Across Virginia

James Madison’s Montpelier Estate

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Montpelier mansion
Montpelier mansion. Credit: Wikimedia

James Madison, father of the U.S. Constitution, maintained a lifelong home at Montpelier that is open to the public and displays a recent $25 million restoration.

The centerpiece of the estate is the mansion. But visitors also can see exhibits, gardens, archaeological sites, forest trails, a freed slave’s cabin and farm, demonstrations and other activities.

Visitors can take a 45-minute tour of the mansion. The first floor showcases the Drawing Room, filled with art and other decorative times, and the Dining Room, where the Madisons had dinner parties for distinguished guests.

The tour will visit the presidential-era library, the upstairs Bedchamber and the Old Library, where Madison did his preparations for the Constitutional Convention. Visitors also can browse a War of 1812 exhibit, Dolly’s Kitchen and important slave spaces.

One of the more interesting attractions is a chance to stand in the Temple, where Madison contemplated democracy.

The Annie Dupont garden was originally a four-acre garden developed by Madison. After William Dupont bought the Madison estate in 1901, his wife transformed the garden into an early 20th-century formal space.

Montpelier is not as extensive as George Washington’s Mount Vernon or Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. But it is an impressive display of the remarkable intellect of one of America’s most respected presidents.

“It was here at Montpelier where James Madison shaped the ideas that would become the U.S. Constitution. For six months Madison sat in his upstairs library, where he meticulously studied past forms of governments and organized his thoughts into what he believed were the ideal principles for a representative democracy. Madison’s ideas would become the “Virginia Plan,” and later the framework for the Constitution,” the estate’s Web site says.

Attractions Nearby

Montpelier lies deep in rural Orange County with few nearby attractions.

Lake Anna State Park, which has hiking trails, beach and facilities, is 26 miles or about 40 minutes away.

Wine lovers may visit three wineries in the area: Sweely Estate Winery, Early Mountain Vineyards and Neala Estate Vineyard and Cellars.

Visitors coming from the west along I-64 will pass through Charlottesville, which has the home of Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia and an attractive pedestrian mall in downtown Charlottesville.

Visitors from the north will pass through Culpeper, while visitors from the east will travel through Fredericksburg or Richmond. Kings Dominion amusement park is located midway between Richmond and Fredericksburg. Richmond has numerous historical attractions, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens and many other things to do.

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