The Road to Monticello
Charlottesville Travel Blog› entry 7 of 108 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.