Field Trip to Monticello

Written by Aubrey Neal

This article is part of a semester-long series following Aubrey Neal’s experiences in the Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program (WHIP). WHIP provides Hillsdale College students the opportunity to participate in semester-long internships in D.C. while taking classes at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center.

*  *  *

It is nearly 5 p.m., and I am on a bus, riding through the Virginian country side, surrounded by twenty fast-asleep college students. After the day we just had visiting Monticello—Thomas Jefferson’s “Little Mountain”—it’s understandable that they’re so tired.

Monticello is only about three hours from the Kirby Center and Capitol Hill, yet it feels like you couldn’t be farther away from inner-city DC. On top of the second highest peak in the area, Jefferson’s house was built on a man-made plateau and overlooks a seemingly endless expanse of rolling hills, crop fields, and natural forests. It was an absolutely beautiful day. The visitors’ center features an impressive gift shop, a delicious café, and a wrap-around deck that offers outdoor seating in the summer. Taking a shuttle bus up the mountain side, we were dropped off at the front gate of Jefferson’s home, a brick house inlaid with huge bay windows, a dome rooftop, and a weathervane. I am always surprised by the modesty and humility that a brick house seems to present; it was almost smaller than I was expecting, but in its time it was very luxurious.

We started our tour with a walk down Mulberry Lane, the slaves’ “main street” on the property, as described by our 85-year-old tour guide. We learned about Jefferson’s nail manufacturing business and his interest in farming and crop experimentation, which he enjoyed on his three-football-field-long vegetable garden. After a quick tour of the outside grounds, we headed back up the hill to see the house.

Walking inside, Jefferson’s personality, well-preserved by the curators of the property, overwhelms you immediately. The man was interested in seemingly everything. First you are told to look up where an old compass face rests in the ceiling. Its hands are connected to the weathervane on the rooftop; Jefferson wired the house so that he could tell the direction of the wind from four different rooms without having to walk outside.

Collections of books, art, and gifts from individuals such as Lewis and Clark hang from all the walls and fill the tabletops. Every room has a different color, matched from the original paint, and most of the floors are the original wood. Comically enough, the aspect of the house that most captured the Hillsdale students’ attention was the design of the beds throughout Jefferson’s home. A concept he picked up from his travels in France, the beds are inlaid in alcoves in the walls in order to save floor space. This, for some reason, captivated my fellow classmates.

After the tour of his home, we had a little over an hour to peruse Monticello at our own pace. Some of us visited the Jefferson family burial site, some went to the slave burial ground, and others explored the underground cellars and stables built under the house itself.

Overall, Monticello was a really interesting experience. It is so hard to place yourself in that time period and truly appreciate the life that Thomas Jefferson lived. Most interesting, in my opinion, was how curious and involved he was in so many different topics. Every room had some new element, experiment, or invention. It really makes me wonder how the author of the Declaration of Independence, the writer of the Virginia Religious Toleration Act, and the founder of the University of Virginia had the time to do it all.

After all, one day of simply hearing about it has pushed my bus company to exhaustion.

Aubrey Neal is a junior at Hillsdale College, majoring in Political Economy. She is currently a participant in the Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program, interning in the public policy department at FreedomWorks. Originally from the mountains of Northern Idaho, Aubrey is excited to share her numerous new experiences and opportunities from the capitol with Hillsdale and its supporters.