History of Monticello
Under Jefferson, Monticello’s 5,000 acres of land was run as a plantation. The first “version” of Monticello was built from 1768. Today’s incarnation mostly dates back to when it was renovated and extended between 1790 and 1809 after Jefferson’s return from Europe: various ideas about architecture Jefferson picked up from his time in France were incorporated into this redesign. Using techniques from Ancient Rome, the house was also built to be cool in hot temperatures, allowing a current of air through the house and hot air to been drawn up into the cupola. Much of the work on the house was down by slaves, many of whom lived at the slave quarters known as Mulberry Row.
Monticello began to fall into disrepair towards the end of Jefferson’s life: mounting debts, other projects, and family concerns drew his attention away from the house. Jefferson died in 1826, and Monticello was left to his daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph. In turn, Martha sold the house in 1831, unable to keep up with the financial demands of such a property.
Nearly 100 years later, in 1923, the house was bought by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation who funded restoration work at Monticello. Today, Monticello is the only private home in America to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Extensive documentation concerning Monticello can be found at the Library of Congress, as well as what is on site.
Monticello is open to visitors year round (although hours vary) – it’s accessible via guided tour only. Standard admission covers a ground floor tour, and allows you to wander through the grounds and outbuildings. If you want to see the full house, you’ll need to upgrade your ticket in advance: these more extensive tours are very popular.
The price includes the ‘Slavery at Monticello’ walking tour which is well worth doing: Monticello is a leading example of historic houses exploring their connections with slavery. Jefferson himself may have declared all men were created equal, but that did not stop him building a house using the labour of the slaves he owned, and fathering children with one of said slaves, a woman named Sally Hemings.
The exhibition centre is a short walk away, and covers factual information about Jefferson’s life, as well as rotating exhibitions about specific aspects of Monticello and Jefferson – they’re worth spending some time at. The pleasant walk runs through woodland, although there is a shuttle for the less mobile.
Getting to Monticello
Monticello is about 5 miles northwest of Charlottesville: you’ll need to cross (or turn off) the I-64 at junction 121B, and head down Highway 20, before taking a left on Highway 53: it’s signed. There’s ample parking at Monticello itself.
There’s no buses in this direction, but a cab from downtown Charlottesville shouldn’t be expensive: the journey only takes about 10 minutes.