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Charlottesville, Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia:
Mr. Jefferson's Country

Story by Fyllis Hockman
Photos from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello

o many people, Monticello and Charlottesville, Virginia are synonymous. Indeed, even more than his famous home, the presence of Thomas Jefferson the Man can be felt throughout the quiet college town, about a three-hour drive from Washington, D.C.

For any history buff, a tour of Monticello is heaven, but even those less historically inclined will be enthralled by fascinating displays of Jefferson the Creative Homeowner. In fact, Jefferson – governor, ambassador to France, secretary of state, and the third president of the United States – when asked his profession, replied: "I'm a farmer." Indeed, gardening and architecture, two of his life-long passions, are reflected throughout his beloved home and grounds.

nickel showing Monticello, with Monticello - the Thomas Jefferson residence - itself in the background

Few homes anywhere more accurately reflect the personality of their owners than does Monticello. From the time his vision began as a young bachelor to his death as a widower with 12 grandchildren, Monticello remained at the center of Jefferson's heart. He was responsible for almost every detail of its design, construction, furnishings and remodeling, a process that spanned over 40 years.

The fact that about 75 percent of the furnishings are original helps bring to life the sense of Jefferson the Private Citizen. For example, handsomely adorning a wall of the front entrance are several sets of antlers that Lewis and Clark brought back as personal souvenirs from their famous Louisiana Purchase expedition – no easy task considering the travel conditions of the time – commissioned by then-president Jefferson in the early 1800s.

wall clock designed by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello

Many innovations designed by Jefferson, influenced by his years in Paris, were ahead of their time. Doors that automatically open continue to operate today, 190 years later. A seven-day wall clock which indicates both day and hour still chimes. Jefferson introduced dumb waiters, first seen in a Paris cafe, to Virginian society, as he did skylights, twelve of which shed light throughout the mansion. And a desk constructed to display five open books at a time attests to Jefferson's renowned literary prowess.

Even the dinners he served, prepared by a slave who was trained by a French chef, reflected Jefferson's cosmopolitan tastes. A list of guests reads like a Who's Who of early American history. The statesmen, politicos and socialites who walked here before you – among them James Monroe, James Madison, Daniel Webster and, of course, the Marquis de Lafayette – wrote many a chapter in our country's history over coffee and brandy.

dining room at the Monticello

Interestingly enough, the many political positions he held meant little to Jefferson. Writing his own epitaph, he focused instead upon three accomplishments: Author of the Declaration of Independence; Author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia. The latter becomes more than self-evident – to borrow a favorite Jeffersonian phrase – once you get there.

A visit to the University of Virginia brings you back to modern times – but only for a moment. Jefferson's vision of his "Academical Village" became reality during 1817-1826 and the University continues to function much as its founder intended. Welcome back to the 1800s.
In addition to offering arguably the finest education among public institutions available to capable students "regardless of wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstances" – producing more Rhodes Scholars than any other state university – UVA maintains a tradition of student self-governance, including a student-run Honor System (that, unlike some, actually works – at least most of the time…).

The Rotunda at the University of Virginia

Although the University has expanded since Jefferson's time – the initial student population of 40 has grown to over 20,000 – Jefferson's original buildings remain much as they were. The Rotunda, a scaled-down version of the Pantheon in Rome, was designed to maintain architectural balance in harmony with the five Pavilions on either side, which house classrooms and faculty residences. The original library it housed was considered a temple to knowledge rather than religion.

Jefferson envisioned a scholarly community where students and professors live in close proximity to share knowledge and together nurture a life-long commitment to education. To help achieve that goal, he intermingled students' rooms among the Pavilions, connecting them with low colonnaded walkways.

The expansive Lawn between the two rows of buildings and the serpentine walled-gardens weaving in, out and around the Pavilions provide quiet space for personal reflection and personal connections between teacher and student. This was a radical approach to education at the time.

the Pavilions at the University of Virginia

Jefferson's "outdoor classroom" afforded both students and faculty the opportunity to experience first hand examples of classical architecture not readily familiar to the American public. The stately columns forming the Pavilion's facade reflect Ionic, Doric and Corinthian models of Greek and Roman temples. Attesting to the durability of Jefferson's forward-thinking aesthetics, the American Institute of Architects has proclaimed the Academical Village the most significant architectural achievement in the nation's first 200 years.

The 54 student rooms along the Lawn are astonishingly unchanged since the University opened. The 15-foot-square rooms contain a wooden bed, an old-fashioned secretary's desk, fireplace and a small free-standing wooden closet which contains a sink. Other plumbing facilities – minor amenities such as showers and toilets – are located a bracing winter's walk away.

Upon first viewing, I assumed they were just another historical attraction that recreates living conditions – in this case, of students – in the early 1800s. Imagine my surprise to find that students today actually vie for the honor of living there! A select few fourth-year students who have made substantial contributions to the University are chosen for the opportunity to closely approximate the lifestyle of the scholars of the day who lived and studied in these same rooms.

rocking chairs outside the student rooms at the Lawn

It is not surprising that Jefferson invested so much heart and soul into his final triumph. The University embodies Jefferson's three greatest passions: his vision as an educator, his talent as an architect, and his skill as a gardener. Even more so than at Monticello.

The very essence of his dream – the interactive student/faculty community, the student-run University governance, the personal code of ethics (which has recently come into serious question…) – still permeates how campus residents think and act today. Thomas Jefferson is alive and well and still attending the University of Virginia.

As he is throughout the rest of the area. Walking tours trod streets upon which Jefferson no doubt frequently strolled, past businesses, taverns and other local establishments he patronized. It is with good reason that Charlottesville and environs are often so lovingly referred to as Mr. Jefferson's Country.

