Historic Sites and Buildings
"Monticello," Italian for "Little Mountain," is an enduring tribute to the genius and versatility of Thomas Jefferson, who personally designed and supervised erection of the splendid mansion. He resided in it for many years of his long life, his spirit lives on in its architectural perfection and the ingenious devices with which he equipped it, and he is buried nearby. Sitting amid pleasant gardens and lawns on a hilltop, the residence overlooks Charlottesville; the University of Virginia, which Jefferson founded and some of whose buildings he designed; and the green rolling hills of the surrounding countryside. Especially after his retirement from public life in 1809 until his death, at the age of 83 on July 4, 1826, the prominent men of his age made pilgrimages to Monticello. To this day it is visited by the humble, as well as the greatall who admire Jefferson's character and accomplishments.
In 1757 Jefferson's father died and passed on the property, 2,750 acres, to him. Eleven years later, he began leveling the hilltop. To make all parts of it accessible, he built paths, or roundabouts, as he called them, on its slopes at four different levels; remains of these are visible today. In 1770 fire destroyed Jefferson's modest residence, his birthplace Shadwell, and he moved to Monticello, where he had already begun building a mansion. The first part of it completed was the small southwest pavilion, which Jefferson occupied as a bachelor's-quarters until January 1772, when he brought his bride, Martha Wayles Skelton, to share it with him. It is still known as "Honeymoon Cottage."
The first Monticello, vastly different from the present one, was probably completed in 1775. Constructed of brick with cut-stone trim, it consisted of a central two-story unit, with pedimented gable roof running from front to rear and one-story gabled wings, set perpendicularly to the central block. The chief architectural accent was the main two-story portico, Doric below and Ionic above. Small polygonal bays projected from the ends of the wings. Jefferson made numerous alterations and major changes after the War for Independence. The present two-wing structure, built between 1793 and 1809, incorporates the rooms of the original house at its rear. It also reflects a shift in architectural preference in the United States from Georgian to Roman Revivalelements of both of which are represented. Jefferson was almost entirely responsible for starting the Roman Revival.
The mansion consists of 2-1/2 stories over a basement and contains 35 rooms. The dominating feature is the central dome, over an octagonal room. The house is furnished largely with Jefferson belongings, including a replica of the small portable desk on which he probably wrote the Declaration of Independence. Some of the clever devices in the residence are a 7-day calendar-clock and a dumbwaiter. One room contains one of the first parquet floors in the United States. The upper levels, accessible only by narrow staircases, are not shown to the public.
Before Jefferson built Monticello, every plantation had a group of small outbuildings such as the laundry, smokehouse, dairy, stable, weaving house, schoolhouse, and kitchen. Jefferson sought to render these as inconspicuous as possible and increase the efficiency of the facilities they provided by constructing two series of rooms for these purposes beneath the outer sides of two long L-shaped terraces extending from the house. Below the south terrace, beyond the angle of the ell, are the kitchen, the cook's room, servants' rooms, room for smoking meat, and the dairy. At the end of this terrace, stands "Honeymoon Cottage." Under the far side of the north terrace are the stables, carriage house, icehouse, and laundry. Jefferson used the small building terminating this terrace, adjacent to which is the paddock, as an office. An underground passagewaycontaining storage rooms for wine, beer, cider, and rumconnects the basement of the main house with the series of service rooms along the outer sides of the ells. Jefferson is buried in the family graveyard, which is adjacent to the road leading from the house.
Upon Jefferson's death in 1826, his daughter Martha inherited Monticello, but was soon forced to sell it, to the first of a series of private owners. In 1923 the newly organized Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation purchased the estate, the following year opened it to the public, and has retained ownership to the present day.
Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004