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Montpelier

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c. 1755. c. 1797–1800, 1809–1812, 1902–1939. 1995–present, restoration. VA 20 (4 miles east of Orange), Montpelier Station. Open to the public
  • Montpelier

The home of James Madison, Jr., the fourth U.S. president, and owned from 1902 onward by du Ponts from Delaware, Montpelier became a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1984. Madison is buried in the family plot adjacent to the estate. James Madison, Sr., built the two-room core of the present house c. 1755. Madison, Jr., and wife, Dolley, enlarged it considerably in 1797–1800, adding a wing for their residence and a Tuscan portico mounted on a high basement that was removed c. 1850. Jefferson advised on the portico and then in 1809–1812 again gave advice and loaned his two workmen, James Dinsmore and John Neilson, to make further additions. During this period the small, domed garden temple north of the house was constructed. On its completion Montpelier, with its 6,000 acres, was one of the largest country estates in Virginia, though a visiting Frenchman, the baron de Montlezun, remarked that it “is not at all pretentious, nor in consonance with what the high position of the owner would lead one to expect.”

Dolley Madison sold Montpelier in 1844, and, after it had passed through numerous hands, William du Pont of Delaware purchased the estate in 1901. Highly enamored of the English country life that he had lived for several years, du Pont set about creating a country estate, purchasing adjoining acreage, restoring and constructing farm and workers' buildings, and tripling the size of the mansion from fifteen to fifty-one rooms. The additions, to the sides and rear, are nondescript and blend in. The interior, however, was completely altered and fitted out in the neo–Adam Style then favored by the wealthy. Montpelier became a selfcontained fiefdom with its own passenger and freight train station (next to the entrance; c. 1910, Southern Railway Chief Engineer's Office, Washington, D.C.); power plant; sawmill; electrical, water, and sewage systems; school for the tenants, who resided in some thirty houses; fourteen barns and stables; and other assorted buildings. The designer for most of this work was a local contractor, George E. Ficklin, who also handled the construction. Du Pont's wife, Annie Rogers Zinn du Pont, reworked the ornamental gardens behind the house, which have been inaccurately attributed to Pierre Charles L'Enfant. She may have followed an earlier garden layout, but the brick wall and most of the planting pattern are hers.

Daughter Marion du Pont Scott (for a time the wife of movie actor Randolph Scott) inherited the estate in 1928, built the racecourse and steeplechase track, and instituted the Montpelier Stakes, which still run each fall. She also continued to build on the estate. The gambrelroofed, three-barn racehorse complex to the east of the track came from Sears, Roebuck and Company of Chicago, and the two barns west of the track and the two workers' houses were supplied by Montgomery Ward. A 1937 Colonial Revival house for her equestrian trainer and longtime companion, Carroll Bassett, was a modular design supplied by the Hogdson Company of Massachusetts; Charles Gillette designed the grounds and aviary. In the main mansion her principal addition was an Art Deco lounge and bar, decorated with portraits of her winning horses. This room is being preserved, but the National Trust has removed and is restoring the central section to the period of Madison's tenancy. The entire complex of 2,700 acres is one of the best extant examples of a Virginia country estate open to the public.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Richard Guy Wilson et al.
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Citation

Richard Guy Wilson et al., "Montpelier", [Orange, Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/VA-01-PI16.

Print Source

Buildings of Virginia: Tidewater and Piedmont, Richard Guy Wilson and contributors. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, 129-130.

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