Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743 in a farmhouse built by his father at Shadwell, one of a number of plantations owned by his extended family.
Two years later, Thomas Jefferson’s father moved his family to Tuckahoe Plantation to live with his cousin's orphaned children.
Tuckahoe is on the James River near Richmond, and is well preserved, and still privately owned today.
This is where young Thomas Jefferson learned to read and write with the other children in the plantation’s schoolhouse.
After seven years, Jefferson’s family moved back to Shadwell, which Thomas Jefferson inherited on his 21st birthday, in 1764.
It continued to be his home until the house burned down in 1770, destroying his first library, records about the house, and all but his fiddle, they say. After the fire he moved to a hillside near Shadwell, where he had already started building his dream home, Monticello (little mountain).
By the early 1900s, Shadwell had returned to being sheep and cow pasture. In 1945, the Jefferson Birthplace Memorial Park Commission was established to develop the location into a Jefferson historical site.
A historical investigator, known for his work locating the site of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond, was hired, and the original foundation of the Shadwell house was thought to have been discovered. A replica house was built at the location in 1961, filled with antiques, and opened to the public.
But two years later, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, owners of Monticello, took possession of the site, and shut it down, claiming that the house was not historically accurate.
The house was sold and moved off the site, and still exists, in a colonial style office park outside of Charlottesville, where it serves as the office of a collegiate sports media rights management company.
Later archeological work at Shadwell determined the location and footprint of the original house, but there are no plans for any reconstructions, or to open the site to the public.
A granite monument erected by the St Louis Historical Society on Jefferson’s birthday in 1926, 100 years after his death, sits alone in a grove of trees, the only marker commemorating his birthplace.
The monument remains behind a locked gate.
After the fire at Shadwell, Jefferson moved into an outbuilding at Monticello now known as the South Pavilion.
He had begun construction at the site two years earlier, but it was far from complete.
Jefferson continued to build and modify the house and grounds for the rest of his life.
After his death in 1826, his daughter sold the property to help cover his debts, which amounted to more than $2.5 million in today’s dollars.
Monticello was owned by a local apothecary until 1834, when it was bought by Uriah P. Levy, a Naval Commodore, and admirer of Jefferson.
Levy died in 1862, and willed Monticello to the government to be used as a school for Navy orphans. Instead, it was seized by Confederates during the civil war, and used as a convalescent home.
Though in severe disrepair, Levy’s heirs fought over the property until 1879, when his nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy, a congressman and businessman from New York, bought it for $10,050.
Like his uncle, Levy lived there and tried to keep up with its maintenance demands, fighting off other interested parties who wanted to determine its fate.
In 1923, Levy sold it to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, which was established to maintain the property and keep it open to the public. The same organization owns it to this day.
By the early 1970s, after decades of renovations and restorations, annual visitation exceeded half a million people, and fundamental changes were made to the visitation process.
Visitors no longer came to the house directly, instead a shuttle station conveyed people from a parking area to the house. By the 1980s, the shuttle station became the ticket office, with an expanded visitor center and gift shop.
In 2008, these facilities were expanded with the opening of the David M. Rubenstein Visitor Center and Smith Education Center.
The visitor complex has 42,000 square feet of space, with four exhibit areas, a theater, gift shop, café, and classrooms.
Even though Monticello was his custom-made dream home, Jefferson still felt the need to escape it. For this he had his other dream home, Poplar Forest, a few days ride away, where he sought the “solitude of a hermit” with his family. He began working on the house here in 1806, and continued for the rest of his life.
Poplar Forest was Palladian in style, and unusually octagonal.
Even the outhouse was octagonal.
Jefferson gave Poplar Forest to his grandson, who sold it and moved to Florida a few years after Jefferson died.
Poplar Forest was altered dramatically by subsequent owners, and even operated as a restaurant for a while.
Poplar Forest is now in preservationists’ hands, and is partially restored and open to the public.
Thomas Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of Declaration of Independence, which he wrote.
Coincidences like that, and architecture like his memorial in Washington DC, help to make Jefferson larger than life and link American history to the heroic classical mythology so revered by Jefferson and western culture.
Jefferson had nothing to do with the massive memorial in DC, of course. It opened in 1943, on his 200th birthday.
He did however design his own tombstone, which was installed in the small graveyard at Monticello, where he asked to be buried.
Souvenir-hunting visitors chipped away at the original monument so severely that a new (and larger) replacement was installed by the federal government in 1883.
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