Virginia, Where We've Been

Monticello & Monroe’s Highland

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Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, was once the home of the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States. The estate, including nearly 5,000 acres of surrounding land, is located in the hills just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia.

The house was designed and built by Jefferson after he inherited nearly 5,000 acres from his father when he was 14 years old. 

He incorporated several fascinating features into its structure, some of which are rather rare or unseen today.

For example, the roof was composed of small trusses that are turned perpendicular to the main slope of the roof. This would have given it more structural stability.

Another feature was the decorative white facade around the dome that allowed water to flow behind it and into the gutters. Doing it this way kept water from flowing over the architectural detail pieces and allowing possible water damage to occur.

The estate was home to a large garden and plantation where the enslaved individuals worked. Jefferson referenced a gardening book for seasonal planting and harvesting. With it he grew many crops including tobacco, corn, and grapes. 

A man was there that day giving a talk to a group of guests about state’s rights. He seemed well versed in Jefferson’s beliefs and could carry on discussions in character.

Jefferson installed a dumbwaiter with a pulley system to move wine bottles up from the basement to the living room. When a bottle was ready to be brought up, a rope pulled the weighted side of the rope down and the bottle could be removed from behind a door attached to the side of the fireplace.

The double doors in the house were also on a pulley system. This one, however, was located beneath the floor boards. When one of the doors was opened, the double door it was attached to would also open. 

Jefferson’s study, pictured below, contains many of the items he designed and/or used. In his early life, Jefferson was a surveyor. The theodolite, pictured on the left of the frame, would have been used to find angles and an accompanying chain to measure distances. 

On the table is his famous polygraph contraption that allowed him to write two letters at one time as the second letter was copied by the placement of the first.

Can you guess what the contraption on the table is? Many people on the tour were thinking a light bulb, and although it bears some resemblance to one, it is not. It is a vacuum. He would use a pump to remove the air from the container, creating a vacuum inside.

He designed his bedroom in a very unique way. His bed was placed between two rooms, in an alcove with curtains, to keep the space small to allow for warmth at night. If he woke up on the right side of the bed, he would be in his study. If on the left, his bedroom. 

The house was full of books…so many books!

I wasn’t familiar with most, but we did recognize a number of encyclopedias.

Jefferson is buried not far from the house. His wife had apparently died many years before, while Jefferson was still a young man. He had promised her he wouldn’t marry again and he kept that promise. But there is controversy over an enslaved woman that he had on the plantation named Sally Hemings. He had no less than six children with her, four of which surviving to adulthood. He agreed to free them after they turned 21, but life was no different for them on the plantation than if their father had also been enslaved. 

Historians are unsure what their feelings for each other would have been, but when the two had been traveling to Europe where Hemings was considered a free person she was faced with the decision to either remain in Europe to live free or return with Jefferson with the promise that any children she would have with him would be freed at the age of 21. She decided to return and lived out her life on the plantation and the promise of freedom was kept. 


Monroe’s Highland

James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States, lived only a few miles from Jefferson nearly Charlottesville, Virginia. His estate was much more modest than Jefferson’s, though he too was a slave owner with a plantation.

The two were good friends, but neither seemed to be very good businessmen. Both Monroe and Jefferson went into debt over their plantations. Monroe, however, ended up selling his estate, so named Highland, and moved to Monroe Hill on what is now a portion of the University of Virginia.

The original house burned down shortly after Monroe sold the property. The foundations walls have since been found and are outlined in stone below. A second house was built onto the guesthouse by later owners and can be seen on the property to this day.

Inside some of the furniture still exists as it may have been moved inside the guest house prior to the fire. 

One of the two enslaved people’s buildings still exist on the property as well as a smokehouse. This building has been rebuilt to the same dimensions and would have held three families of enslaved individuals.

Can you guess what time it is on the sundial?

If you said 1pm, you would have been wrong.

Though the sun is pointing to the 1, it was actually 2pm.

Any guesses why that would have been the case?

Daylight saving time. Good ol’ Ben Franklin. 




Small Country Campground

We had a long drive and pulled into the campground just after sunset. It was so dark and there were hardly any lights on in the campground. We pulled up to the office and a paper was waiting there for us with our assigned spot. It was incredibly difficult to find our spot in the dark. Once we found it, we realized we were turned the wrong direction for utilities and would have to turn around somehow. We made out way back out and found a tree near the entrance that allowed us to turn around it 360 degrees with our big rig.

We checked in in the morning and the process went smoothly. We had a pull-thru premium site that looked over the hillside to the lake below. I don’t normally book premium sites, just take what we can get, but it turned out to be a great decision. The view was worth it!

It was full hookup. No problem with any of the utilities.

They have a mini golf course on site that is free to use in the off season. There’s also a playground and a bouncy pad for the kids. They could also check out basketballs and bean bags for cornhole.

Starlink was running great at 103 up/8 down. Verizon on the phone came in at 3 bars and only gave us 5/0.7. With the cell antenna we received a better signal of 4 bars with 3/4. AT&T gave us 2 bars and 8/0.6. The campground had WiFi and it came in at 15/11.