Behind The Scenes
If you live in Charlottesville and haven’t visited Monticello what are you waiting for? Monticello, the famed home of our third president Thomas Jefferson, is open daily for visitors and this summer guests are in for a special treat. The typical Monticello tour is of the first level, which is nothing to sneeze at, but tickets are available for a behind-the-scenes tour that starts June 11 and goes until Sept. 6.
Meet the Inhabitants
The new tour takes visitors up very narrow (22 inches) and winding steps to the second level–the living quarters. In the first room, you see the alcove bed (bed rails are original) that Jefferson incorporated throughout the bedrooms. Groups will stay small for this special tour–only 15 people at a time–which allows for more interaction between the interpreters and guests. The goal is to share deeper knowledge of domestic life on the plantation.
From this room, guests travel up the stairs to the third floor, seeing another bedroom with two alcove beds (dubbed “The Double Room” by Martha Jefferson Randolph) that likely housed Jefferson’s grandchildren. The skylights brighten the room, but keep the third floor practically hidden from the outside.
The third special room on this tour takes visitors to the Dome Room, with its six circular windows and two half-windows over the doorways and a window on the roof. The room was completed between 1802-04 and was meant to be seen from the outside. It wasn’t a room that was used for entertaining, as guests would not have been ushered through the living quarters to this room, though it is likely the most intriguing room of the house.
The fourth room is the Appendix, where granddaughter Ellen slept. The room is above Thomas Jefferson’s study, and through family interviews and letters, historians learned she could hear him hum as he worked.
Guests will also learn more about the enslaved workers at the plantation; especially the daily domestic routines of the workers and the Jeffersons. The tour is not handicap accessible and children must be able to climb the stairs themselves. The price, $37, includes the regular Monticello home tour and grounds tours.
New Exhibits starting June 11
A new exhibit, called Crossroads, tells the stories of many of the enslaved workers. Crossroads is located in the center of the cellar dependencies, and will include interactive components, such as the dumbwaiter from the wine cellar and servant bell. The wine cellar will now be open for entry, including the restored dumbwaiter for wine bottles to the fireplace in the dining room. More information about the importance of wine in Jefferson’s life will be shown on reader panels throughout the cellar, which was the first one dug at Monticello.
The South Pavilion shows what life was like when the couple first wed and moved to Monticello Mountain. It was the only structure on the mountain at the time. The brick home is two levels. The basement was a kitchen (currently the men’s room) and the upstairs was the living quarters with its bedstead, crib, writing desk, dining furniture and more. The small square room will not be open for entry, but reader panels will tell visitors more about the Jeffersons in this space–the pair had two children in the small home before moving to the main house.
• Plan for a whole day on site. The 42,000 square foot, high-tech visitor’s center should be explored and the movie should be seen before you ride the shuttle to the house.
• Arrive 30 minutes prior to your house tour reservation at the house. You do not want to miss the tour.
• Buy your tickets online, especially if you’re going to buy the behind-the-scenes option. There are limited numbers of people who can do this tour per day.
• In the warmer months there are two additional guided tours included in the price of general admission–the Gardens and Grounds Tour and the Plantation Community Tour.
• Children are welcome. In the summer there are special kids tours and hands-on activites for young visitors. The Griffin Discovery Room at the visitor’s center has numerous options to experience life on the plantation, including Thomas Jefferson’s bed to lay on, a campeachy chair to sit on and so much more. It’s great for kids of all ages.
• There is a two-mile hike up the mountain (called the Thomas Jefferson Parkway). The hike is gravel and boardwalk from the intersection of Routes 20 and 53.
• Wear comfortable shoes, whether you plan to hike or not. There is a lot of walking on the tours, along the grounds and through the exhibits.
• Photography and video recording for personal use is permitted on the grounds of Monticello, but not inside.
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