Saturday, July 5, 2008

Eating Up History

Fourth of July found us enjoying the day at the president's home. Not the current president, but one of the founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson not only owned the large Monticello mansion in Charlottesville, but he also owned a retreat called Poplar Forest. So we packed a picnic lunch with lots of goodies and headed out. Our original plan had been to visit friends in Northern Virginia, but a change in Rich's work schedule and the gas prices had us explore a venue closer to home.

There were a few period artisans and one woman was fascinating as she demonstrated the way cloth was made from flax seed. She had many funny anecdotes that captured not only the adults, but also the children's attention.

David paid rapt attention to all as she explained about how wigs were made during colonial times. David provided a new anecdote as he asked her "Is that how they made Hannah Montana's wig? It looks just like it." Needless to say this got a big chuckle from the crowd gathered around.

While people explored different areas of the grounds we were serenaded by colonial music. At 1:30 a ceremony began with the American Legion's presentation of the colors. Everyone stood as we said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the National Anthem. The reading of the Declaration of Independence along with the names of all the signers was presented from the back porch of the mansion.

The American Legion Color Guard salutes
during the singing of the National Anthem
I have to admit, I had never heard much about Poplar Forest before moving to Central Virginia. We have been to Monticello often and eaten at Michie Tavern in Charlottesville. But it just seemed fitting to explore this property on the Fourth.

Thomas and Martha Jefferson inherited the 4,819 acre property from Martha's father in 1773. When they first took over ownership of the plantation they visited very little. But in 1781 the Jefferson family spent two months on the property in order to elude British capture. In 1806 Jefferson personally oversaw the laying of the foundation, an octagonal house much like Monticello. Following his presidency he visited this home three to four times a year. This was a place far away from official duties and his grandchildren often stayed during these visits.

Poplar Forest House
The house was inherited by Frances Epps, Jefferson's grandson. Two years later the plantation was sold to a neighbor. The property remained a private residence for several families until 1984. Having been updated over the years, the inside showed little resemblance to the home of the Jeffersons. The nonprofit Corporation for Jefferson's Poplar Forest purchased the property and has been taking painstaking steps to restore it to its original condition. The foundation raises the funds for the research and restoration.

We had such a wonderful time there yesterday that we decided to return today to take more pictures. This time we took a tour of the inside of the home and I tried to imagine the families that lived in the house following the Jeffersons. Can you imagine? I began to wonder where they placed the stove and how they furnished with no closets. As they dug into the handmade bricks to make a well to run electrical wires did they realize the damage they were doing to history? Did they know that the president whose words would be viewed as the most important document in the nation had personally overseen the building of "their home?" Or could they have just thought that someone had just imitated Jeffrerson's Monticello?

Rich and David at our picnic blanket
David was fascinated by the house and grounds and has a desire to purchase Poplar Forest for our next home. When I asked him yesterday what he liked most he stated "Eating on a president's lawn." Now how many people get to do that? David would even like for us to do some research on Jefferson as a "summer school" project. I am glad that David has a love of history, we have tried to instill the living history that is all around us. He loves to learn about the people and their lives, why they did what they did.

I don't like "Jefferson's Bible" since in it he took out the references to Jesus' miracles and the blood of Christ. He used slaves to run his plantations and while in today's eyes this is abhorrent to us, we must look at it through the glasses of the past and it was acceptable in his time. I can use these issues to point out to David that even great men are flawed. I sometimes wonder what commonly accepted practice of today we will be condemned for.


Mrs.RGS said...

Well I give up. You even had a blanket to eat on that was patriotic. What is that brick thing?

Kim said...

Please don't give up!!Yes, I bought the blanket many years ago and just love it (it has a pillow that matches it.)

The bricks are just stacks from the archeological dig they were doing nearby. The area we chose was a nice shady spot out of the hot sun.

The house and grounds are a work in progress. We intend to keep going to check on the changes as more and more is revealed in the digs and research being done.