Brown Sign: Montpelier, VA

The last Saturday of Emily’s visit, with an 80% chance of rain west of the Blue Ridge and 30% chance east, we packed up for a drive to Montpelier, near Orange, VA, about 30 minutes north of Charlottesville.  This is the home of James Madison, drafter of our Constitution and our 4th president.  Being supporters of persevering our history, we are members of the local trust (, which owns the property and opens it to the public.  Linda said I wanted to go because I was working the day that she brought Dave & Felicia there during the summer. 

View of the Blue Ridge to the West

Running ahead of the approaching weather, we enjoyed the scenic drive though what Madison considered the Frontier of Virginia, crossing North Mountain, passing north of Front Royal and the Blue Ridge, then traveling south along the eastern foothills of Shenandoah National Park.  Bach and Vivaldi provided the soundtrack for the drive.  We arrived in time for our picnic lunch before our tour.

The house tour is guided, while the rest of the grounds can be viewed on your own, including woodland trails and formal gardens.  Between the house and the visitors center, seasonal archeological excavations are being

The House Restored

done to explore the area where slave quarters housed those who labored to run the plantation prior to various house expansions from owners of the property after Dolly Madison sold it a decade after James’ death.  A few hands-on tents are set up to demonstrate various activities, which would be carried out as part of the function of a plantation in the 18th and 19th century.  Of interest, three generations of Madisons lived on the property over nearly 100 years before James Madison became proprietor.  How different from our own era, when we live in several locations during our lives, with few properties staying within a family for generations.

For tourists wanting to see ready-for-show historic homes and places, Virginia offers several other locations in Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello (Jefferson), and Mount Vernon (Washington) within a few hours drive.  For those interested in historic restoration, Montpelier will offer an interesting vantage over the next few decades.  This

Uncovering the Past

property is only relatively recently turned over to The National Trust of Historic Preservation, at the wish of the last owner Marion duPont Scott.  The Trust set upon major restorations, making the decision to return the house to its state from the early 19thcentury, when Madison was president.  This required removing a century and a half of additions and remodeling, and beginning to explore documented and archeological evidence of out-buildings long demolished.  The tour takes the

Reconstructing the Evidence

guests through most of the rooms, though only a few have complete decorations and furnishings.  This may change from visit to visit, as additional funding and restoration work continues.  Our docent commented that the curtains in the central parlor had only been hung the day before, adding formality and grandeur to the room, in which portraits of Madison’s peers, religious and secular themes filled the walls.  Other rooms had no wall coverings or furnishings, but our

The Formal Gardens

imaginations filled the setting as the docent described what might have been in that room.   Rather that filling all the rooms with speculation, the researchers are combing through correspondence to determine from narratives what each part of the house contained.  Unfortunately, much of the interior items were sold to pay for Dolly’s son’s debts.

On the second floor is the room where James Madison spent the winter of 1786-7 Reading through 400 volumes of history and political commentary, of which some 250 Jefferson had sent, while contemplating how to write a constitution to better organize the infant nation and protect the liberty for which it was founded.

With all of our library resources, bookstores, and internet links, how many of us would devote the winter reading even 4 such texts?  With Tea Party, neo-Constitutionalists, and libertarian advocates all waving copies of the Constitution and claiming that our various levels of government are not following these rules, I wonder how many of them have Madison’s desire to protect liberty for all, or are they mostly interested in persevering the benefits they have received, while restricting others from participating in the same liberties?  Then again, Madison would be the last of the Founding Fathers to die, with the practice of slavery unanswered for another generation.


About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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7 Responses to Brown Sign: Montpelier, VA

  1. The Vicar says:

    Like the Tea Party reformers, neo-Constitutionalists, libertarian advocates, and social reformers, Christians also wave the constitution. It’s not unusual to get email’s railing about the potential to lose the religious freedom we have enjoyed in America over the last 230 years. These emails often question one’s faithfulness to God if they are not forwarded to 10 friends (so much for freedom). The concern seems to be that without constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom, we cannot share our stories about how God has impacted our lives through Christ.

    Freedom can breed apathy. Look at how few people vote in our free elections. Belief in God in the western world (Europe & America) shrinks every year in the presence of great freedom to worship. In the meantime countries that have persecuted Christians for decades have seen exponential growth in faith without freedom.

    In Act 5 the disciples marveled that hey had been counted worthy of being persecuted for the Gospel of Christ. Perhaps followers of Christ in America need to look not at preserving their constitutional freedom to worship God, but rather to consider if they would still profess God in the midst of opposition and suffering.

    I’m grateful that men like Madison devoted much of their life to working through the challenges of government. While owning slaves, he realized contradictions and continued to wrestle with the inequality in the midst of the struggle for freedom. Perhaps having to communicate in the written word rather than sound bites enabled the authors of “The Federalist Papers” to think more fully about what they were saying. Reasoned discourse versus partisan ranting.

  2. Mother Suzanna says:

    Am I worthy to leave a comment after two such worthy observations? All I wanted to say was that I’d like to see “James’s Home” next time I visit the Mountain. HOWEVER, the last paragraph “grabbed my attention”. I was thinking of what I read in Acts 11:39-40 this morning…the great Faith chapter… “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

    • Oscar says:

      When you come to see the bulb (that you will not have to plant) in Spring, this would be a good time to visit Montpelier. I do not believe that the estate is open during the Winter months.

  3. The Vicar says:

    Hey Hermit, that little avatar picture with your two dogs looks like you aren’t wearing a shirt … which is perfectly fine if you live on the side of a mountain. 🙂

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Actually, it is a brown shirt with a Rhode Island Red Rooster on it. But, hey, if someone wants to think I’m some hunky dude showing off my buff bod… well, the jokes on them. I has taken me about 9 months to figure out where this avatar stuff is on my blog. Now, lets see if I can figure out how to change my name back to Hermit…

      • Barneysday says:

        Been at it a year, still trying to figure out Avatars from pages, from screens, from links, etc etc etc . If you ever figure it out, let me in on the secrets.

  4. Pingback: Are Our Parks National? | hermitsdoor

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