Last weekend, Charlie and I drove through the country and visited Montpelier – James and Dolley Madison’s home in Orange, VA. The entrance fee was $14 (they may have different children/senior fees) and I think it was totally worth it. The visitor center is beautiful. There is a short video on the restoration project that they are working on at Montpelier and it includes a little intro to James and Dolley’s lives. They also have a museum in the visitor center where you can see Madison’s will, one of Dolley’s dresses, and some other documents from Madison’s life. The center offers a grounds/house tour after the video. While the house is still under restoration, you are able to walk through most of the house and get a good feel for the history of the place. There are no wall coverings up yet, as the plaster (the mixture is the same used when the original house was built) takes almost a year to dry. There is also no furniture in the house for the same reason. You can see some of the house’s original furniture in a museum on the grounds.
Shortly after James Madison died, Dolley had to auction the house off and eventually ended up in the duPont family. The duPont family added 30+ rooms onto the house (using many of the original house’s wood and fixtures). After the last duPont family owner passed away, the house was willed to a foundation with the instruction to return the house to the way it was when James and Dolley lived in the house. The exterior renovations have taken years and are finally complete.
After the house tour, we walked around the gardens, saw some of the horses (Montpelier was a famous horse breeding/training facility when Marion duPont Scott lived in the house), visited the museums and enjoyed the grounds.
I definitely recommend going and seeing Montpelier. While it is a historical home similar to many others and Madison is not as widely revered as Jefferson or Washington, I think Montpelier might be more enjoyable than either Mount Vernon or Monticello (bold statement, I know). It just seemed less commercial, I enjoyed learning about a President I didn’t know very much about, and the renovation details were very interesting.