Carry Me Back...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008 Road Junkies 1 Comments

On our way to the home of James and Dolley Madison this morning, we caught sight of this guy (the one on the left) standing inside a fence near the road. Of course, we had to stop so horsefeeder Ken could give him an apple. Before Ken could return to the car, a couple of other horses came running up to get their share as well. Montpelier, the home of James and Dolley Madison, has been undergoing a massive restoration project since 2003. The new visitor center near the Montpelier mansion was completed last year and houses a gift shop, movie theater, gallery and other exhibit areas. Built by James Madison's father, the mansion remained in the Madison family until it was purchased by William duPont in 1900. DuPont built massive additions, transforming the 22-room house into a 55-room compound. The estate remained in the duPont family until Marion duPont Scott made arrangements in her will to transfer the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1984 so that it could be open to the public as a monument to Madison.

Deconstruction of the duPont additions and removal of the stucco facade was required before the house could be restored to the way it looked in the days of James and Dolley's retirement in the 1830's. Fortunately a $20 million grant from private sources was obtained for the work.

A series of photographs showing the deconstruction of the circa 1901 duPont additions to reveal the circa 1812 appearance of Montpelier.

Today the exterior is complete and restoration continues on the interior. The Montpelier gift shop sells brick tea, blocks of finely ground tea leaves that have been packed in molds and pressed into block form. Traditionally used as a method to transport tea by camel along the silk road from central Asia, brick tea was in use when colonists dumped chests of tea into the harbor during the event we know as the Boston Tea Party. Tea compressed into brick form retains its quality for a long time. To make tea, one simply removes a small bit and brews like any loose tea. At times brick tea has been used as currency. Scoring the brick on the back facilitated this use. The bricks were available in 4 by 6 inch and 8 by 10 inch sizes at Montpelier. Driving along one of the many Virginia scenic byways we came across a charming farmhouse for rent. Hmmmm... We found our way to Charlottesville's historic downtown mall. Considered one of the finest urban parks in the country, the tree-lined pedestrian mall is home to a vibrant collection of more than 120 shops and 30 restaurants located in the historic buildings on and around old Main Street. On the mall we found Hamilton's, a restaurant recommended by one of Pam's friends who lives in Charlottesville. A delicious meal later we went to find a letterbox in a golf course cemetery and called our first day in Charlottesville a success.