If You Go

A stay at the venerable Boar's Head Inn, built in 1965 with a restaurant dating back to 1834 and now owned by the University, continues the connection with Jefferson. Famous for his healthy lifestyle, Jefferson studied the healing properties of many herbs and botanicals – and these same plants are currently being incorporated into spa treatments designed to treat specific ailments. As promoted by the resort: "Where the past combines with the present to make a healthier future - while making your experience historic." Jefferson still lives at Monticello, studies at UVA and relaxes at the Boar's Head Spa… For more information, go to visitcharlottesville.org or boarsheadinn.com.

Related Articles:
Chincoteague and Assateague: Islands that Cling to a Colorful Past; Dying in Virginian Skies; The Newseum: Where the News is News; The Cherry Blossoms of Washington D.C.; Visiting New Hampshire in Winter

(Posted 1-9-2015)



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Let Fyllis know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Gullah Culture

I think a lot of the plantation enslaved Africans began with a variety of African languages and little contact with English speakers. Even today some of the speech patterns of modern descents of the enslaved hold onto this language or some of the patterns even after being away from the area for generations. That's what we heard in N Carolina.

-- Barbara, Mill Creek, WA

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Thank you for your extensive and accurate story of a remarkable, resilient culture!

-- Marlene O'Bryant-Seabrook, Ph.D. – Charleston, SC

And Marlene – thank you so very much for your comment. Nothing makes a writer feel better than hearing something like that!!!

Fyllis

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Nice story thanks, however there are also Gullah speak in southern Belize and Honduras coast to Trujillo, been all over both thanks.

-- Michael Johnson – Myrtle Beach, SC

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your comment. However, I think what you're referring to in the Belize/Honduras region is more accurately characterized as the Garifuna culture and language, which somewhat parallels the Gullah. If you'd like more information about that, please read my November 2011 story in travelingboy.com about the Garifuna.

Fyllis

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Toooooooo cooooooool Now I want to go to Florida!!!!

-- Kathy Marianelli – Columbia, Maryland

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Feedback for Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

I'm a Vietnamese and I can't help but went through all of your pictures. They are beautiful, both the couples and the natural sceneries. Vietnam is such a beautiful place, I love it. I have been to Ha Long Bay once, in fact, I have been too all places that you took pictures of. I love your pictures and certainly will comeback for more. Thank you for these wonderful images of Vietnam and its people.

-- Quyen

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Feedback for Family Magic in Orlando

Great article!!! Makes me want to go back and experience it ALL all over again.

-- Ariane – Chicago

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Feedback for Mohonk

I love your signature and the writing (in "Mohonk: Sumptuous Old-World Flavor Tastefully Wrapped in Casual Elegance")... but the place is a bit expensive... more like the Romney types! Is Vic a "photographer" or does he just take pretty good pictures?

-- John Strauss – Campton Hills, IL

Hi John,

Thanks so much for your kind comments. Much appreciated! Yes, I do know Mohonk is expensive -- as is true for so many of the fine resorts -- but it is a historical structure that has been in operation for so many years and offers so many activity options for the whole family without nickel and diming the guest, that for those who can afford it, it actually is somewhat of a bargain.

And no, Vic is not a "real" photographer as much as he is a travel writer in his own right, but sometimes, as he says, he does get lucky.

Again, thanks for your feedback.

Fyllis

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Feedback for the Road to Hana

We enjoyed seeing the Road to Hana from a helicopter! After you get to Hana you've still got to make the return journey. Thanks but no thanks!

-- Betsy Tuel – Rosendale, NY

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Feedback for Dominican Republic

Thank you, Fyllis, for this engaging tour. For years I thought the Dominican Republic was all-tourists, all-the-time. You just made me want to go there! (those waterfall adventures look like great fun)

-- Richard F. – Saugerties

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Feedback for Traveling the Canadian Rockies

We (our family) also took The Rocky Mountaineer (gold leaf) in early June 2011. Great memories! Great food! Great service! I am sorry to hear about this labor dispute, as clearly, the attendants were a HUGE part of the experience. They felt like friends by the end of the trip. Good luck to all employees!

-- Susie – Hana

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Hi Fyllis,

I am one of the locked out onboard attendants. I enjoyed reading your lovely writing based on the trip you took with the level of service that was delivered until June 22, 2011. It is misleading to share this review at this time. Many current guests are dismayed when they experience the low level of service which does not live up to what this blog post boasts. The company is not even responding to the complaints of their guests who have paid top dollar, and are now consistently ignored when they write to ask for a refund. If you do not believe me, go to Trip Advisor and read the recent reviews. There are a few good ones, and they are almost all from pre-lock out dates. Many of those are from complimentary trips and the company seems to be pressuring them to post positive reviews. If you are unaware of what is happening, please consider visiting a site which has many news stories and letters of support from guests and local politicians.

--- City: onboard – Vancouver

Can I ask when this article was written? One of the managers onboard would have been travelling on it for more than 6 years by now...last I heard Shauna was in Edmonton.

--- tnoakes – Edmonton, Alberta

Dear Whomever --

I am so very sorry to hear about the lockout and the bad feelings that have been engendered between management and employees. It was not a situation I knew anything about and realize the timing of my article indeed was unfortunate.

What I wrote about was based totally on my personal experience and only reflects my trip at that time. Please accept my apologies for the difficulties current and former employees are now experiencing and the apparent disparate levels of service experienced by me and more recent guests. It was not something I had any knowledge of.

Fyllis, TravelingBoy



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