I recently took advantage of the opportunity to visit Montpelier, President James Madison’s home in picturesque Orange, Virginia. The property is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and managed by the Montpelier Foundation. In 2001, the Montpelier Foundation embarked on a mission to return the mansion back to its appearance during Madison’s time. With the help of architectural historians from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, they were able to conduct an extensive architectural investigation that included subsurface investigations on both the exterior and interior of the home. When physical evidence failed to produce necessary information, they worked to uncover documentary evidence, the most important of which was a bill from Madison’s master carpenter James Dinsmore which provided much information about the mansion’s interior.
The most dramatic discovery they made about the outside of the house was that the existing stucco finish was added to the house during an 1855 renovation. Underneath the stucco, Madison’s original bricks remained intact and they were revealed as part of the restoration.
Investigations inside the house proved to be equally productive. The location of all of the Madison era rooms was discovered and many of the original doors, trim, window sashes, and mantels were found to have been relocated rather than removed during renovations by subsequent owners.
Members of the duPont family owned Montpelier for more than 82 years, from 1901 until 1983. Marion duPont Scott made arrangements in her will for the property to be transferred to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in order to be preserved as a monument to James Madison. Mrs. Scott was an avid breeder and owner of thoroughbred racehorses. Montpelier continues to host the Montpelier Hunt Races, an annual steeplechase event started by Mrs. Scott and her brother William duPont, Jr., and a 200 acre portion of the 2,650 acre estate is now home to a Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation farm.
To learn more about the restoration and James Madison’s Montpelier, visit http://www.montpelier.org/
For more about the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation: http://www.trfinc.org/