The Monticello Plantation

Monticello, a 43-room estate, was the primary plantation of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. He began construction on Monticello in 1769, after inheriting 5000 acres of land from his father at age 26.   For more than four decades he spent designing, dismantling, and reimagining the estate he called his “essay in architecture”.

Due to its architectural and historic significance, the property has been designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1987, Monticello and the nearby University of Virginia, also designed by Jefferson, were together designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site*. The current nickel, a United States coin, features a depiction of Monticello on its reverse side.

Jefferson designed the main house using neoclassical design principles described by Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio and reworking the design through much of his presidency to include design elements popular in late 18th-century Europe and integrating numerous ideas of his own.

Situated on the summit of an 850-foot (260 m)-high peak in the Southwest Mountains south of the Rivanna Gap, the name Monticello derives from Italian meaning “little mountain”.

Monticello was unique not only in its design but also in its use of local resources. At a time when most brick was still imported from England, Jefferson chose to mold and bake his own bricks with clay found on the property. Monticello’s grounds provided most of the lumber, stone and limestone, and even the nails used to construct the buildings were manufactured on site.

Along a prominent lane adjacent to the house, Mulberry Row, the plantation came to include numerous outbuildings for specialized functions, e.g., a nailery; quarters for enslaved Africans who worked in the home; gardens for flowers, produce, and Jefferson’s experiments in plant breeding—along with tobacco fields and mixed crops. Cabins for enslaved Africans who worked in the fields were farther from the mansion, out of Jefferson’s sight both literally and figuratively.

Known for spending lavishly on books, wine and, above all else, his beloved Monticello, Jefferson left his heirs under a small mountain of debt when he died on July 4, 1826. His daughter, Martha Randolph, was forced to sell the estate, which had already entered the early stages of decay due to years of neglect. In 1836, it was bought by Uriah Levy, a real estate speculator who was the first Jewish American to serve an entire career as a commissioned Navy officer; he and his nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy, are largely responsible for its restoration and preservation. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, a nonprofit organization, purchased the property in 1923 and continues to operate it as a museum and educational institution.

“I am as happy no where else and in no other society,” Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “and all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello.”

 

*A World Heritage Site:  the designation for places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.  https://whc.unesco.org/en/faq/19

The Jefferson Residence:  https://www.monticello.org/  & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monticello

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