Montpelier (Orange, Virginia)
Montpelier restored to its original state
|Nearest city||Orange, Virginia|
|NRHP Reference #||66000843|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NHL||December 19, 1960|
|Designated VLR||September 9, 1969|
Montpelier, located near Orange, Virginia was the plantation estate of the prominent Madison family of Virginia, including James Madison, fourth President of the United States. The manor house of Montpelier is four miles (6 km) south of Orange, Virginia, and the estate currently covers nearly 2,700 acres (1,090 ha).
In 1960, Montpelier was declared a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. It was included in the Madison-Barbour Rural Historic District in 1991. In 1983, the last private owner of Montpelier, Marion duPont Scott, bequeathed the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has owned and operated the estate since 1984, and from 2003-2008 carried out a major restoration, in part to return the mansion to its original size of 22 rooms during the years when it was occupied by James Madison and Dolley Madison. Extensive interior and exterior work was done during the restoration, and visitors to the estate can still see the multifaceted restoration in the "Restoration Room" and can discover what questions and subjects the staff has concerning the decoration of the interior.
The Madison family
In 1723, James Madison's grandfather, Ambrose Madison, and his brother-in-law, Thomas Chew, received a patent for 4,675 acres of land in the Piedmont of Virginia. Ambrose, his wife Frances Madison, and their three children moved to the plantation in 1732, naming it Mount Pleasant; archaeologists located the site near the Madison Family Cemetery. Ambrose died six months later; according to court records, he was poisoned by three black slaves. At the time, he held 29 slaves and close to 4,000 acres. After his death, Frances managed the estate, helped by their son, Colonel James Madison, Sr.
James Madison, Sr. expanded the plantation to include building services and blacksmithing in the 1740s, and bought additional slaves to cultivate tobacco and other crops. He married Nelly Conway Madison (1731–1829) and had 12 children.
James Madison, Sr.'s first-born son, also named James, was born on March 16, 1751 at Belle Grove, his mother's family estate in Port Conway, where she had returned for his birth. James Madison spent his first years at Mount Pleasant. In the early 1760s, James Madison, Sr. built a new house half a mile away, which structure forms the heart of the main house at Montpelier today. Built around 1764, it has two stories of brick laid in a Flemish bond pattern, and a low, hipped roof with chimney stacks at both ends. James Madison later stated that he remembered helping move furniture to the new home. The building of Montpelier represents Phase 1 (1764–1797) of the construction. Upon completion, the Madisons owned one of the largest brick dwellings in Orange county.
Phase 2 (1797–1800) of construction began in 1797, after James Madison returned to Montpelier with his new wife Dolley Madison. At this time a thirty-foot extension and a Tuscan portico was added to the house. Next, a single-story flat-roofed extensions was installed at either end of the house providing a separate household for the newlyweds James Madison and Dolley Madison, as Frances Madison still resided there after the death of James Madison, Sr. in 1801.
The last period of construction, Phase 3 (1809–1812) saw the addition of a large drawing room and the construction of one story wings at each end of the house. James Madison retired there full-time with Dolley Madison after his second term as president in 1817.
James Madison died in 1836 and is buried in the family cemetery at Montpelier. His widow Dolley Madison moved back to Washington, D.C. in 1837 after his death, and in 1844 she sold the plantation to Henry W. Moncure. After Dolley Madison died in 1849, she was buried in Washington, DC and later re-interred at Montpelier next to James Madison.
After Dolley Madison sold the estate to Henry W. Moncure in 1844, there were an additional six owners before the duPont's bought the property in 1901. The various owners and the dates associated with the site include: Benjamin Thornton (1848–1854), William H. Macfarland (1854–1855), Alfred V. Scott (1855–1857), Thomas J. Carson and Frank Carson (1857–1881), Louis F. Detrick and William L. Bradley (1881–1900) and Charles King Lennig (1900).
The name Montpelier
The origins of the name Montpelier are uncertain, but the first recorded use of the name comes from a James Madison letter in 1781. James Madison personally liked the French spelling of the name, Montpellier, which is a French term for 'Mount of the Pilgrim,' and Montpellier, France was also known as a famous resort. Tantalizing clues from letters and visitor descriptions provide clues to Montpelier's name origins.
