Thomas Jefferson's Home at Monticello: History & Facts

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello. We will highlight its history and identify its unique characteristics and features, and learn why Monticello is a uniquely American structure.

Monticello: One of the Most Famous Homes in America

Think of some of the most famous homes in America. What comes to mind? For many people, the White House in Washington, D.C. would probably be on the list. The Biltmore Estate in Ashville, North Carolina might also be on the list. Some people might even suggest the homes of certain celebrities.

For others, Thomas Jefferson's home, called Monticello, would make the list, and rightfully so. Monticello, located in Charlottesville, Virginia, is one of the most famous historic homes in the U.S. If you turn a nickel on its tail, you will see an image of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello; in many ways, the home is an American symbol. Let's explore the history and the highlights of Thomas Jefferson's beloved home.

This U.S stamp depicts Monticello, the home built by Thomas Jefferson.

History of Monticello

Imagine being only 25 or 26 years old, and planning to build a mansion on a plantation. That was a reality for Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was born in Shadwell, Virginia (just outside of Charlottesville,) and inherited vast tracts of land in the area from his father. In 1768, while only in his mid-20s, he began clearing a hilltop over the city of Charlottesville where he would design and construct what would become one of the most famous homes in America.

By 1772 the north wing of the house which contained the dining room was finished and made habitable. This date is often cited as the date in which Monticello was built. In reality, it was a work in progress as construction and remodeling of additional wings and areas continued until 1809. In fact, until his death in 1826, Jefferson was constantly making improvements to his home.

While Jefferson was, in fact, a slave-owner, much of Monticello was built by white architects and craftsmen. The exception was John Hemmings, a skilled carpenter and a slave, who helped construct the building's interior. Of course, Jefferson oversaw the entire project and was intimately involved in its construction.

Jefferson lived in the White House while he was president from 1801-1809, but before and after his presidency, he lived at Monticello with his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, and two daughters, Mary and Martha. The Jeffersons also regularly had family and friends stay with them.

Additionally, it is believed that 100 or more slaves lived on the Monticello plantation at any given time. Several different slave families lived on the plantation in modest quarters constructed nearby. Among them were the Hemmings family, the Gillette family, and many others.

Thomas Jefferson lived at Monticello before and after he was the third President of the United States.

Features of Monticello

Let's examine the layout and features of the house itself. Its design is considered neo-classical, meaning a new form of classical Greek and Roman architecture. To provide you with a reference, many of the government buildings in Washington, D.C., including the U.S. Capitol, are also built in the neo-classical style. Domes, arches, and columns are essential components of neo-classical architecture.

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. is an example of neo-classical architecture.

Monticello features two porticos (porches with columns and roof:) an east portico (the front) and a west portico (the back). To the north and the south are two terraces (raised walkways.) If you're looking at Monticello from above, it looks a little bit like a plus sign. In the center is a dome room, the interior of which Jefferson had painted yellow. Windows are plentiful throughout the building, providing a great deal of natural light. There are forty-three total rooms in Jefferson's Monticello, bringing its area to about 11,000 square feet.

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