Wednesday, June 17, 2009

historic house tour: poplar forest

A bright, sunny (and typically steamy) Virginia Saturday marked the last of the house tours for the season. A very hardy group of six (including our favorite architect) set out for a 4-hour drive to Poplar Forest, the country retreat of Thomas Jefferson. Located some 90 miles south west of Monticello, near Lynchburg, Poplar Forest served as a refuge for Jefferson: “I have fixed myself comfortably, keep some books here, bring others occasionally, am in the solitude of a hermit, and quite at leisure to attend to my absent friends,” he wrote to Benjamin Rush in 1811. He began construction on the house in 1806 and (as with Monticello) continued to work on it until his death in 1826. However, the main hexagonal block of the house was for the most part complete by the time Jefferson decided to add an east wing of offices in 1814. In typical Palladian fashion, Jefferson intended there to be a west wing, though it was never constructed. The house is flanked by two ornamental mounds of earth and necessaries (which look more ornamental than necessary), and a sunken lawn extends out from the south façade of the house.


Over the years the house suffered a devastating fire and several generations of alterations, so the current structure is a restoration based on exhaustive architectural investigation, archeology, and Jefferson’s own meticulous plans and writings. “When finished it will be the best dwelling house in the state, except that of Monticello; perhaps preferable to that, as more proportioned to the faculties of a private citizen,” he wrote to John Wayles Eppes in 1812. Indeed, Mr. Jefferson, it is one of the finest I have seen.

For a bit more, see Stefan’s fantastic post, and my flickr. Special thanks to Mr. Rudder for providing the perfect quotes and inspiring me to make the journey south.

P.S. I couldn't resist posting the obligatory southern magnolia, even though that particular tree wasn't even a seedling when Jefferson inhabited the house. He of course preferred poplars.

7 comments:

ArchitectDesign™ said...

What a great and thorough description, puts my generic one to shame! Love your photos too -you really captured the spirit of the place!

Janet said...

Hardly! You included the scuppers.

Anonymous said...

So happy you all went there - It is fun to hear about the progress they are making - I was there in 2006. And the magnolias. (sigh). I miss the south. KDM (Or, The South, with capital letters, as it should be).

Janet said...

Oh, KDM, The South is just not the same without you.

little augury said...

I read AD's post what a fun day, as I mentioned to him I am not but about 1 hour +20 from Lynchburg! I have been and hope to get back in the early fall/late sum. The Jefferson quote is so lovely- I would have liked him, maybe love is not to strong a word. Great post and day. la

John R said...

Wonderful post, Janet! So wish I could have been there too -- but wonderful to visit via your eyes, sensibilities, and your blog.

"little augury" - be careful what you wish for. TJ could be incredibly selfish, self-centered, deceitful - despite his brilliance in many areas.

Thank you, Janet!

bwemerson said...

Great post, Janet, and nice word play on the ornamental necessaries.

It's gorgeous in Maine, now, but oh how I'd like to see Poplar Forest...indeed it looks close to perfect

We're exhibiting the Natural History drawings, and some never before seen tiny drawings at the Fisher House this summer...Be sure to come up and see...