Mo & Terry Smedley


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Appalachian Autumn (2008) Tour

Part 10:  Monticello, Ash Lawn, Poplar Forest, Appomattox

Tuesday, we toured Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and James Monroe's Ash Lawn homes.  Interior photography is not permitted in either of these homes, so you'll see a very limited photographic representation here.

It's most interesting to consider Thomas Jefferson's complex relationship with slavery.  While acknowledging the inherent evils of slavery, Jefferson owned slaves and his livelihood and construction projects (like Monticello and Poplar Forest) depended upon them.  Here is a fascinating quote:   "We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other."   Jefferson seemed to be predicting events that would lead to the Civil War when he said "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just:  that his justice cannot sleep forever..."

We had lunch at Michie Tavern in between Monticello and Ash Lawn.  Michie is a story in itself, because it would seem to be primarily a commercial tourist enterprise, rather than one with any particular historical authenticity.  The building is a reconstruction from the 1920s, located here specifically to take advantage of the tourist traffic from Monticello.  A nice lunch, but otherwise not particularly historically significant.

The real surprise on this tour was Poplar Forest, the second home of Thomas Jefferson, which we visited on Wednesday.  While not attracting anywhere near the traffic of Monticello, I found the tour of this home to be even more interesting than that of Monticello.  Some of that may be due to a very knowledgeable tour guide, but the Poplar Forest site itself offers many opportunities for exploration that you can't get at the more popular stop.

An afternoon stop at Appomattox Courthouse provided insights into Robert E. Lee's surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at the McLean house in this town.

Tomorrow, we tour the Pamplin Historical Park for more Civil War insights, then hop a train to Alexandria where our tour ends.

On the grounds of Monticello.   The structure is quite remarkable, but the sheer volume of tourists shuttled through the building limit the possibilities for interior exploration.   I vividly recall this view from our first trip through Monticello some 25 years ago.  The view up the hill is nothing short of spectacular. Cockscomb in the gardens at Monticello. A little hard to read, but this is from Jefferson's tombstone:  "Born April 2, 1743 O.S.  Died July 4, 1826"   I'm sure I was taught this somewhere, but had forgotten that he died on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Do you recall that John Adams (second president) also died this very same day?  Or how about that James Monroe (fifth president) died on July 4, 1836?  Now the really tough question - what does the "O.S." mean on Jefferson's tombstone? 
Here's the answer to the "O.S." question. This is James Monroe's home at Ash Lawn.  The two-story structure on the left was added much later.   The original single story house was designed with the help of Thomas Jefferson, who was a mentor of James Monroe.  The structure itself has been changed quite a bit from the original, but the interior furnishings are mostly originals from the Monroe family.  Like Jefferson, the Monroes appreciated French architecture, art, and furnishings. This is the view out the front door from Monroe's house.  We're told that when the foliage drops, you can look directly to Monticello from here.  The two homes are only a few miles apart. The Monroe Doctrine (you remember -  the one that told Europe to keep their hands off the Americas) argued for the defense of not only the US, but countries of Central and South America.  This statue of James Monroe was originally commissioned by the government of Venezuela to recognize Monroe's support of South American independence, but political winds shifted and the completed sculpture was never accepted by Venezuela.
Downtown Charlottesville has a pedestrian concourse that extends for many blocks, with shops and restaurants on both sides.  After touring Ash Lawn, we spent an hour or so wandering through the concourse. This is for Betsy, and it will require no space in the house to enjoy. This is also for Betsy.   Poor little pups forced to endure Howl-o-Ween costumes.  Displayed in a shop in Charlottesville. A bumper sticker on a car in Virginia.
Our very knowledgeable guide at Jefferson's second home at Poplar Forest tells us about the home and its reconstruction. Poplar Forest has only recently been re-opened to the public after many years of private ownership outside the Jefferson family.  Alterations made in the intervening years are being painstakingly removed, and the structure is being returned to its original Jefferson design. The front of the Poplar Forest house.  Two rooms in the interior will be left with construction details exposed, so visitors can appreciate the design and craftsmanship of the construction.  Stephen if you're reading this - you could truly appreciate the handwork being done to replicate the original construction.  It is nothing short of magnificent. Taken from one of Jefferson's "landscape mounds".   This is the West wall of Poplar Forest.  As with Monticello and Ash Lawn, interior photography is not permitted.   I wish I could share the interior construction details. 
Mo is checking out the necessary building.  She reports it was a two-holer. This the Courthouse (building) Appomattox Courthouse (the town).   Lee's surrender did not take place at the Courthouse building.  The entire town was named "Appomattox Courthouse", but the Courthouse building itself did not play a significant role in the surrender.  The McLean house, near the Courthouse building, was the site of the surrender on April 9, 1865. This the room and desk where Grant dictated his surrender terms.  You probably recall that history has judged Grant's surrender terms to be generous:  He asked only that the Confederate soldiers not pick up arms against the United States.  Officers were allowed to keep their sidearms, and any soldier that owned a horse was allowed to take it home with him.  The defeated army was allowed to return home without interference.
And this is the table where the surrender was signed.  Important note:  These are all reproductions - the actual McLean house was disassembled in 1893 with the intent of transporting it to Washington, D.C. The disassembled building was never moved, and eventually fell into ruins.  The current reproduction was built by the National Park Service in the 1940s using detailed plans that had been made when it was disassembled. This is (a reproduction of) the printing presses that were quickly brought to Appomattox to prepare the 30,000 parole passes that would be issued to each Confederate for safe passage home. Mostly as an experiment in what's photographically possible, this is a panoramic view of the interior of the Clover Hill Tavern where the parole printing presses were setup. The grounds at Appomattox Courthouse, which look very much the same as in photographs taken of the area in 1865.   It's not difficult to imagine the Union soldiers lining both sides of this road while Confederate soldiers laid down their arms in a special ceremony here on April 12, 1865.
Another view of the grounds at Appomattox Courthouse. A sign in the (replica) General Store. We caught a glimpse of this law office on our drive out of Charlottesville.   Seems a bit redundant.  Sorry about the utility pole blocking the view, but I had to move quickly to get the picture as the bus drove by - no second chances!