Tuesday, August 16, 2011

This Other Old House

July 30, our last (sniff, sniff) day of vacation.  We had seen Monticello, but we decided on a whim to check out a nearby historic home, Montpelier.  I had heard about this on a radio show a few months back.  It was once the home of James and Dolly Madison, but they had very little money towards the end, and the house was sold over the years to six different families before it was finally sold to the DuPont family.  The DuPonts had gobs of money, and they added a horse track to the property, among other things.  They also added a few levels and 32 room to the house, and it really wasn't the same.

At least one DuPont realized that the home was important to American history (James Madison, you may recall, is considered the "Father of the Constitution", and his wife Dolly coined the term "First Lady".)  In 1985, Ms. DuPont left the house to the National Historic Trust, and they have been restoring it ever since.  In 2008, the house was finally back to the state it had been in around 1815.  They removed the extra rooms and the stucco finish from the exterior.  They carbon-dated the wall coverings through 32 layers of paint to find the colors used by the Madisons.

There is not much furniture or anything - they are working on that - but it was really interesting how meticulous this restoration has been.  They are working on the grounds with just as much effort, and they are currently building the slave quarters to match what they may have looked like in Madison's time.  Slaves were a tricky subject for Mr. Madison.  As a southerner, he relied on this labor source to allow him to sell his product  - usually tobacco, but later wheat - at a competitive price.  As a person, he knew it was morally wrong to force a person to work without pay.  He was very torn, and wrote a lot about the subject.  I do not think they tried to sugar coat the issue, but sadly, there is more written on the topic by Madison than by his slaves.  (Though there is one book by a slave, Paul Jennings, which they read from during the tour.)

We toured the house, and then the grounds, on a very hot day.  We walked through Madison's gardens, but there were no trees.  Adam, a red-head, was burning to a near crisp, so we ducked into the old growth forest which is part of the grounds.  As if we hadn't hiked enough, we went along a trail, thankful for a bit of shade, but with bugs helping themselves to the buffet of fresh human.  Soon we came to a beautiful spiderweb across the trail, glittering in the sun that filtered through the trees.  (I tried to take a picture, but this was one that didn't make it with the blind shot.)

We skittered around that, then got immediately entangled in another web.  For the next half of the trail, we had to walk with sticks, sweeping the air ahead to break the spiderwebs.  I still ended up obsessively sweeping my hair for spiders for most of the day.  It was hot, and now a tad sticky with spiderwebs, but I will say, the bug population appeared to be reduced.

I still wanted to check out the Madison family graveyard, and they also had a slave cemetery which sounded intriguing.   Adam was tired of cooking himself, so he waited in the visitor center.  The Madison graves were interesting, but (and I guess I should have expected this) the slave cemetery was just woods.  They know there are graves there by the depressions that form in the soil as it compacts, and these are visible mainly in winter, when snow lingers in the holes.  In summer?  It is just trees.

We finished the last leg of our journey, and arrived home to an 87 degree house.  Turns out, the air conditioner went kaput while we were gone.  For two days, we had seen how people lived over 100 years ago, without air conditioning, heat, running water, or electricity, and I'd love to say we just took this in stride.  But I gotta say, when you look forward to sleeping in your own bed for the first time in 9 days, you do not usually envision pools of sweat.

1 comment:

Tiffany said...

But was Madison's gardens square/