Saturday, November 3, 2007

We Visit A President's Home (Surprise!)

The means of defense against foreign danger historically
have become the instrument of tyranny at home.
James Madison

On Thursday we left Yorktown for a visit to Montpelier, the home of James and Dolley Madison, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We were surprised to find a work in progress. Montpelier is in the midst of a $29 million dollar restoration that is not scheduled to be done for a few more years, but they let you in anyway. We were so glad they did. It was kind of a cross between This Old House and The History Detectives, and we enjoyed it immensely. The home has passed through 8 or 10 owners since Dolley was forced to sell it in the 1840's to pay off debts, and each one added or changed something to the point where even old James himself probably wouldn't have recognized it. The architectural team spent a long time evaluating if it was even possible to restore it before they started. Then they began collecting evidence from old records, photographs, and the house itself to form a plan to restore it as authentically as possible. Of course, they had to raise a lot of money at the same time. Here's some of what you see during the tour which explains much more about the restoration than James and Dolley. Their day will come eventually, I'm sure.

This is a painstaking project where they even examine the nail holes in the old plaster walls to try to discover where certain pictures were hung. But they are installing modern systems such as HVAC and copper rain gutters to ensure the property lasts a long time after they are finished. All the wiring and ductwork is inserted in the many fireplace chimneys because they won't need them for real fires. They even make bricks when they need them from the same soil they were originally made from right on the property. You really get to see the bare bones of the house and learn what they have discovered in the process. It is a fascinating tour; quite different than most home tours where what you see is the finished product with very little attention given to what went into its creation. The gardens are not of the Madison era, but there's too much to do about the house to worry about them. So they are being left in a formal English style created later than the Madisons. I'm sure Dolley would approve.

I liked this view through the garden gate.

They've even got a blog about this project.

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