Entrance to Monticello. West Front Portico. iPhone 4s photo f/2.4 @ 1/1,727
October 28, 2013

We've lived in Spotsylvania for a little over 11 years, and we're about 50–60 miles from Charlottesville, or about the same distance as we are from Richmond or DC. In that time we'd never been to see Monticello, which for any Virginian is tantamount to living in sin. So we finally got our act together, and went towards the end of September.

We used the Map app on the iPhone, and it worked fairly well. It's a lot more convenient than printing out directions from Google maps.

You have to order tickets for the tour. There are a number of tours at various price points. The one we did was the Behind the Scenes tour, and it's $42 per person. That lets you see the grounds, the first floor of the house, the other levels of the house, including the oculus on the West Front Portico, and the gardens. You can order through the web site, which, unlike some, actually works.

We had tickets for 10:30, but were an hour early so the time on the tickets was switched to 9:30. You take a bus from the visitors center to the top of the mountain, and the tour enters the house not through the West Front Portico, which is the side you see on the nickel, but through the East Front Portico. The vestibule has a number of hides, animals, and other things. I'm afraid that I can't show you any pictures because photography is forbidden in the house. (The house being defined as from the entry level to the top floor. You are allowed to take pictures in the oculus, that's the dome part on the West Front Portico, and in the basement. So you can take pictures of Jefferson's wine cellar.)

Stairs are very narrow, and there is no handicapped access to the upper floors, which is understandable as there were no elevators and such like in Jefferson's day. Once we had explored the upper levels we went down a very narrow, somewhat steep, staircase to the basement and the wine cellars. For some reason I experienced a moment of light-headedness, and had to grasp a stone column for support. A man rushed over to help me, and checked my pulse. He said my heart was skipping a beat. I'm afraid that I asked him rather hostilely if he was a doctor. He was. So for some reason the stairs were a bit much.

At one point the docent who was conducting the tour felt that she had to get the whole Jefferson-Hemings thing out of the way. So there was some discussion as to whether or not Jefferson fathered children on Sally Hemings. She seemed to be of the reluctant position that he did. My personal feeling is that he didn't, but that I don't care if he did. I rather think that when most people see a gene pool they go swimming. Pictures of the Hemings family that she showed us on her iPad showed a family that I would consider white, not Black. All of which gets us into territory that has nothing to do with the tour itself.

We had lunch at the visitor's center. As I recall I simply had chips and something to drink. I think Cynthia had a sandwich and a drink. The visitors center cafe sells wine and beer from a cooler, but it's on premises only.

We went back and did a tour of the gardens, which are very nice. I got a picture of this oddly colored butterfly shown on the left. I'm not sure what species this is.

From the garden we went to the gravesite. The site is for the Jefferson family, and no Hemings descendants are buried there. Jefferson's gravesite is marked by a large tombstone, which you can see in this gallery of pictures.

I've already mentioned the cafe at the visitors center. There's a museum, and a store with books, mugs, seeds, shirts, and other things as well. You can also buy beer and wine for off premises consumption. The beer and wine is locally produced, and includes Madeira and Bordeaux type wines, as well as some ales. I haven't tried any of the booze from the store, so I can't say how good it is. The books include a scholarly edition of Jefferson's papers. Unlike the Library of America volume that I've linked to at the top of the page this is a multi-volume, über-expensive ($125 per volume) edition of everything Jefferson ever wrote. The LOA volume should be sufficient for all except the most fervent Jeffersonian.

The trip back was uneventful, and the Map app seems to work pretty well.