In this post, we resume our recap of the Ultimate Nerd Trip: three presidential homes in three days. My friend Julie and I set off in April 2009 on this venture into “nerdvana.”
We also had a delightful detour joining “The Murder Tour,” visiting locations related to a 1904 crime story involving Charlottesville’s mayor. The after-dark excursion was both creepy and fun, as were some of the inane questions from others in our group, who repeatedly asked about forensic evidence. (1904 people, this is not CSI).
We concluded the Ultimate Nerd Trip at Montpelier, home of our fourth president James Madison. Montpelier is located in Orange, Virginia, about 30 minutes from Charlottesville. Compared to the flowery gardens of Monticello, Montpelier did look a little plain, but we enjoyed the visit and learned a lot!
President Madison and his family are interesting characters, but I found the story of Madison’s slave Paul Jennings to be particularly memorable. Jennings has an amazing perspective on American history. We purchased his memoir in the gift shop. (I wrote a post on Jennings a few months ago). As with Ash Lawn and Monticello, Montpelier is very upfront about slavery, including several displays about the slaves who lived and worked there.
The house itself has an interesting history Madison’s grandfather settled the property in 1720s, and James Madison grew up there, the eldest of 12 children.
Falling on hard financial times, Dolley Madison sold Montpelier in 1844. After more than a half-dozen owners, industrialist William duPont bought the property in 1901, adding more rooms and a second floor in some areas. duPont’s children eventually turned the property into a leading horse training facility.
DuPont’s daughter Marion decided that Montpelier should be preserved as monument to Madison. The Montpelier Foundation has led the effort restore the property to reflect the Madison era. The website has details or, better yet, visit for Montpelier for yourself.
When we visited, there was little furniture to see (There are apparently people working on a “furniture plan“). Our guide pointed out that the Madisons may have had the largest master bedroom in the early 19th century, and it is quite expansive! (You can’t take pictures in the house).
Madison spent months and months in his library researching and contemplating ideas for the Constitution. I felt amazed to be standing in the very place where some of the ideas were put together!
Our guide pointed out something that hadn’t occurred to me. He said our Founding Fathers mostly came from backgrounds of wealth and privilege, which gave them power, but that meant they had a lot to lose in opposing British rule and setting up their own government. Interesting perspective.
Of course, a theme of the Ultimate Nerd Trip became really cool trees, and Montpelier did not disappoint!
Next post: More Montpelier, including one of the strangest questions I have ever heard on a Nerd Trip!