“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these [curators] from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
The same could be said for our hearty historic house group. Despite a nor’easter ravaging the mid-Atlantic seaboard, we set out (armed with two umbrellas and plenty of Starbucks) for Montpelier in Orange, Virginia. The house, which overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains was once the home of James and Dolley Madison. It remained in the Madison family until 1844, and after changing hands several times, it was purchased by the duPont family in 1900 and converted into an impressive country estate. When Marion duPont passed away in 1983 she left the mansion to the Historic Trust with the express wish that it be preserved as a monument to James Madison.
And there begins the controversy. Over the years the duPonts had transformed the original Georgian and Federal structure into a massive stuccoed mansion, doubling its size, and making it into something quite different from the house James and Dolley Madison had known (for more see here). In 2003 the Montpelier Foundation, under the auspices of the Trust, embarked on an ambitious project to bring the house back to the time of the Madisons, which meant (among other things) removing the stucco from the exterior, dismantling the DuPont additions, reconfiguring the front portico, and completely restoring the interior. There has been great debate among preservationists about this restoration ~ how much of it would be accurate? original? authentic? Should they really try to erase 100 years of history? I must admit that I myself was dubious. But, as it turns out a great deal of original structure and material remains. Using historical records and photographs, and conducting a meticulous architectural study, the Foundation was able to put together an amazingly truthful restoration plan. The house is still partially covered in scaffolding and the interior is stripped down to the bear bones ~ but it is all so fascinating!
I also loved the walled and stepped garden, which retains some elements of the Madison era, but is more typical of an early 20th-century formal garden.