Happy Birthday, Mr. President

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OK, so maybe it wasn’t the President’s birthday- but it was my son’s.  When I asked him what he wanted to do to celebrate, he told me he wanted to “finally” see Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson (third president of the USA and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence). “Finally” is a relative term- he was turning 7.   So, off to Charlottesville, Virginia we went.

20140729_094659Charlottesville was the perfect place for this trip, because it has so much to offer in terms of Presidential history (and homes).  In and around Charlottesville, you can see the homes of four of the most influential presidents in American history- along with Thomas Jefferson, you can visit the homes of James Madison, George Washington, and James Monroe. That is a lot of history for a little area.  You can visit all the homes with a special pass should you so choose. The “President’s Passport” is one ticket that gives you access to all the homes of the four presidents. (Other added bonuses include free admission to 9 museums and historic sites in Alexandria if you show your paid ticket at the door, free wine tastings along the Monticello wine trail, savings at shopping areas, hotels, restaurants, and more. This is a good pass to get if you plan on spending a few days in the area.)

WP_20140729_10_24_02_ProOur first stop, of course, was Monticello.  I was impressed to see that they offered “family” tours with a guide who made the time spent even in “no touching” areas fun for the kids.  She had a small bag packed with visual guides, books, photos, and toys that the children could see, touch, and play with to help them get a better idea of what she was explaining and the times that Jefferson lived in.  She also aimed the tour at them, using language they could understand without “dumbing down” the tour whatsoever- she used appropriate language and explanations, scaled to ability and age- but never assumed the children were unable to understand or grasp the knowledge.  This was something that the parents appreciated and the children thrived on- they all enjoyed the tour and remembered what they learned. (My son, of course, had to buy a stuffed Thomas Jefferson from the gift shop, just like the guide had.  It was his birthday, after all.)  There were also hands on activities to try one’s hand at when the tour was finished, such as using a quill pen and ink or playing with “old time” toys and games.


Ash Lawn-Highland, just a few minutes up the street from Monticello, was an eyeful of color and beauty. The gardens were well kept and in full bloom, and the smells were intoxicating.  Well before we entered and toured James and Elizabeth Monroe’s refurbished home, we toured the garden areas.  While not massive, they were lovely and certainly kept our attention.  The house has been lovingly kept and redone to look as it did when it was owned by the Monroe’s.  We were told there are normally sheep, chickens, and peacocks on the lawn, however, there were none that day. You can tour the slave and servants quarters after you tour the home as well- while photos are not allowed in the home, they are outside and in the outdoor quarters.

20140731_155009While we sadly ran out of time before we were able to visit Mount Vernon (yes, I know), we made sure to visit James Madison’s Montpelier before we left Virginia.  Of the three homes we visited, I learned so much about this quiet and humble man, known as “the sage of Montpelier” to his friends, as well as his vibrant wife (Dolly) who came to define what it meant to be a “first lady”.  There was less to do for children on this tour until we got to the very last room, which had a touch screen that would play scenes from ocean crossings and the life and times of Madison, as well some boating paraphernalia that they could touch. Like Monticello, when the tour was over, you and your family could visit outdoor/detached kitchens, gardens, and grounds.


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