Monticello was the home to the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. He began building his house in 1768 on land he inherited from his father and he lived there for almost 60 years and this is where he died and is buried.
Monticello means "Little Mountain" and that is exactly where it sits atop of a small mountain and includes 5000 acres. During Jefferson's day it was a large community of workers, servants and tradesmen, both free and non-free.
The house is a remarkable integration of Jefferson's love of classical architecture and innovation. He continued to change and adapt the home and grounds throughout his life time and the complex as it exists today was the culmination of a life's work in creating the perfect plantation.
Surrounding the home is a series of gardens that many have been replanted according to Jefferson's own writings and descriptions so that a visitor can step back in time over 200 years to gather a fleeting glimpse of what much of the estate would have been like. There are 2 orchards, 2 vineyards and an 18 acre ornamental grove that have been restored to their appearance as Jefferson saw them.
Many of the trees, vegetables and flowers that Jefferson cultivated, are grown there today. Some of the trees near his home are the very same trees that were alive during his lifetime. One in particular is a very large Tulip Poplar tree growing just outside Jefferson's greenhouse room.
Before arriving at Monticello, there is a visitor center off I-64 that gives an overview of Monticello and Thomas Jefferson. From there follow the signs that will take you up the mountain. Monticello is located on Route 53 and it is several miles southeast of Charlottesville, Virginia. Upon arriving at the entrance to the park there is an abundance of parking that seems to fill-up quickly. A ticket will gain you admittance to the grounds via a shuttle bus. The shuttle bus leaves every 10 minutes or so, depending on volume and will deposit you to the east side of the main building.
Here is where the guided tour begins through the first floor of the main house. It is a good place to start and your guide will give you plenty of information about the home, and Thomas Jefferson. Tours are conducted with 10 — 20 visitors by a very informative tour guide and are spaced apart so that each group is separated. It only takes about 30 minutes for the inside tour, but depending on the number of visitors, you may have to wait for the next tour to begin. Arrive early. Gates open at 8 AM March — October and 9 AM the rest of the year. No photography inside the home is permitted. Children with strollers can be accommodated and there is wheel-chair access.
After you complete the house tour, you're free to walk about the grounds and the many gardens surrounding the home on your own. There are also several guided tours available at specific times posted. There is no additional charge for these tours and you can remain on the grounds as long as you wish. Closing hours are 4:30 — 5:00 PM depending on time of year. A bus will return you back to the parking area.
Although there were later notations concerning plantings in the oval beds in Jefferson's Garden Book, by 1807 plan was the most complete. The diversity of flower species represents the scope of his interests.
Many of the flowers had been grown for centuries in Europe and were commonly cultivated in early American gardens, such as roses, the Sweet William, and the double whiteflowering poppy. Others were curiosities, such as the winter cherry with its lanternlike fruits and the blackberry lily. One bed was planted with twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla, a rare, woodland wildflower that was named in Jefferson's honor in 1792 by Benjamin Barton, a noted early American botanist.
The Vegetable Garden's dramatic setting is enhanced by the pavilion that Jefferson noted "for the center of the south long walk of the garden" in a manuscript dated ca. 18071810. Built along the outer edge of the vegetable garden terrace, it was distinguished by its doublesash windows, Chinese railings, and pyramidal roof. According to one account, Jefferson used the pavilion as a quiet retreat where he would read. It was reputedly blown down in a violent wind storm in the 1820s but was reconstructed in 1984 based on Jefferson's notes and archaeological excavations.
For more than fifty years Jefferson tried to establish grape vines on the Monticello hillside, but he left no record of success. Frustrations ranged from a deadly late frost in 1774 to a shipment of damaged vines in 1810. The earliest record of the planting of grape vines at Monticello dates from 1770, when Jefferson received cuttings from his Williamsburg friend and teacher, George Wythe. Jefferson first recorded the location of the northeast vineyard in a 1778 plat, in which he notes planting 561 vines at intervals of three feet in a 9,000?square?foot area below the garden wall and next to the berry squares. The gardening records at Monticello show seven distinct, experimental plantings. The most ambitious of these was the 1807 planting of 287 rooted vines and cuttings of twenty varieties of European grapes (Vitis vinifera), many of which had probably never been grown in the New World. These may not have flourished and by 1810, Jefferson shifted emphasis to well?adapted native varieties, introducing both the fox grape (Vitis labrusca) and the Scuppernong variety of southern muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) to the Monticello vineyards. There is no record of how well these plantings did.