Slavery at Montpelier
The work of Montpelier was done primarily by its permanent and integral staff of about 100 enslaved Africans during James Madison's tenure as owner. Slaves served in a variety of roles: domestic servants in charge of cleaning and cooking, and as artisans for the mill, forge, wheelwright, and other carpentry and woodworking. During the time that the Madisons owned the estate, "five, six, and possibly seven generations of African Americans were born into slavery at Montpelier."
The most well-known slave from Montpelier was Paul Jennings, who was body servant to Madison from the age of 10, when he accompanied him to the White House, to the president's death in 1836. Born in 1799, Jennings was purchased and freed in 1845 by the northern senator Daniel Webster after Madison's death. Jennings lived in Washington, DC, where he worked and became a property owner. In 1848 he helped plan the largest slave escape in United States history, as 77 slaves from the Washington, DC area took to The Pearl, a schooner, intending to sail up the Chesapeake Bay to a free state. They were captured and most were sold to the Deep South. Jennings was noted for his account, A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison (1865), which is considered the first of the White House memoirs.
Montpelier born slave, Catherine Taylor, has recently been brought to the forefront as well with detailed documentary analysis and archaeological research. Catherine Taylor (ca. 1820 - after 1892) married a domestic slave, Ralph Taylor, and had four children. When Dolley Madison moved to Washington, D.C. in the years after James Madison's death, Catherine decided to stay at the estate, while her husband accompanied Dolley Madison. Dolley Madison willed all of her slaves to her son, John Payne Todd, who stipulated that upon his death, the slaves would be manumitted. However, due to legal and financial complications after John Payne Todd's death, the slaves were not manumitted and the Taylors petitioned the administrator of the estate, James C. Maguire. The Taylor's were officially granted their freedom in 1853 and chose to live in Washington.
Currently, the Montpelier staff continues to research Montpelier slaves in a variety of methods: studying historical documents such as court records and autobiographies, conducting archaeological excavations, contacting current descendants and working to understand the contributions and sacrifices of the enslaved community.
The duPont family
After some renovations in the later 19th century (c. 1855 and c. 1880), the house was acquired in 1901 by William and Annie Rogers duPont, of the duPont family. A horse enthusiast, William duPont built barns, stables, and other buildings for equestrian use. They were among several wealthy families in the Upper South who were influential in Thoroughbred horse racing. The duPont family also added a Hodgson House to the property, Hodgson Houses known as "America's First Organized Prefabricated House Manufacturer before Aladdin, Sears, and Montgomery Ward," emphasizing the fact that the homes could technically be built in a day. The house is still located on Montpelier's property and is known as the "Bassett House."
Their daughter Marion duPont inherited the estate in 1928. She preserved much of the core of the Madison home, gardens, and grounds of Montpelier as a legacy for all Americans. She also enlarged the house considerably for her own use, adding wings that more than doubled the size of the house to 55 rooms. The brick was covered with a stucco exterior for a lighter look.
In 1934, she and her brother founded the Montpelier Hunt Races on the grounds, using natural hedges for the steeplechase. The annual event has continued at the plantation.
Marion duPont Scott died in 1983 and bequeathed the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with $10 million as an endowment to buy and maintain it. However, her father's will had stated that if she died childless, the property would go to her brother, William duPont, Jr. and his children. As he had died in 1965, his five children legally inherited the property. Scott's will encouraged them to sell or give their interests to the National Trust; if they did not, they would get no share of an additional $3.1 million trust she had set up for them. Three of the children sold their interests in Montpelier to the National Trust, followed by the other two in 1984 after a court battle in which they tried to break the trust.
National Trust for Historic Preservation property
Once the National Trust for Historic Preservation took ownership in 1984, the organization has worked to restore Montpelier to the Madison era, while still retaining a tribute to Marion duPont Scott's influence by retaining one of her favorite rooms in the newly renovated and expanded Visitor's Center, along with the annual Montpelier Hunt Races event. The National Trust has also provided an Education Center for students and teachers, sponsoring the "We the People" program promoting the understanding of civics for upper elementary and secondary students, along with national and state programs for teachers, such as the National Advanced Content Seminars, which focuses on historical content and teaching methods.
In conjunction with the James Madison University Field School, Montpelier has been the site of annual, seasonal archeological excavations from April to November, for instance, of the South Yard, and Kitchen Yard. These have revealed early structures in those areas, including possibly slave quarters, as well as a variety of artifacts dating back to the Madison residency and their slaves. The artifacts are helping researchers form a much broader and deeper picture of the lives of the slaves at Montpelier. New exhibits continue to inform visitors to Montpelier of the lives of Africans and African Americans at the plantation.
