In a recent visit to Virginia, I had the pleasure of visiting Montpelier ( www.montpelier.org ), former home of President James Madison, and his wife, Dolley Madison.
James Madison was the 4th President of the United States, from 1809-1817. His wife, Dolley, is considered the first "First Lady", and was a widow with a young son, when she married James Madison. James and Dolley did not have any biological children of their own. This sculpture of the two probably composed James Madison in a seated position (as opposed to standing next to his wife), because he was famous for being of very small stature. Records indicate he weighed only 100 pounds, and measured in at slightly more than five feet tall. You can have your photo made with these lifesize figures, in front of the Visitor's Center. (On another Road Scholar trip to Hyde Park, New York, I was able to have my photo made with a similar sculpture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with his wife Eleanor.)
Montpelier has undergone numerous changes since making its original footprint on the landscape in the early 1760's, decades before it was inhabited by James and Dolley. James's mother lived on the right side of the home until her death. If you visited Montpelier before 2003, you may have seen a vastly different exterior than that depicted in this photograph. That is because from 2003-2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation carried out a $25 million restoration to return the mansion to its 1820 status. Doing so means that it is now less than half the size of the expanded residence created by the DuPont family, after their living there during the first half of the 1900's.
Thismemorial stone marks the gravesite of James Madison (1751-1836). In keeping with the other memorial stones I saw on this Road Scholar ( www.roadscholar.org ) tour, there is nothing carved on the stone indicating that Mr. Madison had once been a U.S. President. The smaller obelisk beside the President's, is that of his wife Dolley. Although she was originally buried in Washington, D.C., her remains were later moved to be buried beside those of her husband at Montpelier.
Montpelier is located in the beautiful foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and just 80 miles south of Washington, D.C.
Some people may be more familiar with "Dolly Madison" food products, than with First Lady Dolley Madison. Our Road Scholar group had a delightful lunch at the cafe located in the Visitor Center, but when we asked if they sold the "Dolly Madison Cupcakes", they said "no", and referred us to the exhibit in their museum that shows the hundreds of products that used the popularity of First Lady Dolley Madison, as their marketing hook (see photo above).
Montpelier's cafe has both indoor and outdoor dining space, and our Road Scholar group was blessed with abundant sunshine when we visited.
A great way to burn off those delicious lunch-time calories, is to head out to explore the spacious grounds of Montpelier. Part of its wooded areas are included in the Old-Growth Forest Network, which was founded to preserve, protect and promote the country's few remaining stands of old-growth forest. At Montpelier, there are several trees up to 300 years old. Ideal growing conditions at the site, including fertile soils, allow the trees to attain great size.
The DuPont family was famous for their love of all things equestrian, and these grazing horses near the entrance are a reminder of the historical importance of horse racing in this area. The tradition continues at Montpelier, as it is still the site of an annual Montpelier Hunt Races, held each November. It is said to be one of the few steeplechase routes that still uses actual living hedges for its jumps.
The frequent trips to larger cities that the Montpelier owners and visitors required, were often made via railroad. The railroad depot has been restored (with civil rights exhibits inside), and was part of our tour. Now the depot also houses the Montpelier post office. Naturally, I sent myself a postcard from there, so I would have the Monpelier post mark to record the date of my visit!
Although it is not known for certain, experts speculate that Madison called his place Montpelier, based on the name of a city in France, called Montpellier, which was the location of a famous resort.
I took a walk down the hillside beside the Visitor's Center, to get a closer look at the formal gardens. A sign indicated the brick wall had been put around the gardens, in hopes of keeping the deer away from the tender vegetation inside.
A197-acre forest on the property, known as the Montpelier Landmark Forest, was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in 1987. The forest was recognized as being one of the best examples of a mature Piedmont forest dominated by tulip poplar and spicebush. Various species of oak and hickory are also common in the forest.
Itis said that Dolley Madison was known for her preference for the color red. We saw that in the furnishings she chose for her rooms inside Montpelier, and this clothing exhibit above, shows she also enjoyed wearing the color!
There is a Campeachy chair in the Montpelier Visitor's Centers that I was actually able to sit in! The term "Campeachy" was a new one to me, so when I googled it, I learned that it is a Caribbean form of chair adopted by Louisianans and Virginians. Campeachy chairs were among the most comfortable seating furniture used in early America. I had read that Thomas Jefferson called them Siesta Chairs. One article listed the campeachy chair as one of the 10 Pieces of Early American furniture every home decorator should know. It is also known as a "Plantation Chair". James Madison owned a Mexican-made Campeachy armchair at Montpelier, which was described as his "favorite seat". The chair is named after the Campeche region of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, which manufactured and exported the chairs in the 1700's and 1800's. In great Britain, it is called an "X-frame chair," which gives a clue to its structure: two X-shaped sides joined by horizontal rails, with a sling back and seat of leather, cane, or wooden slats. Campechy chairs often have attached arms, and sometimes are made into rocking chairs. (see photo below)
Notice the date on the symbol in the lower left of this photo---1775---which predates the Declaration of Independence.
While having a moment of stillness, as I visited the formal gardens of Montpelier, I gave a silent prayer of thankfulness for yet another of our founding fathers, and the opportunity to visit his home. This expedition to Montpelier gave me "MILES OF SMILES"! Tricia