Monticello Explained

Nrhp Type:nhl
Nearest City:Charlottesville, VA
Architect:Thomas Jefferson
Designated:December 19, 1960[1]
Added:October 15, 1966
Governing Body:The Thomas Jefferson Foundation
Refnum:66000826 [2]
Mapcaption:Monticello, Virginia
Lat Degrees:38
Lat Minutes:0
Lat Seconds:30
Lat Direction:N
Long Degrees:78
Long Minutes:27
Long Seconds:12
Long Direction:W
Whs:Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville
State Party: United States of America
Criteria:i, iv, vi
Region:Europe and North America

Monticello, located near Charlottesville, Virginia, was the estate of Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence, the third President of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia. The house is of Jefferson's own design and is situated on the summit of an 850feet-high peak in the Southwest Mountains south of the Rivanna Gap. Monticello is Italian for "little mountain."

An image of the west front of Monticello was featured on the reverse of the 5 cent coin of the United States of America coined from 1938 to 2003 (the image returned to the reverse of the coin beginning in 2006) and on the reverse of the United States of America two dollar bill that was printed from 1928 to 1966.

Monticello along with nearby University of Virginia was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.


Work began on Monticello in 1768, and Jefferson moved into the South Pavilion (an outbuilding) in 1770. The original design was based on the classical style of Palladian architecture. When Jefferson left Monticello in 1784 for extended travels in Europe, the original design of the house was largely completed except for porticos and decorative interior woodwork. Upon his return, Jefferson expanded his vision for Monticello to incorporate features of Palladian buildings and ruins he admired overseas. Further work to the new design began in 1796. Construction of Monticello was substantially completed in 1809 with the erection of the dome.

Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 and Monticello was inherited by his eldest daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph. Financial difficulties led to Martha selling Monticello to James T. Barclay, a local apothecary, in 1839. Barclay sold it in 1834 to Uriah P. Levy, the first Jewish American to serve an entire career as a commissioned officer in the United States Navy. Levy greatly admired Jefferson. During the American Civil War, the house was seized by the Confederate government and sold, though Uriah Levy's estate recovered it after the war.

Lawsuits filed by Levy's heirs were settled in 1879, when Uriah Levy's nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy, a prominent New York lawyer, real estate and stock speculator and member of Congress, bought out the other heirs and took control of the property. Jefferson Levy, like his uncle, repaired, restored and preserved Monticello, which was deteriorating seriously while the lawsuits wended their way through the courts in New York and Virginia.

A private, nonprofit organization — the Thomas Jefferson Foundation — purchased the house from Jefferson Levy in 1923 and it was restored by architects including Fiske Kimball and Milton L. Grigg. Monticello is now operated as a museum and educational institution. Visitors can view rooms in the cellar, ground floor, and third floor, but the second floor is not open to the general public due to fire code restrictions.

Monticello is the only private home in the United States of America that has been designated a World Heritage Site. From 1989 to 1992, a team of architects from the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) painstakingly created a collection of measured drawings of Monticello. These drawings are now kept at the Library of Congress. The World Heritage Site designation also includes the original grounds of Jefferson's University of Virginia.

Among Jefferson's other designs are his other home near Lynchburg called Poplar Forest and the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.

Decoration and furnishings

Much of Monticello's interior decoration reflect the ideas and ideals of Jefferson himself.

The original main entrance is through the portico on the east front. The ceiling of this portico incorporates a wind plate connected to a weather vane, showing the direction of the wind. A large clock face on the external east-facing wall has only an hour hand since Jefferson thought this was accurate enough for outdoor laborers. The clock reflects the time shown on the "Great Clock" (designed by Jefferson) in the entrance hall. The entrance hall contains recreations of items collected by Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition. The floorcloth here is painted a, "true grass green" upon the recommendation of artist Gilbert Stuart in order for Jefferson's 'essay in architecture' to invite the spirit of the outdoors into the house.

The south wing includes Jefferson's private suite of rooms. The library holds many books in Jefferson's third library collection. His first library was burned in a plantation fire, and he 'ceded' (or sold) his second library in 1815 to the United States Congress to replace the books lost when the British burned the Capitol in 1814. This second library formed the nucleus of the Library of Congress. As famous and "larger than life" as Monticello seems, the house itself is actually no larger than a typical large home. Jefferson considered much furniture to be a waste of space, so the dining room table was erected only at mealtimes, and beds were built into alcoves cut into thick walls that contain storage space. Jefferson's bed opens to two sides: to his cabinet (study) and to his bedroom (dressing room).

