While most people know Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (check your nickels), fewer people know Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, his country villa in southwest Virginia. I think of it as a “mini Monticello,” because it looks so much like its more famous counterpart.
Poplar Forest gets its name from the amazing poplar trees that surround it (apparently there was once an actual forest). My Uncle Joe kept calling it “Popular” Forest, and my Aunt Viola and I finally had to give up correcting him. We took a Nerd Trip to Poplar Forest in early April, when the trees were still bare and you could see their amazing architecture. Take a look:
Poplar Forest is located in Forest, Virginia, which for Jefferson was about three days travel from Monticello. For you and me, it’s about an hour-and-a-half drive. Jefferson inherited the property from his father-in-law in 1773. Jefferson apparently wanted to build his retreat at the highest point on the property, and I think he got it right, it was super windy the day we visited and there wasn’t much to block the wind.
Like Monticello, Jefferson designed Poplar Forest in an octagonal shape. I give him credit for being consistent in his tastes (or maybe it’s obsessive?). If I were building a second home, I’d want something a little different. Honestly, you rode all that way, and it looks like a smaller version of the other house. Construction of the Poplar Forest house you see today began in 1806, when one of Jefferson’s other houses was actually the White House.
The grounds of Poplar Forest also have a Monticello-like layout. The house sits in the middle of a circular road. The octagonal building has a wing off the side with kitchens and other facilities underneath – just like Monticello. And, just like at Monticello, Jefferson was very interested in plants and landscaping at Poplar Forest, although there wasn’t much in bloom when we visited.
On either side of the house, there are strategically placed hills or “mounds,” ideal for surveying the property and gardens. They also disguise the infamous octagonal privies, a polite way to describe the outhouse. Jefferson can’t let go of the classical design even when it comes to the outhouse; the privy design follows the rules of architectural proportion as the house. For some reason, the people at Poplar Forest kept talking about these octagonal privies. They are quite the attraction!
In the next post, I will let you know what we saw inside the house. While I keep emphasizing the similarities with Monticello, there are plenty of different things to see and learn at Poplar Forest. With all that, plus those octagonal privies, maybe someday it will be known as “Popular” Forest, so check it out for yourself.
This is our first official post on the updated Nerd Trips site, and while I am nerd, I am not a tech geek. Thanks again to Lynne and Frank at Buzzquake Marketing for all their hard work and patience, my friend Tracy for the great banner designer and the “Happiness Engineers” at WordPress for helping with the final migration.
Here are some things to look for on the site. First of all, there is “Search” bar at the top, so you can search for your favorite president, poet or location.
Speaking of locations, check out the “On the Map” feature with “pinpoints” to show where we have been. Click on those map pages and you’ll find the website and address for each historic site and a rating for overall experience, such as this one for Poplar Forest. You can also search the maps page with the filters at the bottom that organize posts by listing (presidential home, literary site, etc) or location (Virginia, Texas, London, etc) or rating (one to five stars). We think these new features will help make Nerd Trips more fun and interactive.
Thanks again to all of you for coming along on these nerdy adventures. You never know what you’ll learn or see. On this trip, we had some Nerd Trips paparazzi — Uncle Joe and his trusty video camera.