Poplar Forest, Thomas Jeffersons Retreat

Trip Start Mar 04, 2005
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Trip End Dec 31, 2014


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poplar forest

Flag of United States  , Virginia
Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I had picked up a brouchure to this home when we stopped at the Virginia Welcome Center.  Prior to that we had never heard of it.  It seemed appropriate that after taking in Jefferson's Monticello and it's crowds ( our first house tour was made up of 27 people, with tours being run every 5 minutes! ) we should make the short drive from our campground to check out this 'retreat'. 

Let me start by sharing the history of this home with you.  Once again I will take it directly out of the Jefferson Foundations brochure. 

"Thomas Jefferson and his wife Martha inherited the Bedford County plantation known as Poplar Forest from her father in 1773.  The property's name, which predates Jefferson's ownership, reflects the forest that once grew here.  Several stately poplars in front of the home still welcome vistiors.

The 4,819 acre plantation provided Jefferson with significant income and the perfect setting where he could pursue his passion for reading, writing, studying and gardening after retiring from public life.

In the early years of his ownership, Jefferson managed Poplar Forest from afar as he practiced law and served in a series of government offices both at the state and national levels.  He and his family, however, did spend two months here in 1781 when they left Monticello to elude British capture.  During this visit, Jefferson compiled much of the material for his book - Notes on the State of Virginia - while he was probably staying at the overseers house. 

In 1806, Jeffeson traveled from Washington to supervise the laying of the foundation for the octagonal house we see today.  When his presidency ended in 1809, Jefferson visited the retreat three to four times per year, staying from two weeks to two months.  His visits often coincided with the seasonal responsibilities of the working plantation. He also oversaw the ornamentation of the house and grounds, and the planting of his vegetable garden.  Family members, usually grandchildren, often joined Jefferson.

Jefferson made his last trip to Poplar Forest in 1823 when he settled his grandson, Francis Eppes, on the property.  Ill heatlth prevented further visits.  In 1828, two years after Jefferson's death at age 83, Eppes sold Poplar Forest to a neighbor.  The property was privately owned until December of 1983 when a non profit corporation began the rescue of the landmark for future generations."

Poplar Forest is not currently furnished and is, in fact, in a state of renovation.  The Jefferson Foundation is restoring the home using only tools and techniques that were available in Jefferson's time.  The grounds are being painstakingly researched by archeologists to determine where trees, etc were planted.  It is a work in progress. 

Today, the drive between Monticello and Poplar Forest can be done in a little under two hours.  In Jefferson's day it was a 3 to 4 day ride by carriage or horseback.  We learned that he used Poplar Forest as an escape from Monticello.  No one knew about Poplar Forest other than the folks he wished to know.  Whereas everyone knew about Monticello - and folks showed up daily to visit him or to just catch a glimpse of him - Poplar Forest was, indeed, his retreat from the chaos. 

Guided tours of Poplar Forest are offered on the hour and 1/2 hour.  If you have toured Monticello you will get 1/2 off the tour price at Poplar Forest - be sure and pick up the coupon at Monticello or hold on to your ticket stubs!  And, unlike Monticello with its tour buses and packed tours we shared our guided tour with one other couple and pretty much had to place to ourselves! 

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