The west front (illustration) gives the impression of a villa of very modest proportions, with a lower floor disguised in the hillside.

The north wing includes the dining room -- which has a dumbwaiter incorporated into the fireplace as well as dumbwaiters (shelved tables on castors) and a pivoting serving door with shelves -- and two guest bedrooms.

maggie speaks.

Outbuildings and plantation

The main house was augmented by small outlying pavilions to the north and south. A row of functional buildings (dairy, wash houses, store houses, a small nail factory, a joinery etc.) and slave dwellings known as Mulberry Row lay nearby to the south. A stone weaver's cottage survives, as does the tall chimney of the joinery, and the foundations of other buildings. A cabin on Mulberry Row was, for a time, the home of Sally Hemings; she later moved into a room in the "south dependency" below the main house. On the slope below Mulberry Row Jefferson maintained an extensive vegetable garden.

The house was the center of a plantation of 5,000 acres (20 km²), tended by some 150 slaves. There are also two houses included in the whole 5000acres.

In 2004, the trustees acquired the only property that overlooks Monticello, the taller mountain that Jefferson called Montalto, but known to Charlottesville residents as Mountaintop Farm, Patterson's or Brown's Mountain. Rushing to stave off development of so-called "McMansions," the trustees spent $15 million to purchase the property, which Jefferson had owned and which had served as a 20th Century residence as farm houses divided into apartments, to many University of Virginia students including George Allen. The officials at Monticello had long viewed the property located on the mountain as an eyesore, and were very interested in purchasing the property when it came on the market.[3] Monticello now charges $13 for adults and $7 for children to visit the top of the mountain and only allows admission to the area from May to October.[4]


Monticello appears on the back of the U.S. nickel coin. Originally designed by Felix Schlag, it was re-introduced in 2006 after two years of "Westward Series" nickels. Monticello also appeared on the back of the two-dollar bill, until it was discontinued in 1966. The current $2 bill, introduced in 1976, still has Jefferson on the front, but the back is a painting of the presenting to the Second Continental Congress the Declaration of Independence. The gift shop hands out two-dollar bills as change.

Monticello was featured in Bob Vila's A&E Network production, Guide to Historic Homes of America,[5] in a tour which included the Dome Room (not open to the public) and Honeymoon Cottage.

At University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky, an addition to the Corell Science Complex is being constructed as a replica of Monticello.[6]

Sidney Fiske Kimball, father of the University of Virginia's School of Architecture, and one of the prime movers behind the restoration of Monticello, and author of the book Thomas Jefferson, Architect, used Jefferson's architectural principles to build his own retirement home outside Charlottesville called "Shack Mountain," short for Shackelford Mountain[7], the surname of a branch of Jefferson's descendants. Built in 1935-1936, Shack Mountain is a Jefferson-style pavilion, like Monticello, that is considered Kimball's masterpiece.[8] Kimball himself advised on the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg and Stratford Hall Plantation. Shack Mountain was nominated as a National Historic Landmark in 1992.[9]


Further reading

Mc Laughlin, Jack, "Jefferson and Monticello, The Biography of a Builder", Holt, 1988.

External links

See also

Notes and References

  1. Web site: Monticello (Thomas Jefferson House). 2008-06-27. National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service.
  2. Web site: National Register Information System. 2006-03-15. National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  3. Web site: The Hook - Off Montalto, "It's all downhill from here.". 2004-06-03.
  4. Web site: Jeffersons's Monticello: Getting Tickets. 2007-02-17.
  5. Web site: "Guide to Historic Homes of America.". Bob Vila. html. A&E Network. 1996.
  6. Corrells donate funds for Ward and Regina Correll Science Complex. University of the Cumberlands. 2007-08-17.
  7.,M1 The Virginia Landmarks Register, By Calder Loth, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Published by University of Virginia Press, 1999, ISBN 0813918626
  8. The Architecture of Jefferson Country: Charlottesville and Albemarle County, K. Edward Lay, University of Virginia Press, 2000
  9. Fiske Kimball, Shack Mountain, University of Virginia library,