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On our way home from a trip to Williamsburg, we decided to make an unplanned stop at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia. We only had a few hours, but we wanted to see what we could see. We hoped to get to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, that evening.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is a must-do if you’re in the area. In 1768, Thomas Jefferson took the first steps in creating the home on top of the mountain near his father’s plantation that he would name Monticello. His home is now a glimpse into the man himself.
My number one tip for a visit to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in the summer–get online as soon as you know you’re going and get tickets for the time you want! The first tour of the following day was sold out on the evening before. We almost didn’t get a time that would work for us!
Arriving at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
When you arrive, you’ll be able to park for free in one of the parking areas near the David M. Rubenstein Visitor’s Center. They are shaded since they are in a wooded area. You can explore the visitor’s center and see a fifteen-minute film while you are waiting for your touring time to start. Monticello sits on top of a mountain, and a shuttle carries you to the home from the visitor’s center. Also, don’t forget to check out the gift shop. It’s one of my favorites as far as historic sites go.
The Grounds of Monticello
One picture you’ll need to get is the “Nickel Shot.” If you’re unsure why it’s called that, check out the back of a nickel. When you get off the shuttle, you’ll probably have some time before your general first-floor tour of the home begins. There are other tours available that you may want to check out. One even goes up in the Dome Room! Since we had our daughter with us, we thought we’d be doing well to do the regular tour of the home. Someday, I’d love to tour more of the house. Here is a closer look at the front.
The grounds are beautiful, too. Beautiful flowers bloom everywhere.
I loved exploring these areas.
Summer was in full force at Monticello.
Thomas Jefferson was an avid gardener and loved trees. He brought in seeds and plants from all over the world.
Mulberry Row at Monticello
One great thing about Monticello is that the issue of slavery is not sugar-coated or left in the background. Jefferson did own enslaved people. Monticello does their best to teach what is known about the enslaved people that lived there, including Sally Hemings. I want Kristin to understand all of the history or our nation, so we try to be honest in an age-appropriate way with her.
Mulberry Row is the main street where the enslaved people lived and worked at Monticello. You can take a tour that is included with your general admission ticket, but again, at the time, we didn’t know how many tours our daughter could do in a short time. We didn’t want to take away from anyone else’s experience. You can explore the buildings on your own.
You’ll also be able to see and roam about the gardens of Monticello in this area.
Just like at Williamsburg, archeologists were still trying to discover new things about the past. Here is a picture of an active dig. You may also want to check out any programs for kids that may be available.
The Views at Monticello
Since Monticello sits on a mountaintop, you get to witness some pretty spectacular views of Charlottesville, Virginia, and the surrounding area.
The scenery is truly beautiful.
The South Wing, the North Wing, and the All-Weather Passage
The South Wing and the North Wing are areas of the home that now house exhibits that teach about domestic life and the roles of servants and enslaved people. These areas are self-guided, but they may also be included in some of the additional tours offered.
The South Wing is where Sally Hemings is believed to have had a room with her children at one point of her life at Monticello. There is also an exhibit on Martha, wife of Thomas Jefferson. She was only thirty-three years old when she died. You can also see the kitchen and smokehouse here.
In the North Wing, you can see ice house and some of Jefferson’s modes of transportation, including this replica of one of his carriages.
In the All-Weather Passage areas, you can experience some interactive exhibits. Here, Kristin tries her hand at keys of the 1800s.
This is also where the wine cellar is located.
When you take the house tour, you’ll learn more about the pulley system for bringing wine upstairs into the home along with Jefferson’s other innovations he tried out to make home life easier.
The Tour of the Home
When it’s time for the tour, you meet at the back of the house. Don’t be late. They are really efficient at getting people through the home, and several tours are happening at the same time. This is a great tour to get a taste of Monticello, and it’s probably the best choice for school-age kids. If you want to see more or have a more leisurely pace, be sure to book one of the other tours.
You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the home, but I liked that I could turn my full attention to the tour and not worry about pictures. When the tour is over, you will have access to this vantage point for a picture of the home.
Leaving Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
After the toured the home, we felt we should get back on the road to make good time to our next destination. While Jefferson was not a perfect man, and no one is, he is someone to be admired for his ideas and contributions to our nation. Though his is most known for his presidency and drafting the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was perhaps most proud of founding the University of Virginia. Jefferson lived out his retirement at Monticello after his presidency. He died on July 4, 1826.
The shuttle will take you past the Jefferson family cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried. You may get off the shuttle, but we stayed on due to time contraints.
I highly recommend taking your family to Monticello. It’s so important to undertand our nation’s history, and I think first-hand experiences like this are a great way for children to learn. I hope to go back one day and explore even more of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
Other great historic experiences in Virginia: