Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Presidents and Trails

Tuesday June 11, 2013
Charlottesville, Virginia


Pretty sure I would not have had time to do these three posts on my hometown had it not been for the forced days inside per the dermatologist and per the constant rain.  It has been raining every single day since I was allowed back outside.  Haven’t gotten much crossed off my list.   So here’s another post on visiting places very near my hometown of Charlottesville Virginia.  If you have not seen the first one, click here.   This link will take you to the second.


Presidents three, four and five all  lived within about 60 miles of each other.

They were Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. Jefferson was the 3rd President and Madison the 5th.  Monroe’s home Ash Lawn is about 2 miles further from Charlottesville than Jefferson’s.  You just turn  left out of Jefferson’s driveway and go on to Madison’s.  They were neighbors.


Ash Lawn house

The property is now known as Ash Lawn-Highland.  The Monroe’s owned the property from 1793 to 1826 and made it their official residence from 1999 to 1823.   After Monroe’s death, the property passed into private hands and the name of their farm was changed from Highland to Ash Lawn.  Today it carries both names.  But locals refer to it as Ash Lawn.  The property was opened to the public in 1931 by philanthropist Jay Winston Johns and his wife Helen Lambert Johns.  In 1974, his will left the home and grounds to the College of William and Mary where Monroe had studied from 1774 to 1776.  Jefferson also attended William and Mary.  The College continues to own and operate the property.


ash lawn peacock


There is a tour of the house, you can walk walk through the beautiful gardens, enjoy the outstanding views  at your leisure and visit with the resident peacocks.  The tour begins in the 18th Century section which was the Monroe house and then continues into the 19th century section which was added on.   There are living history demonstrations in the outbuildings and workshops in candlemaking, rope making, tin lantern making, and paperquilling are available.   The home and grounds are open 9am-6pm April-October and 11am-5pm November-March.




For many years, there was a summer program of outdoor opera which we attended frequently especially the summer in which Carrie was a member of the opera orchestra.  You can see the musicians just at the edge of the stage.  The audience is beyond them. 

The opera moved into the renovated Jefferson theater I believe because of the unreliable weather and the peacocks who often joined in the singing.  But there was a lot of controversy about that as an evening of opera and dinners on the grounds had become very popular.  We were sorry to see it moved. 

This summer the Ash Lawn Opera is putting on its 36th season and its 5th at the Jefferson Theater.  They are performing Puccini’s La Boheme and Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.   But you can still take a picnic to the lovely Ash Lawn grounds when you visit.


If you are up for another president’s home and a beautiful drive through the Virginia countryside then continue on to Montpelier home of James and Dolly Madison.



For 76 years, Montpelier was the home of James Madison it had been in his family from 1723.  When he was elected President in 1809, he was already considered the Father of the Constitution and with his friend and mentor Thomas Jefferson had founded the Democratic-Republican party.  He died in 1836 and is buried at Montpelier.  Dolly sold the home in 1844 and it changed hands many times and the house and grounds were changed. The family of William DuPont purchased it in 1901 and bequeathed it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1984 and they continue to manage the property.  An independent non profit organization, The Montpelier Foundation, was created.  In 2003 they launched a 5 year restoration to return the house to the way it was when James and Dolly lived there in the 1820’s. 

The Montpelier estate includes the home, the gardens, historic buildings, exhibits, archeological sites, and forest trails.  This is another great picnic spot.



montpelier grounds

There is a tour of the house including the Presidential Library.  The grounds are 2,650 acres of rolling hills with wonderful views again of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  There is a two acre formal garden and the cemetery where both James and Dolly Madison are buried. 




Landmark forest

The 200 acre Landmark Forest has been virtually undisturbed over time and contains red, scarlet, chestnut, white and black oaks, tulip poplars, pignut and mockernut hickory trees.  A few of these are 200-300 years old. Diameters between 36 and 60” are not uncommon.  It is a National Natural Landmark and well worth visiting.  There are two miles of trails.  Visiting the forest is free and open to the public during regular visitor hours.

James Madison spent six months in his upstairs library here at Montpelier researching governments and organizing what he believed were the idea principles for for a representative democracy.  These ideas became the “Virginia Plan” and ultimate the framework for the Constitution.

The Center for the Constitution is located at Montpelier.  It is an educational endeavor and holds seminars as well.

The home and grounds are open  from 9:30 to 5:00 every day but Monday.  First tour at 10AM last at 4PM.


Old growth forest


If you love old growth forests as much as I do, you may want to visit The Old Growth Forest Network to see where they are along your route.  You can check their website above for state which currently have dedicated old growth forests.  At this time they include Virginia, Maryland, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Hawaii.  Or at least those are the states who have joined the “This Forest Will Never Be Logged” network.





And now for you Winers and brewskites.


