Friday, March 06, 2009

Montpelier - the House

Last month, we were studying American presidents for a speech presentation with fellow homeschoolers. My daughter asked "Are there any lady presidents?". My heart fell with a thud, but I tried to recover with the only (lame) thought I had. "Not yet", I replied "but there are lots of interesting First Ladies". I hope my daughter doesn't have to have this conversation with her daughter.

I tried to rally with Dolley Madison, wife of our fifth president, James Madison. As a reward for all of our individual and joint research efforts, we headed off to Montpelier - home of James and Dolley - to see what there lives might have been like. After a week of having a bad cold, and a forecast of a beautiful sunny day (I neglected to notice that the temperatures didn't move much), we headed off for a romp in the countryside.

Our first hurdle was to figure out where to find Montpelier. My kids thought that it must be really close as there is a town next to us by the same name. But we weren't that lucky. Orange County, Virginia was our destination and Mapquest got us there with no problems.

The home was breathtaking, but oddly unfamiliar. I knew I had never been there, but from pictures, I was not expecting the brick manse we encountered. It wasn't until we were well into the tour that we discovered that the home had been owned by the DuPonts from the 1930s and tripled in size and stuccoed (with pink stucco!). It has only recently (as of September, 2008) been restored to the home that the Madisons would have returned to after the presidency. Amazingly, the DuPonts frugality preserved much of the original structure and reconstruction of some features was as easy as looking in the basement for missing mantles.

Here is the view from the front porch entrance:

And from the outside looking in:

No photography is allowed in the house, but not much is in there. They are just now in the process of locating and reproducing period furnishings. While the house was not the walk back through the time of an important person, like Monticello is, it was a fascinating display of restoration techniques. We didn't learn as much about Dolley as we'd have liked, but we were able to answer the guide's questions (and even catch an inconsistency!), and learned my daughter's favorite fact about Dolley - her favorite ice cream flavor was oyster.

Here's my daughter paying respects at the Madisons' graves. James' is in the forefront, and Dolley's smaller obelisk is in the rear. The grounds would have been much more fun on a warmer, less windy day, as there are loads of walking trails with recorded interpretative guides to add more information. As my cold was wiping me out, we cut out early to enjoy a late lunch at Jean's Family Cooking before heading home. What a fun trip.

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At 1:21 PM, Blogger Pamela said...

I LOVED to read biographies when I was in lower school and Dolley Madison was one of my favorites too. From her strict Quaker upbringing to wearing ear bobbles - what a mischievous sort she was!


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