Highland (James Monroe house)

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Highland, formerly Ash Lawn–Highland. Note: The yellow wing was added on by later owners.
Highland (James Monroe house) is located in Virginia
Highland (James Monroe house)
Highland (James Monroe house) is located in the United States
Highland (James Monroe house)
LocationSoutheast of Charlottesville off VA 53, near Simeon, Virginia
Coordinates37°58′56″N 78°27′19″W / 37.98222°N 78.45528°W / 37.98222; -78.45528Coordinates: 37°58′56″N 78°27′19″W / 37.98222°N 78.45528°W / 37.98222; -78.45528
Area200 acres (81 ha)
Built1799 (1799)
ArchitectJames Monroe
NRHP reference No.73001990[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPAugust 14, 1973
Designated VLRJanuary 16, 1973[2]

Highland, formerly Ash Lawn–Highland, located near Charlottesville, Virginia, United States, and adjacent to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, was the estate of James Monroe, fifth President of the United States. Purchased in 1793, Monroe and his family permanently settled on the property in 1799 and lived at Highland for twenty-five years. Personal debt forced Monroe to sell the plantation in 1825. Before and after selling Highland, Monroe spent much of his time living at the plantation house at his large Oak Hill estate near Leesburg, Virginia.

Monroe named his Charlottesville home "Highland". For many years after Monroe's death until 2016, the house was known as Ash Lawn-Highland or merely Ash Lawn.

The estate is now owned, operated and maintained by Monroe's alma mater, the College of William & Mary.


Monroe establishes Highland[edit]

Encouraged by his close friend, Thomas Jefferson, Monroe purchased a deed for one thousand acres (4 km²) of land adjacent to Monticello in 1793 for an equal number of pounds[clarification needed] from the Carter family. The land formerly had been a part of the Blenheim Plantation owned by Champe Carter.[3] Six years later, Monroe moved his family onto the plantation, where they resided for the next twenty-five years. In 1800, Monroe described his home as: "One wooden dwelling house, the walls filled with brick. One storey high, 40 by 30 ft. Wooden Wing one storey high, 34 by 18 ft."[3] Over the next 16 years, Monroe continued to add onto his home, adding stone cellars and a second story to the building. He also expanded his land holdings, which at their greatest included over 3,500 acres (14 km²). However, by 1815, Monroe increasingly turned to selling his land to pay for debt. By 1825, he was forced to sell Highland completely.[3]

Slave quarters[edit]

Highland was a thriving plantation employing the labor of 30-40 slaves. Their housing no longer exists. Quarters for field hands were at some distance from the main house, while the domestic slaves lived closer to their Monroe's home.[4]

Highland after Monroe[edit]

Edward O. Goodwin purchased Highland from Monroe at twenty dollars an acre and often referred to the property as "North Blenheim." At the time of the purchase, Monroe described Highland as containing:

a commodious dwelling house, buildings for servants and other domestic purposes, good stables, two barns with threshing machine, a grist and sawmill with houses for managers and laborers . . . all in good repair.[3]

Goodwin sold the house and six hundred acres (2.4 km²) in 1834 and it was sold again in 1837 to Alexander Garrett. Garrett gave the property its second name which remained with it to the present day, "Ash Lawn."[3] Over the course of thirty years, Ash Lawn–Highland was sold numerous times until 1867, when John E. Massey purchased it. It remained in the possession of the Massey family for the next sixty-three years. In that time period, the family added to the house, whereupon it took on its present-day appearance.[3]

Highland was sold for the last time in 1930 to philanthropist Jay Winston Johns of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Johns family soon after opened the house to public tours and upon his death in 1974, Johns willed the property to James Monroe's alma mater, the College of William and Mary.[5]

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.[1]

Highland today[edit]

The property today includes the 1818 guest house, an 1850s addition, and an 1870s Victorian style farmhouse. Also on the property are a reconstructed three-bay slave quarter, a reconstructed gable-roofed ice house, a gable-roofed overseer's cabin with an exterior end brick chimney, and a smokehouse with a pyramidal roof.[6]

Highland was featured in Bob Vila's A&E Network production,[7] Guide to Historic Homes of America and in C-SPAN's Cities Tour, Charlottesville.[8]

In 2016, the name Ash Lawn-Highland was dropped, and the house was redesignated James Monroe's Highland to more clearly communicate the relationship to its first owner, President James Monroe.[9]

Today, Highland is a 535-acre (2.2 km²) working farm, museum, and a performance site for arts, operated by the College of William and Mary. It is open to the public year-round, though with limited hours from October through March.

Discovery of larger house[edit]

Evidence that this home, long believed to be an original wing of Monroe's residence, was in fact, a guest house, surfaced when archaeologists discovered the foundations of a much larger home presumed to be Monroe's home.[10][11] Additional evidence for the current residence being a guest house include construction techniques that post-date Monroe moving into his mansion at the end of 1799, and dendrochronology which dates the existing structure as being made from trees harvested between 1815 and 1818.[12]


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ "Virginia Landmarks Register". Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved 2013-05-12.
  3. ^ a b c d e f An Account of James Monroe's Land Holdings by Christopher Fennel
  4. ^ "James Monroe and Slavery," highland.org., maintained by William & Mary University. Accessed 28 April 2016.
  5. ^ "Ash Lawn-Highland.org". Archived from the original on July 9, 2006. Retrieved Jan 26, 2020.
  6. ^ Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff (December 1972). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: Highland" (PDF). Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Historic Resources. and Accompanying photo
  7. ^ Bob Vila (1996). "Guide to Historic Homes of America". A&E Network.
  8. ^ "James Monroe's Highland". C-SPAN.org. Retrieved 2017-07-20.
  9. ^ "James Monroe's Highland Announces Historic Name Change". Apr 20, 2016. Retrieved Jan 26, 2020.
  10. ^ Richer, Alanna Durkin, "Home long thought to be Monroe's turns out to be guest house Archived April 29, 2016, at the Wayback Machine," ABC-7.com., updated 28 April 2016. Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  11. ^ Shapiro, T. Rees, "At Virginia home of President Monroe, a sizable revision of history," Washington Post, 28 April 2016. Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  12. ^ Watson, Traci (Jul–Aug 2017). "A Residence Fit for a President". Archaeology. 70 (4): 34–37. ISSN 0003-8113. Retrieved 2 July 2017 – via EBSCO's Master File Complete (subscription required)CS1 maint: postscript (link)

External links[edit]