You really can’t drive anywhere in the countryside surrounding Charlottesville without running into winery after winery.


Monticello wine trail

OF COURSE Thomas Jefferson is known as the country’s “first true viticulturist” or at least that’s what we’re all told.  So there are plenty many wineries for you to visit and sample their wares.  Not being a wine drinker I can’t advise you but the tourist bureau at the top of the Downtown Mall near the Friday’s After 5 pavilion certainly can provide you with more ideas than you’ll probably have time for.  Here is what Wine Spectator has to say about the area.

The Monticello American Viticultural Area, which surrounds Charlottesville, is home to more than 20 wineries. Roughly encompassing 1,250 square miles, it’s the 26th largest AVA in the country, dwarfing regions like Sonoma and Napa valleys. Yet navigating it is not difficult; most of the wineries lie within 15 miles of Charlottesville.  The array of wines produced in the region’s red-clay soil is staggering. It’s not unusual for a winery to have 30 or more different releases a year. Tour the tasting rooms and you’ll find Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, Rhône reds and whites, Riesling and Chardonnay, and even Spanish and Italian varieties. Then there are sweet wines made from blackberries, pears and the like, plus native and hybrid grapes such as Norton and Niagara.

You can also find information on many wineries at The Monticello Wine Trail.  At least 30 wineries in the vicinity are listed with information and directions.



Brewridge trail


If you are a beer lover then ask at the Tourist Bureau for the Brew Ridge Trail  or check out their website for craft breweries in the area.

If you have followed my suggestions you may well be on Day # 4 or #5 in this area.  I have one last set of suggestions for a day or two spent visiting some of our best hiking.   I’ll give you some campground suggestions then too. 




**NOTE:  I’ve been told that my posts aren’t showing up on some folks blog rolls and I haven’t been able to make my email notification work on blogger but I have another possible notification method.  If you would like to be notified of future posts by email either put that in your comment or email me at RVDreamlilfe@gmail.com and I will add you to the list.   I look forward to your comments.


  1. I liked reading this very much. some stuff I knew and a lot of stuff I didn't.

    Wish I had spent more time there...

  2. We loved Monticello but didn't have time to check out the breweries. Of course that's because we were there when we were just on a short vacation. Next time we get that direction we'll be sure to spend more time! Thanks for your detailed posts.

  3. Great stuff- I love visiting Presidential homes and wineries:)

  4. I'm glad to know there are some old growth forests in the East. Great tours of our history. Really is plenty to do, and you have more and my favorites coming with hiking.

  5. Much of the Smoky Mountains was clear cut at one time, but there is still at least one grove of old growth trees.

    Cincinnati's opera used to be outdoors at the Cinti. Zoo in the summer. During every performance there would be several sirens from emergency vehicles going to the hospitals in the vicinity, and there were always lion roars. The singers just sang on and the audience smiled at the ruckus. I think they built a new building for it and the opera is now indoors. A lot was lost in giving up the outdoor performances in my opinion.

  6. Well, you've got Eldy's attention now with the breweries! :-) Hope we get to visit your area one of these days, there's so much history to see as well. You should do an E-book on the area!

  7. Looks like we need to plan to spend some time in that area.

  8. Great post, Sherry. I'd like to visit that area sometime and see all those historical sites.

  9. We made it to 4 of the wineries when we were there a couple years ago. Obviously, we need to come back another time and spend more time...with the history and the wine :)

  10. I love the idea of the peacocks singing opera. Lots of terrific info here, I hope I get to visit sometime.

  11. Great stories about the President's homes--makes it so much more enticing to visit. The outdoor opera experience sounds like a great idea but I can see how the noise might distract from the drama of the performance (or add to it!). Interesting info on the wineries. I am admittedly a little prejudice about our West Coast grapes.

  12. We toured Monticello when they were doing the restoration ... it was interesting to see the work being done and the plans for what they hoped to restore it to. Had hoped to return to see it finished, but never had a chance. Oh well, we still have Ash Lawn to visit, so we'll get both of them at some point in our travels.

  13. Wish we had presidents like Jefferson, Madison and Monroe today. :c)

    Sorry that you've been stuck inside, but your posts have been fascinating. You're a history teacher and a tour guide all wrapped up in one!

  14. Hi Sherry, I'm trying to get caught up after being gone for awhile. Your post was interesting as always. Sorry to hear you've been "couped" up inside. Get well soon

  15. Another informative blog! Charlottesville is truly special. I am glad to hear that Maryland joined the "This Forest Will Never Be Logged" network :) I definitely haven't gone to all the wineries around and didn't even know about the Brew Ridge Trail.

  16. Ah, the memories of History 101 and how poorly I did while in attendance. 50+ years later and Eureka! Finally that timeline makes sense. Thanks for the enlightenment, my friendly nomad.

    BTW - What's the publish date on your first Travel Book?


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