Charlottesville, Virginia: Land of Presidents

The region immediately around Charlottesville was home to three American Presidents – Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and James Madison (the 3rd, 4th and 5th Presidents of the United States) – an impressive record for any city but especially surprising from one with such a small population (currently just over 100,000).  

 

Statue of President James Monroe, Ash-Park Highland

 

We've discussed Thomas Jefferson and a visit to Monticello before on this website and the interested reader is referred to this link if interested.  This blog focuses on other sites of interest in charming Charlottesville, besides iconic Monticello.

 

Side of house, Ash-Park Highland

 

ASH LAWN-HIGHLAND

Further uphill, past Monticello, lies Ash Lawn-Highland, the 500+ acre home of President James Monroe, one of Jefferson’s friends.  Monroe was a dedicated public servant and also a man of accomplishment, having negotiated the Louisiana Purchase and formulated the Monroe doctrine.   While President he made great efforts to travel the country and connect with its citizens.  Jefferson helped Monroe select the home site and design its landscape.  But in comparison to Monticello, Ash-Lawn Highland is a very small and simple home (which now is under the stewardship of the College of William and Mary).  A tour of the home is available and takes around a half an hour; its furnishings are lovely and interesting as most did actually belong to Monroe.  But it’s no Monticello.  If you’re pressed for time, focus only on Monticello. 

 

Michie Tavern, Charlottesville, VA

 

MICHIE TAVERN

 

Michie Tavern, a few miles downhill from Monticello, is a great place for lunch if you've visited Monticello in the morning.  They offer a southern-cooking style buffet, wonderfully delicious and very recommended.  

 

Artifacts in Michie Tavern, Charlottesville, VA

 Meadow Run Mill at Michie Tavern

After lunch we did a 30 minute tour of the historic tavern which was interesting but also could be skipped if you’re rushed for time.  The tavern was built in the late 1700s and moved to the current site in 1927.  The tour included a discussion of how a Colonial tavern/inn functioned and was furnished.  The tavern has many rare period collectibles, such as maps created by Jefferson’s father.  Several older restored buildings are present on the grounds of the tavern, including a mill, blacksmith shop and tobacco drying barn.

 

Rotunda, University of Virginia

Rotunda, University of Virginia

 

UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA

 

The University of Virginia is not to be missed, in my opinion second only to Monticello in importance and together with it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  My wife and I typically enjoy visiting universities and colleges on our travels, so this University was a real treat.  President Jefferson was a strong advocate of public education and firmly believe that a well-educated society could effectively govern itself.  Much of Jefferson’s “retirement” was involved in the conception, planning, architectural design and building of the University, and he even was involved in developing its curriculum and hiring its faculty. 

 

University of Virginia, Pavilions and LawnsThe University is beautiful.  The original design incorporated only 2 acres, with the Rotunda (designed after the Pantheon in Rome) at its focal point.   The lawn behind the Rotunda frames a series of architecturally beautiful lecture halls (Pavilions) and student dormitories (Jefferson believed it was important for students and their faculty to mingle).  Over the years the original 2 acre campus with 120 students has expanded to 3500 acres with almost 20,000 students.  Its Art Museum is especially well known.  U.of V. is a beautiful complex and the governors of the University have done an excellent job in overseeing that expansion was compatible with Jefferson’s vision.  I’m sure Jefferson would be very proud to see it today.  (Of interest, one of the University’s most famous students is Edgar Allen Poe)

 

Downtown Charlottesville

 

DOWNTOWN CHARLOTTESVILLE

 

Charlottesville is a charming college “village” (as they like to call it).  It has done a fine job revitalizing its Historic Downtown Pedestrian Mall with assorted shops, cafes, restaurants and theaters that make for an interesting stroll and some window-shopping.   Many of the buildings lining the mall are beautifully designed, even elegant.  We never had a chance to eat here, but I hear many of the restaurants serve fine cuisine.  

 

Madison's Montepelier

 

THINGS TO DO NEAR CHARLOTTESVILLE

 

There are many beautiful drives in the state, one of the most interesting being through the vineyards and farmland between Charlottesville and Orange, a route that President Jefferson often rode by buggy in the early 1800s when he visited his good friend President James Madison at his magnificent estate, Montpelier.   We really enjoyed seeing the rolling hills, vineyards and cattle herds.  Jefferson also had a plantation retreat at Poplar Forest, North of Charlottesville.  Poplar Forest was a private oasis for the retired President when he needed time to get away from his many visitors and statesman duties at Monticello and recharge his mental batteries.

 

The area is home to many fine vineyards and for those who enjoy wine tours this is an excellent destination.  The Monticello Wine Trail passes over 20 vineyards, including some of Virginia’s most famous such as Barboursville vineyards.

 

Crocuses, Ash-Park Highland

 

I’m sure you’ll enjoy your visit to Charlottesville as much as we did! The thumbnails below have additional photos from this visit which you can enlarge if you're interested.

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Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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I've spent many days exploring the early times of the Du Pont family around Delaware and Pennsylvania. Explore the old homes and gardens of the American chemical giants. Really fascinating.

Chateau Country

Route 52 passes thru Delaware’s Chateau Country.  Many DuPont homes and estates are tucked away in the areas surrounding Greenville, Delaware and Centerville Delaware. Local residents have managed to preserve the rural character of Route 52 by controlling development. Twin Lakes Brewing Company in Greenville is on the farm of a DuPont heiress.

Winterthur Museum

Winterthur museum

Between Greenville and Centerville, one passes Winterthur Museum and Country Farm Estate. The museum in Winterthur, Delaware, houses one of the most important collections of Americana in the country. It was the former home of Henry Francis du Pont (1880–1969), a renowned collector of antiques and horticulturist.

The grounds are open to general admission and guided tours are available. The rolling countryside makes the annual Sunday Point-to-Pointsteeplechases, the carriage, buggy and surrey parade, the running of the hounds, and elegant tailgating a rite of spring in northern Delaware.

Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens is located just beyond the intersection of Pennsylvania Route 52 and U.S. Route 1. It consists of 1,050 acres (4.2 km2) of gardens, woodlands, and meadows in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania in the Brandywine Creek Valley and is one of the premier botanical gardens in the United States.

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