James Madison’s Montpelier

Orange
VA

Madison’s restored home in Virginia

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QUICK FACTS
  • When building completed (c. 1764), Montpelier became one of the largest brick homes in Orange county.
  • Montpelier is expanded twice by Madison. The first time (1797 - 1800), it allows James and Dolley Todd Madison (married 1794), to have a virtually separate house from that of the parents. A 30-foot extension (front-left) provides private space and a Tuscan portico placed in the center creates a unified exterior.
  • During Madison’s presidency Montpelier is expanded again (1809 - 12) to include one story wings at each end of the house, plus the addition of a large drawing room.
  • Dolley Madison sells the estate (1844) and it goes through successive owners until it is purchased by William and Annie Rogers duPont (1901).
  • The duPonts’ daughter, Marion, eventually doubles the size of the mansion; she also bequeaths it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation at her death (1983).
  • Restoration of Montpelier to its c. 1820 appearance begins 2003 and is formally completed on Constitution Day, 17-Sep-2008.
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Built c. 1764 by his father, Montpelier was the lifelong home of James Madison. Fully restored in 2008, the estate currently encompasses nearly 2,700 acres (though during Madison’s time there were some 4,000 acres, as well as about 100 slaves) with breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

While the architecture has been restored to its c. 1820 appearance, work on finishing and furnishing the interior is in progress. After her husband’s death in 1836, Dolley Madison sold or gave away the contents of the mansion. Now work is underway to understand the decorations of each room and to try to reinstall original or period furniture.

A 45-minute guided tour takes visitors through the first and the second floors of the mansion, including the presidential-era library on the first floor, and the room on the second floor that contained the Old Library, where Madison spent months preparing for the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

The estate includes Mr. Madison’s Temple, formal gardens, trails, and the Madison Family Cemetery, where James and Dolley Madison are buried. A Visitors Center includes an introductory movie, exhibits, a museum, and the Archaeology Lab.

Associated People

Charles Willson Peale, despite his devotion to the taxonomic and contemplative majesty of the natural world, nevertheless loved novelties and used all sorts of amusements to attract customers to his museum. He eventually resorted to hiring a popular musical performer who played five different instruments simultaneously, using all parts of his body. Following Peale’s death the museum passed into the enterprising hands of P. T. Barnum, becoming part of his traveling circus — a romantic ending for an Enlightenment institution.

Gordon S. Wood
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)