The Home of Thomas Jefferson: The controversial but influential President of the USA

Monticello was the house and plantation estate of the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson.

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It is located on top of a hill in Albemarle County, Virginia. Monticello comes from the Italian for ‘little mountain’ and it was originally 5,000 acres. The reverse side of the United States five-cent coin pictures Jefferson’s ‘essay in architecture’ Monticello.

In 1757, at the age of 21, Jefferson inherited the land from his father and decided to build his own home there. At that time, landowners usually chose the design of their homes from English architectural handbooks

 

The United States’ five-cent coin (reverse)

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However, Jefferson was particularly interested in the architecture of ancient Rome and the Italian Renaissance. Most of the bricks in those days were imported from England, but Jefferson wanted to produce bricks from the clay found on the property.

The first Monticello was a two-story, eight-room house. But, as Jefferson moved to France, where he served as the U.S. ambassador from 1785 to 1789, he was inspired by the Neoclassical buildings that he had seen there and started transforming Monticello into a three-story residence with 21 rooms.

He added a central hallway and an octagonal dome, the first of its kind in the United States. The house is full of collections of books, Native American artifacts, European arts, and some of Jefferson’s inventions, including a revolving bookstand.

In 1793, Jefferson started designing and planting his garden, now famous worldwide. His friend and the Superintendent of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, Andre Thouin, sent him seeds from Europe. The garden also includes exotic species, such as the empress tree from China and Japan. Jefferson proved himself a true horticultural experimentalist and collected samples from all over the world.

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Monticello Photo Credit

 

Under the dome Photo Credit

Hid garden contained vegetables and ornamental plants, two orchards, a vineyard, and an 18-acre ornamental forest. He cultivated hundreds of varieties of vegetables and fruits and attempted to plant a number of different grape varieties at Monticello.

He is considered America’s first serious viticulturist, although his vineyard wasn’t a real success. Jefferson kept a diary known as the Garden Book that included information about the varieties of fruits, vegetables, trees, and flowers planted, planting locations and harvesting dates. In his fruit garden, he grew 130 varieties of fruit trees, such as apple, peach, fig, and cherry. Jefferson also cultivated sesame, sea kale, chickpeas, and salsify, which were rare at that time.

Vegetable garden, Monticello. Photo Credit

Monticello was also a working plantation where approximately 130 enslaved African American people lived. The slaves grew their own fruit and vegetables near their quarters. It was usually the older slaves that worked in the slave gardens, at night or on Sundays. The irony of Monticelli is its reliance on institutionalized slavery in spite of its library full of Enlightenment books and Jefferson’s belief in the equality of all men.

Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, and his daughter, Martha Randolph, inherited the property. Her father left her in debt and she had to sell the estate. In 1836, Uriah Levy bought it and with his nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy, began working to restore the crumbling property.

Flower garden. Monticello. Photo Credit

 

Flower garden. Photo Credit

As expenses were too high, the restoration of Monticello and its gardens was abandoned before being completed. In 1923, The Thomas Jefferson Foundation purchased the property and in 1938 their President enlisted the help of the Garden Club for the renovations. After finding Jefferson’s garden book at the property, the Garden Club discovered that it contained Jefferson’s own detailed plans for the restoration of the estate and were able to use these guidelines to return the estate to its former splendor.

Since 1987, the estate has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, Monticello is considered a national treasure. The remarkable estate is of historical importance, not only because of its beauty but also because of the story it tells of the complex and controversial figure that helped to shape the American nation.