October has brought the opportunity to visit two special homes in the U.S., the first here you see is that of Thomas Jefferson. Monticello was built by Thomas as a dream house just 4 miles from where he was born. The property was owned by his father who left it to Thomas. It is a very interesting house that started out as a two story home and grew to be three story house as Thomas was always on the look out for new challenges. For the U.S. one might say Thomas Jefferson was not only a President, but one of our oldest “gadget-men”, as this home has clever inventions that Thomas adapted from around the world. I say oldest only in relationship to the U.S. which is a young country of the world when you look at Europe and Asia, excluding of course the American Indians which predates those who established America as a country.
Thomas Jefferson brought many ideas with him back from France where he had served as an important diplomat for America. The influence of Europe is seen not only in his home, where he takes the idea of the bedroom from France who had very compact designs (Jefferson played out this theme allowing him to maximize central floor space) but you also see it in his influence at the age of 73 on what was to become the University of Virginia. Jefferson was very proud to have the opportunity to help design a college not only from an architectural point of view, but to shape the importance of knowledge for a country that would need the best in thinking to become a great nation. We can not underestimate the importance of such a contribution and should all be challenged to think of how important our work is to provide the next generation with the finest of training. It is one of the few pieces of security in this world that is troubled by war, financial turmoil and globalization.
Second, Jefferson’s home is a cornucopia for living things, as beautiful gardens and flowers adorn this 21st century home. Yes, of course this is a done for us by team of folk that wish for you and me to experience the beauty and feeling of what this place looked like when Jefferson was alive. The gardens are brimmed full of delights.
This weekend we were also filled with awe to see the home of James and Dolly Madison. The Madison were great friends of Thomas Jefferson, and Monticello even has a bedroom where they would come and stay for several days at a time. A lady on the tour of Montpelier (home of the Madisons) commented that we who live in the 21st century have lost the social joy that appears to have been a part of the era of the Jeffersons and Madisons.
My apologies as I had no camera on this second visit and can only give you a vey small taste of Montpelier. Montpelier is very interesting, as some 5 years ago, it was determined to restore Montpelier back to the state of what it would appear to be when the Madisons lived there. A great family named the duPonts had control of the property prior bequeathing to the National Trust. The duPonts had doubled the overall size of the house to a modern mansion of the 20th century, but a brilliant plan was hatched to bring the house back to it’s 18th/19th century state. Top experts were brought in (both architectural and those of archelogical expertise) and some 5 years later, the house has returned to it’s size (12,000 square feet) and is a long on it’s way to coming to state where the house will be returned to a near quality of it’s 19th century status. (the plaster is still curing, a 9 month venture, and until the interior reaches a mature state, the team cannot put the house into a museum-like status, i.e., a correct balance of humidity)
My personal opinion is that the team at Montpelier are superior and have a very high quality product that is worthy of people taking time to view and savor. Montepelier is a significant treasure of some 2,400 acres of land, plus 200 pristine acres that have not been touched in three centuries. (James Madison was a leading conservationist, and did not ravage the land like many plantation people of his day) James Madison invented many techniques for farming that conserved land and resources.
When James Madison died the plantation was barely solvent, and Montpelier quickly slide into red ink (bankruptcy) within a short period, thus many articles owned by the Madison family have been lost. An example of this is the lack of Madison’s books which numbered well over 4,000 volumes near the time of his death.
The U.S. is a great recipient of the genius of these two men as they were key contributors through collaboration and friendship. We can take their example and apply to our modern lives and be better people for it.