As I walked the grounds of Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, I kept saying to myself, “How was one man so brilliant in so many different fields?”
Thomas Jefferson. Author of the Declaration of Independence. Third President of the United States. Lawyer, architect, landscaper, gardener, farmer, viticulturist, scientist, inventor. The man spoke five languages fluently and absolutely devoured books. The size of his library was staggering and he invented a revolving bookstand that held five books at once. It is said that he would switch from book to book, reading all five at the same time.
I love touring historic homes. I’m smitten with the self-sufficiency of homesteads back in the days of America’s discovery and founding. I’m humbled by everything these people produced with fewer and less efficient tools than we use today. I’m enamored with the idea of reading, writing, building, and gardening as a full-time job – the simplicity (I know it wasn’t simple) of creating what you need and often bartering for the rest. And so, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia, was like a feast for my soul.
Jefferson built – and rebuilt – Monticello over a period of 40 years. He taught himself architecture and designed every aspect of the house and its extensive grounds. It’s truly inspiring to take the house tour and learn the details of his designs, the brilliance of his inventions. In addition to the house tour, there are special garden tours and slavery tours that can be reserved separately. There is a 0.6 mile trail you can walk from the visitor center to the house, allowing exploration of the massive vegetable garden and gravesites. I highly recommend it, but if you can’t do the walk, there is a shuttle.
Down the road from Monticello, you’ll find Michie Tavern – described in a brochure as “a complete 18th-century experience! Delicious southern fare, interactive tours, and unique shopping experiences.” Sounds a bit like a tourist trap, right? Oh, so wrong. Michie Tavern not only satisfied my thirst for the historic, but it was also a feast in the true sense of the word.
Michie Tavern operated in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, serving as a tavern, inn, and ordinary (where a complete meal was served at a fixed price). We had an excellent docent who transported our group back in time as we learned about the many roles the tavern fulfilled in colonial times. One of its most important roles was to serve as a place where travelers could rest, refresh, and share the news of the day. But the tavern also served as a general store, meeting place, sleeping space, location for dances and church services, barber, post office, and school. In the meeting space – about as big as a modern home’s living room, yet considered “expansive” at the time – we had some laughs while our docent taught us to dance the Virginia Reel!
Next we had our “midday meal” in the Ordinary. Food was served in a buffet line and included fried chicken, roast chicken, pulled BBQ pork, black-eye peas, stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, cole slaw, beets, biscuits and cornbread – all delicious. Once we were seated, servers dressed in period clothing came around offering seconds on anything and everything – all for one price.
When we were sufficiently stuffed, we moved on to our next activity: Mr. Michie’s Treasure Hunt. Kids can participate by touring the tavern, eating in the Ordinary, visiting the Clothier, Metal Smith Shop, and General Store, and answering a list of questions – which were surprisingly challenging, so be sure to pay attention! All of the staff were engaging and genuinely pleased to interact with the kids and teach them more about colonial times. At the Clothier, we were all encouraged to try on period clothing, which was great fun. Of course, we couldn’t leave without buying a bonnet and infantryman’s cap for the kids. When they finished their hunt, the kids received their treasure: a bag of gold chocolate coins.
Learning about history is fascinating and exciting when it comes alive at a place like Monticello. Experiencing all that Jefferson built inspired me to plant a vegetable garden with my family. You never know when inspiration will strike, but I’m pretty sure something at Monticello and Michie Tavern will motivate you to learn more about our past and its effect on our future.
The Charlottesville CVB graciously provided me with a President’s Pass, valid for entrance to Monticello, Ash Lawn-Highland (James Monroe’s home), and Michie Tavern. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Shannon Entin is a family travel writer passionate about road trips and homeschooling – and how they come together to keep her and her family learning and growing all the time. Join her “Travel. Think. Grow.” email newsletter list for family travel inspiration!