Jefferson’s Retreat

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Jefferson’s Poplar Forest

Although Jefferson was famous for his Virginia hospitality, sometimes the unending stream of visitors – especially after he retired from the presidency – just overwhelmed him and he needed to escape and have some peace.  At such times, Jefferson retreated to his Poplar Forest home.

Long a destination on my bucket list, Poplar Forest struck me as a miniature Monticello at first glance.  But on closer inspection, they are more dissimilar than I thought – despite initial appearances.

Although Jefferson and his wife Martha inherited the property in 1773, it was not until 1806 that construction on the home began.  Much like Monticello, Jefferson designed the octagonal house from a number of architectural influences – Renaissance Palladian, 18th century French and some English.  Even the privies are special octagonal structures.

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Privy at Poplar Forest

The interior of Jefferson’s retreat is now undergoing renovation and restoration with completion just a few years away.  It has been a long haul researching how Poplar Forest would have looked in Jefferson’s time.  Until 1983, the property was in private hands.  In fact, it was only two years after the great Virginian’s death that the plantation passed into private hands.  Jefferson had given the property to his grandson Francis Eppes, but the young man quickly realized that the house was not practical to live in full time – so he sold it and moved to Florida.

Poplar Forest has some interesting history associated with it.  It was where Jefferson and his family took refuge during the Revolution when the British were out to capture him.  It is also where the Sage of Monticello wrote his only book – Notes on the State of Virginia. 

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Jefferson’s hide-away is open daily from mid-March through the end of December.  During the winter, visitors can visit on weekends for self-guided tours.

 

 

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About Derek Maxfield

Associate Professor of History Genesee Community College
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