From 2003-2008 the National Trust carried out a $25 million restoration to return the mansion to its 1820 state, less than half the size the duPont family had created. Currently, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has begun working on finding furnishings either original to the property or of its era.
Also in 2003, the National Trust for Historic Preservation formed a partnership with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation providing a 200-acre portion of the estate, home to a TRF farm. Following in the footsteps of Marion duPont Scott's love of horses, Montpelier's former President, Michael C. Quinn, stated, "In partnership with the TRF, we are proud that Montpelier will continue to be a showcase for America’s race horses."
A $25 million restoration project launched in October 2003 was completed on Constitution Day, September 17, 2008. A Restoration Celebration was held with major funding by National Trust Community Investment Corporation.
The restoration returned Montpelier to its 1820 appearance: it demolished additions made to the house by the duPont family, removed the stucco exterior to reveal the original brick, restored the original brick exterior, and reconstructed the house's interior as it appeared during Madison's tenure as owner. Authentic materials were used in the restoration, including horsehair plaster, and paint containing linseed oil and chalk. Currently, the Collections staff and archaeologists are working to understand the decorations of each room and reinstall original furniture.
A wing in the visitors' center has been dedicated to the du Pont family. It includes a restored art deco Red Room from the Marion duPont Scott era, moved from the mansion and permanently installed here.
Montpelier is open to visitors every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, with the following hours: January – March: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m, April – October: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., November – December: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Montpelier also offers visitors the chance to explore the Gilmore Farm: A Freedman’s House, open daily; a Hands-on-Restoration-Tent open from April–October; Hands-on-Archaeology Lab and Kid-Sized Archaeology open daily; Hands-on-Cooking offered April–October; Civil War and Gilmore Farm Trail open daily; and, the Archaeology Dig open April–October. Visitors can also walk around the James Madison Landmark Forest, a 200-acre (0.81 km2) stand of old growth forest.
Montpelier is the site of many annual events; three particularly draw large crowds: the Montpelier Hunt Races, the Montpelier Wine Festival, and the Fiber Festival.
The annual Montpelier Hunt Races, an autumn steeplechase event, were started by Marion duPont Scott and her brother William duPont, Jr. in 1934. The races are held the first Saturday in November. Montpelier has one of the few steeplechase tracks in the country that use traditional hedgerows for jumps. Montpelier hosts seven races at this event. Guests may watch the races directly at the rail for a close experience.
The Montpelier Wine Festival showcases distinctive arts and crafts, specialty food vendors, local agricultural products, and Virginia wine from approximately 25 different wineries in the state.
The Fall Fiber Festival is held each October and is a popular regional event. The event showcases every aspect of textile manufacturing, from the production of wool to the finished product. Events include sheep shearing, craft demos, and a host of other activities. The most popular feature of the Fall Fiber Festival is the Sheep Dog Trials.
Other events include: summer programs for children, such as the "Mud Camp," a barbecue held in the summer with local barbecue cuisine, Archaeology Expeditions, civil war demonstrations, and, in December, a candlelight tour of Montpelier in the evening.
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- List of residences of Presidents of the United States
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- G. Franklin Edwards and Michael R. Winston, "Commentary: The Washington of Paul Jennings--White House Slave, Free Man, and Conspirator for Freedom," White House History, I, no.1 (1983): 61
- Swarns, Rachel L. (August 15, 2009), "Madison and the White House, Through the Memoir of a Slave", The New York Times, retrieved 2009-08-24
- "Hodgson Houses |". Montpelier.org. Retrieved 2012-05-18.
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- "Visit Montpelier". Montpelier. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Montpelier (James Madison home).|
- James Madison's Montpelier
- The Digital Montpelier Project, explains investigations and images as part of the restoration project
- Montpelier Blog
- "Memories of Montpelier: Home of James and Dolley Madison", a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan]
- "Life Portrait of James Madison", broadcast from Montpelier from C-SPAN's American Presidents: Life Portraits
- "Writings of Jefferson and Madison", broadcast from Montpelier from C-SPAN's American Writers
- William du Pont and William du Pont, Jr. photographic materials (1855-1928) at Hagley Museum and Library. Photographs of Montpelier are included in the collection.