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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Getting Close to Home but Still in Virginia

I've started today's pictures with views of our bedroom last night, since Glen reminded me that I'd failed to do that. I also included what appears to be a pace car from Kentucky but probably not--just a bright spot on an otherwise gloomy, overcast, rainy and cold morning.

We headed back southwest to Bedford Va to take in the sights of Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson's retreat and retirement home located 93 miles and, in his day, three days travel from Monticello. The history of the plantation is pretty much explained by the pictures. We were unable to photograph any of the interior restoration work on the first floor which is ongoing so I will attempt to paint a word picture of what we saw.

First though I'll talk about the outside of the house--at one time it sat in the middle of a symmetrical landscape which included double rows of linden trees extending from both sides of the house to a mound on each end of the allees. Just beyond each mound stands an octagonal tower like structure of brick, which is one of two necessaries--or as we would call them--outhouses. The mounds were to be covered in varying types of trees but apparently that plan did not work as desired and so they were replaced instead with shrubs. After a time, Jefferson decided that he wanted a wing of office and work space and so the allee on the East side was removed and a brick wing constructed. I'll talk about that later. This symmetrical layout echoes his architectural approach at Monticello and is, once more, the result of the influence the designs of Palladio had on TJ.

To take you on the imaginary tour of the interior I will use the post card enlargement of the octagonal house which shows a bit of the wing on the right side. The top of the floor plan is the North Portico which can be seen in the house pictures as the porch with the four stucco columns at the top of the flight of stairs. The columns are actually brick covered with stucco. As we walk across the floor of the porch toward the faux mahogany door our docent pointed out the Carrera marble threshold which is not original. That marble step disappeared many years ago but a duplicate that fit was found in the basement of the Capital building in Washington where, apparently, artifacts from various changes to the building are stored. We entered the room on the right side of the hall ( your left in the picture). Directly across from the door is a small fireplace and to the right of that are two windows set at forty five degree angles to each other. The room is small and the floor has already been restored--it is a light colored wood--possibly tulip poplar which is cleaned each day--or was in his time--with beeswax and linseed oil. I remember my Dad used that on nice wood in our house. The walls in most of the rooms are just the bare exposed brick but here one wall has been partially replastered to show how the walls will look when that restoration is done. This room, our docent said, is thought to have been the bedroom for the butler when TJ was in residence. The book on the house says it was a storage/spare bedroom.

We continued through the opening that will hold a door in time into a very large room that is bisected by an alcove bed.This is a design used in Monticello and is a French design that TJ particularly liked. One side of the bed is in a sitting room, the other in a study. TJ could swing his feet off into either side--also with a fireplace in each space there was adequate heat throughout. Again two large windows sat in the corner of each of the rooms. Interestingly jutting out the west side of the octagon is a tower to accommodate the stairs without taking anything from the living space. The stairs descend to a door that opens into the yard.

Continuing to the South or the bottom of the floor plan we come to the Parlor with a fireplace at each end and a window in each corner. The flat southern wall has two very wide floor to ceiling windows that are sash windows in three parts--just the lower section can be raised for air, or the two lower sections can be raised to form guillotine windows that are tall enough to serve as doors. The double doors were all panes of glass and another set of solid doors, which haven't been hung yet will form a dead air space between them though why in this climate I'm not sure. Again through these doors is the South Portico resting on the Arcade below.

Opposite the outside door of the parlor is a set of glass doors that lead into the central cube with a ceiling that soars two stories in this one story house and that contains a full length skylight. The skylight has shutters that can be closed over it during bad weather or when the sun is particularly strong and hot. This elegant room is the dining room and in it is a long dining room table which can be disassembled into several individual tables or, when the leaves are removed totally can be closed into an octagonal table. Also here were several Windsor chairs, a cabinet of about four shelves referred to as a dumb waiter and another table whose round top totally revolved. All, except the chairs, designed by TJ. Once more in one corner there is a fireplace and on each of its walls are glass double doors to make this windowless room as light and airy as all the rest of the rooms. The floor here is an intricate and beautiful parquet.

The East side of the house mirrors exactly the West side--the bedroom used by TJ's daughters and grandchildren and the front room used as its mate for storage or as an additional guest room.So, too, on this side the East Stair Portico retaining as much as possible of the house for living space.

The East wing is totally a restoration since the original wing was removed after fire damage. The original consisted of a kitchen, smokehouse, housekeeper's dwelling,laundry and cold storage. The roof served as a Terras upon which TJ enjoyed walking at night and in front of the rooms ran a covered arcade.

All in all an intimate, airy, comfortable retreat from the busyness of business. I very much loved it.

And then we were headed over familiar territory, up through Charlottesville, to Front Royal and into Winchester where we wearily decided to stop for the night. We had hoped to make it to Maryland and fried oysters but stopped about 30 or so miles short. Just exhausted -- the weather and winding back roads with stop and go traffic around Charlottesville and Culpepper took their toll.

Ordered Pizza Hut we were so tired we didn't even want to go out. Also for the first time in weeks we turned the heat on in the car and in the room tonight. I also dug out my fleece jacket again. It is supposed to snow tonight but though it doesn't look like a great driving day we are hoping to make Binghamton tomorrow. Friday may be a different story. We'll just have to take it as it comes. If all goes well we will be home on Friday.

From here on in it is the same old same old--so unless I see some really new sights there won't be many pix and the blog will probably just be a report on where we are. Until tomorrow-----

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