Thomas Jefferson is considered to be one of the most beloved figures in American History. As part of an elite group of men known as the ‘Founding Fathers,’ he played a pivotal role in formulating the principles and ideals that serve as the foundation of American liberty. While his place in history was secured through penning the Declaration of Independence and expanding the size of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase, what Jefferson was most proud of was his home: Monticello. Situated on the summit of a mountain, Monticello was the heart of the Jefferson plantation.
During a forty-year span, Jefferson – a self taught architect – designed and redesigned what would ultimately become a tribute to the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as of the Renaissance. Furthermore, many of its features would be directly based on the work of Italian architect Andrea Palladio. The land on which Monticello would be built had come to Jefferson as an inheritance upon the death of his father in 1757. Deciding against living in the house his father had built at Shadwell, Jefferson chose to relocate to the summit of the mountain, where he would begin building Monticello.
The first version of Monticello would not be considered very grand by the standards of today, but for the period in which Jefferson lived, it would have been on a par with the homes of wealthy individuals in cities such as Philadelphia and Boston. It consisted of just two buildings – the Monticello mansion and the detached south pavilion with dependency, both of which were built of brick. With regard to the land surrounding the mansion, many changes were made. Jefferson oversaw the building of new roads, while old ones were extended.
Along the southern side of the mountain, he began creating a series of orchards and gardens that would serve as a food supply for his kitchen. The slaves that lived on the plantation, along with free workers, built service buildings and slave housing, but these structures were made of cheap logs. In this manner would Monticello remain until 1793, when after being away from home since 1782, Jefferson returned and began work on the second version of Monticello. Jefferson had come back to Monticello full of ideas that were based on architecture he had seen in France, where he had served as U. S. minister.
In 1796, he began utilizing these ideas when he started the enlargement of Monticello from 8 rooms to 21 rooms. Work on the house would continue from this point on until 1809. During that period, Jefferson would serve as vice-president and then president of the young nation. When his term of presidency ended, he returned to Monticello to find the building virtually complete. In its final form, Monticello consisted of three floors, a basement, and two dependency wings. The website provides a tour of each level of the house beginning with the main floor, which consists of the following: ten rooms, two porticoes, two piazzas, and a porch.
This main floor is the only one that provides a description of each room and structure. Not only is the purpose of the room given, but also the room dimensions, the color, and the architectural style are provided as well. The second floor is simply described by the website as one of the areas used as bedrooms for the Jefferson family, and one example of a bedroom is provided. Clearly, the size of the room makes it clear that people of the early America were not as tall as they are today. Of course, some men like Jefferson were the exception. The third floor was used in the same way the second floor was: as bedrooms for family members.
However, it is on this floor that Dome Room is located. A small-scale model of domes that he had seen in France, the Dome Room is a beautiful room, although its purpose is not completely understood. One important point to remember about both the second and third floors is that they are not open to visitors. Finally, there are the basement and the dependency wings. The basement was simply used as storage areas for the wine and beer cellars. It was also used as a service area, with one particular area – the North Stair Anteroom – being used for the warming and plating of food prior to it being served in the dining room.
The North Dependency wing contained the North Privy, the ice house, horse stalls, and a parking area for carriages, while the South Dependency wing served as the kitchen area and contained a room set aside for the cook. Jefferson succeeded in his goal of building a home that was equal to those of the grandees of major cities like Boston and Philadelphia. Yet, the ideas he used and implemented within the building of his beloved Monticello he also used with regard to other buildings he designed. Many of the same styles and techniques can be seen throughout the campus of the University of Virginia.
The most famous of the buildings on this campus is the rotunda, which was based on the Roman Pantheon. He also had a hand in designing the capital of the nation, and as a result of his input, many of the federal buildings are based on Roman and Greek architecture. Jefferson was not just a Founding Father; he was a pivotal player in creating a style of architecture that dominated the United States during its early years of independence. His legacy lives on not only through the Declaration of Independence and his presidency, but through his architecture as well.