

Just after Madison, we began to be aware that there was a considerable volume of traffic on the road, with much of it flying University of Virginia flags covered with UVA decals. It suddenly dawned on us: today was a UVA home football game! Charlottesville would be mobbed with fans! Fortunately, we made it to the Route 250/29 by-pass around Charlottesville without much delay. But we could see that traffic was bumper-to-bumper from that point heading into the stadium in town.

On the shuttle
We had planned to drive the girls past UVA so they could see the campus. (They know kids who graduated from high school last June who now attend UVA.) But, the mob scene repeated in any American college town on a fall football Saturday was going to cancel that idea. So, we proceeded to drive around the town to I-64 and followed that to the Monticello exit.

We stopped briefly at the Charlottesville and Monticello Information Center.  The staff here were informative and had maps and brochures to give us. A few displays introducing the Charlottesville region and its history are here, too. From the visitor center, we headed for Monticello itself. I pulled into the parking lot just after 10:45 a.m., 117 miles (208 km) from home.

Shuttle buses must take visitors from the parking area up to the house and grounds entrance.

Mr. Jefferson welcomes us to Monticello
After puchasing admission tickets, stamped for an 11:40 a.m. house tour, we boarded the shuttle. We had extra time after the shuttle dropped us off near the East Portico entrance and spent that at the gift shop. At 11:40, we queued up for the inside tour.

A very enegetic guide took charge of our group. As he explained Jeffson's innovative weather vane setup at the East Portico, my daughter and I noticed Jefferson's visage staring at us from an upstair's window! Oh, yes, the weather vane. It's set up so that the wind direction can be read from the front vestibule, without having to go outside.  There is also large outdoor clock, with only an hour hand.

Inside the house, more of Jeffson's touches were evident. An interior clock in the Entance Hall marks that days of the week along the wall.

Weathervane
(The indicators for Saturday and Sunday go down into the basement.) Jefferson's Book Room housed his large library. He assembled his library twice. He sold his first library to form the core collection of the Library of Congress. The second was sold after his death. Curtors are trying to reassemble the thousands of titles he knew as an avid reader and writer.

Jeffeson' Bedroom, and all of the bedrooms in the house, feature alcoves to house the beds, thus freeing up floor space. Jefferson learned this technique during his stay in Europe as US Minister to France. The tour guide delighted in showing other innovations: the dumbwaiters for food and for wine in the Dining Room,  skylights, narrow stairs to conserve space, triple-paned windows that double as summer doorways, the polygraph machine that makes simultanous copies as you write.

Jefferson's wind direction indicator and Great Clock
  The Parlour has portraits of those individuals whom Jefferson admired: Sir Francis Bacon, John Locke, Sir Isaac Newton, George Washington, and the Marquis de Lafayette.

We completed the tour on the North Terrace. It is here that visitors can at last see the full exterior of the house and note its dome and classical lines. At this point, we were free to explore on our own. Our daughter and her friend set off.  My wife went to look at the gardens and the exhibits in the basement of the house. I set about to look over the grounds and, of course, to take the many photos you see here! The classic view of Monticello is of the West Portico. Jefferson liked the Westward orientation. He sent the Lewis and Clark Expediton to explore the West after the Louisiana Purchase in 1804.

Monticello
The South Pavilion is actually the original living quarters, built not long after construction of the house began in 1768. Underneath the South Terrace  is the South Dependency wing, housing  the Kitchen and domestic slave quarters. (Jefferson did hold slaves. Slavery at Monticello and the story of his romantic involvement with Sally Hemmings is disucssed frankly. )  The All-Weather Passageway connects the South and North Dependencies and contains food and beverage storage rooms.

South of the house is Mulberry Row, where Jefferson planted a line of Mulberry trees.  Plantation  workers--free,  indentured, and  enslaved--all worked in this area to produce furniture, tools, and farm equipment.

Me at Monticello
  Remnants of those times include the foundation of a slave house, later used as a grave site for the subsequent owners of Monticello, and the chimney of the joinery (woodworking shop). Mulberry Row leads down past vegetable gardens to the Jefferson family cemetery. Thomas Jefferson is buired here along with his mother and wife, Martha. The cemetery is still in use and descendants continue to be buried here.

At 1:30 p.m., my wife and I decided it was time to push on for lunch at Michie Tavern. The girls had already walked down to the parking lot and were waiting for us!

Michie Tavern (pronounced "Mickey") is just down the road from Monticello.  It was established in 1784 as a stagecoach stop, tavern, and social center for the surrounding community.  Today, it is part musuem and part restaurant.

Monticello
We had lunch here, enjoying the Tavern's set Midday Fare. Everyone was hungry going in, but not coming out!

At 3:00 p.m. were were on the road back to Northern Virginia and Springfield, ahead of the outgoing football traffic!  Retracing our route, were were back home by 5:30 p.m.

Africancrab says:
We are planning a trip here now that we can.
Posted on: Jun 26, 2012
Africancrab says:
Interesting indeed, thanks for sharing
Posted on: Jan 07, 2010
yadilitta says:
well done!!!
Posted on: Aug 06, 2008
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Charlottesville/Monticello Welcome…
Charlottesville/Monticello Welcom…
Monticello reception center
Monticello reception center
Shuttle Busses
Shuttle Busses
On the shuttle
On the shuttle
Mr. Jefferson welcomes us to Monti…
Mr. Jefferson welcomes us to Mont…
Weathervane
Weathervane
Jeffersons wind direction indicat…
Jefferson's wind direction indica…
Monticello
Monticello
Me at Monticello
Me at Monticello
Monticello
Monticello
Monticello from the Gardens
Monticello from the Gardens
North Pavilion and Terrace
North Pavilion and Terrace
South Pavilion (original house)
South Pavilion (original house)
South Dependency
South Dependency
Kitchen implements
Kitchen implements
Kitchen
Kitchen
All-Weather Passageway
All-Weather Passageway
Wine and Cider Cellar
Wine and Cider Cellar
Mulberry Row
Mulberry Row
Pumpkin patch
Pumpkin patch
Dwelling foundation and grave
Dwelling foundation and grave
Vegetable garden
Vegetable garden
Chimney of the Joinery
Chimney of the Joinery
Chimney of the Joinery
Chimney of the Joinery
Jefferson family cemetery
Jefferson family cemetery
Jeffersons Grave
Jefferson's Grave
Michie Tavern
Michie Tavern
The Ordinary at Michie Tavern
The Ordinary at Michie Tavern
Dining room in The Ordinary
Dining room in The Ordinary
Charlottesville Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Michie Tavern (pronounced "Mickey") was established in 1784 as a tavern, inn, and post house on the road from Charlottesville to Richmond. Michie Tave… read entire review
Charlottesville Sights & Attractions review
Monticello is the plantation home of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, diplomat, founder of the University of Virginia, and… read entire review
Charlottesville Sights & Attractions review
Ash Lawn-Highland was the home of James Monroe, fifth President of the United States. His Monroe Doctrine has been a cornerstone of US foreign policy … read entire review
Charlottesville
photo by: Andy99