Two homes of extraordinary historical significance in Charlottesville, Virginia.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Maybe you slept through history class.
But touring the former homes of President Thomas Jefferson and President James Monroe will make you wish you’d paid more attention in high school.
An educational visit now can make up for lost time.
Monroe and Jefferson were both important men in our nation’s history, but they were also just two guys who happened to be friends and neighbors. Their sprawling estates are today a short drive from downtown Charlottesville. Surrounded by rolling hills, pastures, woods and farmland, it’s easy to see why each man loved his home. Visit to get a glimpse of their lives and legacy.
Every day can feel like President’s Day in Charlottesville, Virginia.
James Monroe’s Ash-Lawn Highland
Ash Lawn-Highland is the former home of James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States. He owned the property from 1793 to 1826 and lived in the house from 1799 to 1823 with his wife Elizabeth.
Monroe described it as a “place of comfort and hospitality.”
A half-hour tour showcases the house and nearby outbuildings, which are decorated in period antiques including some Monroe family pieces.
The tour emphasizes Monroe’s contributions to the United States’ history, including his role in the American Revolution, Continental Congress, U.S. Senate, multiple terms as Governor of Virginia, and two terms as President. He’s credited with shaping southern and western expansion, international diplomacy, and was critical of slavery.
“Historians have ranked him as the 7th most effective President,” said Douglas G. Moore, guide docent.
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
Monticello is the former home of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States—and, arguably, “America’s first foodie” (we can thank him for introducing Americans to French fries, fine wine and more).
Jefferson didn’t just live in Monticello, he designed it and spent half of his life perfecting the place. It was a true labor of love. And it’s still home to many of his former possessions. Antique fans will especially appreciate his diverse, extensive collections.
House tours explore the main floor of the home. Themes vary by guide—some individual guides may offer more detail on agriculture, architecture, slavery or another topic of keen interest—but always showcase the life and accomplishments of Jefferson, who was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, served in the American Revolution, Continental Congress, as Governor of Virginia, ambassador to France, the first U.S. Secretary of State, Vice President to John Adams, and President for two terms. With the Louisiana Purchase and other acquisitions, Jefferson doubled the size of the nation during his presidency and also sent out the Louis and Clark Expedition to explore the West.
Jefferson was also founder of the University of Virginia, and had strong interests in science, architecture, philosophy, farming and viticulture, and invention.
A day pass includes an introductory short film, the main-floor house tour (plus outdoor tours in season), entry to the museum and exhibits, access to the African American cemetery, a visit to Jefferson’s gravesite, and more. Several additional guided tours are also available, including Behind-the-Scenes, Heming Family, Gardens & Grounds, and tours focused on the experiences of slaves at Monticello.
In 1807 Jefferson drafted and signed into law a bill that banned the import of slaves. Although Jefferson expressed opposition to slavery throughout his life, he owned hundreds of slaves and freed only a few of them. DNA has proven that he fathered several children of his slave Sally Hemings, with whom (as was long believed) he had a long-term relationship after the death of his wife.
Though this complicates his legacy, many historians continue to rank Jefferson as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents.
2050 James Monroe Parkway
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Odds of Encountering Children: Likely, especially if you visit either property on the weekend, during the summer, or happen to arrive at the same time as a school group on a field trip. But you can get lucky: We saw no youngsters at either presidential home during our January visit.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.