Proceeding through the gates along the scenic driveway leading to Montpelier the unsuspecting traveler may not be fully prepared for what awaits.
James and Dolley Madison’s Montpelier in Montpelier Station, Virginia
Montpelier was the lifelong home of James Madison. However, as his home stands today Montpelier is more than a former president’s house. It’s a multifaceted educational opportunity.
Madison is best known as the father of the United States Constitution and the author of the Bill of Rights. As the fourth president he led the country through its first war thus surviving the young republic’s first constitutional crisis. James Madison’s story is fascinating.
One of Dolley Madison’s dresses housed in the museum.
Equally interesting is the story of his wife Dolley Madison. She famously helped rescue the portrait of George Washington as the British were burning down the White House. She also defined the role of First Lady of the United States. Dolley set many of the social precedents and protocals that endure today.
Depending upon how much time you have to spend (the more the better) a journey to Montpelier is an enlightening and informative tour worth the price of admission.
If you can’t stay long at least watch the film and tour the museum to get an over view of this grand historic home and its famous occupants.
If you can stay a little longer take the tour but be prepared; this isn’t a light-weight tour pointing out the draperies and a precious vase on the mantle. This tour gives detailed background into the Madison family, the home’s history as well as the amazing story of James Madison’s laborious hours spent researching every type of government known to the world in order to help form our republic.
The South Yard Slave Quarters
If you have a full day, even better. The grounds house a plethora of sites including the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution, Mr. Madison’s Temple, the South Yard and Slave Quarters, the Annie DuPont Formal Garden and the Madison Family Cemetery.
Montpelier is also an active archaeological site – this is where the Presidential Detective Story comes into play. The objective according to their site is to “rediscover the Madisons’ furnishings and methodically restore the style of James and Dolley Madison during their retirment years.”
Stop by and watch the dig or check out the kid-sized archaeology lab where youngsters can “dig for treasure.”
View of the foothills from the porch of Montpelier
At times I wished I’d brought a notebook to take notes – I learned that much. Fortunately the gift shop sells an extensive collection of books enabling visitors to continue learning after they return home. With so much to do and see at Montpelier it’s difficult to pinpoint that one “take-away” from my visit.
Was it the home itself and its beauty?
Was it the heart breaking story of how the Madison’s lost their beloved home due to the debts accrued by Dolley’s son, Payne?
Was it Madison’s intelligence and brilliance?
It’s hard to say.
As I approached the historic home I anticipated the standard and perhaps predictable home tour. I was pleasantly surprised and came away with much more from my afternoon at the home of James and Dolley Madison.
The tour at Montpelier is designed to educate. It succeeds.
James Madison’s Montpelier
11407 Constitution Highway,
Montpelier Station, VA 22957
Located on Route 20, four miles south of the town of Orange.