After recently finishing Ralph Ketcham's famous biography on James Madison I had been dying to make the trip down to Montpelier, asking my wife if she was ready for it as each weekend approached us. The opportunity finally arrived this past weekend and what a treat it was. First and foremost, I will recommend this entirely to American history fans as well as the casual observer. My basis to this is that my wife fully enjoyed our visit.
We arrived for one of the early tours and had only a handful of site-seers in our group, but the tours groups definitely filled as the day wore on; so arrive early and you will have more of the unique experience to yourself.
I state that it was unique because it was as literal as going back in time can be. From the moment one drives onto the land, one experiences that same feeling that comes from being lost in a good book. It was also a special time to go as the fall colors were in full swing. I think my wife took at least ten pictures prior to our arrival at the Visitors' Center parking lot.
The Visitors' Center is quaint, the workers very friendly and helpful. There is something for every type of person: art pieces for the historical aficionado all the way to jams and salsas for the cooking type (my wife). I must digress to urge all who visit to purchase at least one can of the chocolate covered peanuts; my wife doesn't even like peanuts and she couldn't get enough of them.
The tour starts in the visitors', where guests watch a short movie clip (12 minutes) portraying the life of James Madison. Nothing new here for the scholar of American history, but great for the everyday person. I listened to a lot of positive remarks concerning the short film and therefore consider a good start to the tour. From here, guests exit through a side door and take a five minute walk to Madison's actual home.
The walk is beautiful, and gives the site-seer the first opportunity to smell the land and breath the air where James Madison once walked. The head-on view of the home is remarkable, to say the least and can be appreciated by the architect in all of us. Our tour guide was great. She was enthusiastic and enjoyed sharing the moment with all of us. One of the best parts of the tour is after sitting in the room where Madison penned the Virginia Plan of the Constitution, guests are invited to go out onto the second floor terrace. What a view this is. Take a moment to view history and not only see, but feel what plantation life would have been like in the time of our founding fathers.
After finishing the tour, there are many other options to choose from. The English-style garden is a great walk through (surrounded by a brick wall). My wife personally loved this section and the "pretty" gates that adorned the entrance and exit.
Another stopping point would be the cemetery. When my wife and I arrived to the cemetery after a short walk, we were the only ones there and was therefore a special moment for me. To stand in front of the grave of THE James Madison, next to his wife Dolley is humbling. I hope all who visit the house will take the extra time it takes to walk over to the cemetery.
Lastly, my wife and I just took a stroll around the land. There are few places so open and beautiful as Montpelier and I recommend taking the extra time to experience it.
The visit is a worthwhile one. After leaving, my wife stated, "I really like Madison, I think he's my new favorite founding father; and I love his wife's enthusiasm and spunk."
So I will close saying, there is something for every type of personality at Mr. James Madison's Montpelier.
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