In Pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Luxury
America’s most famous historic home, Monticello (“little mountain”) was the dream house and final resting place of Thomas Jefferson – statesman, visionary, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and America’s only architect-president, who said of the house, “I am as happy nowhere else.” Overlooking the 2,000 remaining acres of the Jefferson family’s original 5,000-acre plantation, the house serves as a kind of autobiography of the president who was known as a writer but chose not to pen the story of his life.
The three-story Palladian-style structure was entirely of his own design, begun in 1769 when he was just twenty-six, influenced by his time in France as U.S. minister from 1785 to 1789, and only finished twenty years later, in the last year of his presidency. Out in the fields, orchards, and landscaped gardens, Jefferson raised numerous kinds of peas (his favorite food) and in 1807 planted one of the earliest crops of European grapevines in the New World.
Inside, the thirty-three-room house (of which only the eleven first-floor rooms are open to the public) is scattered with Jefferson memorabilia, left as if the owner had just stepped out for a stroll.
Virginia’s love affair with Thomas Jefferson continues at nearby Charlottesville’s top-ranked University of Virginia, the beloved “academical village” he founded and whose buildings he designed. You can take a guided tour of the small but sophisticated city’s prestigious campus, visiting the colonnades, serpentine brick walls, and Pantheon-inspired rotunda that in 1976 inspired the American Institute of Architects to designate Jefferson’s campus the outstanding achievement in American architecture.
Edgar Allan Poe fans can peek into the building at 13 West Range, where the author lived for one year as an undergraduate in 1826, until his stepfather cut off the gambler’s funds. To prolong your Jeffersonian moment, check into the Federal-style Clifton Inn, built in 1799 on what was then Jefferson family property by Jefferson’s son-in-law, who used it as a trading post and then as his home.