Monticello with kids in the Winter!
Our visit to Monticello was the last stop after a 7 day trip to the Historic Triangle. I was a little nervous that I had used up all of my boys curiosity about history in the preceding 6 days. Luckily, while at Williamsburg, I had made a point for us to listen to an actor’s speech as Thomas Jefferson. My boys were intrigued by this man that thought all men were created equal, but still owned slaves himself. All you need as a parent, is one idea or thought to hook kids into being interested, and that was it for them.
The drive up to Monticello was certainly beautiful, even without the lush green foliage of the spring and summer time. You must park at the visitors center, and take a shuttle up to the home. The visitors center houses a ticket office, a small theater, a museum, a cafe, and a children’s center. Before boarding the shuttle, we viewed the 10 minute introduction film about Monticello. I have to say the film was well done, hitting the highlights for all ages, and not long enough to bore anyone.
Monticello sits high on a hill overlooking what was once a very large working farm. The shuttle drops you off right out front where your tour will start. Your ticket to Monticello is actually a timed ticket, as you may only enter the house on a tour. Our group was about 15 people. The basic tour took a little over 45 minutes, and no pictures are allowed inside. Our tour guide was very well informed, and could answer any questions we had. Jefferson treated his home like a museum, displaying artifacts and inventions from all over the world to impress visitors. We liked that all of the beds were hidden in alcoves in order to provide more space in the rooms.
His personal life after the presidency seemed a little absurd. If people wanted to meet him, they would just walk up and knock on the door. They’d wait for hours or days in the foyer. The big story everyone is always talking about is the idea that after his wife’s death, Thomas Jefferson may have fallen in love with one of his slaves and fathered several children with her. I’ll leave that controversy up to you, but it sure does make for an interesting story.
After the tour be sure to venture underneath the house where the kitchens, slave quarters, and wine storage was located. There are lots of hands on things to do down there, which is nice since you cannot touch anything inside the house. It feels a little like a secret tunnel in some places. The boys really liked operating the wine dumb waiter system. On the tour they had seen the hidden cabinet in the side of the fireplace where the wine arrived topside. Even in the winter, a walk through the west gardens is important. It’s not particularly beautiful without many plants this time of year, but it is the view that produced the image that we see every day on the back of the nickel!
You can take the shuttle back down to the visitors center, or stop off at Jefferson’s grave site. His grave does not include the presidency on the list of his accomplishments. Jefferson specifically asked for it that way, as he did not deem that part of his life as the most important. We hopped off the shuttle and then walked back to the visitors center from there. It is a little over a quarter of a mile, and a great walk through the woods. Especially for boys that want to chase each other.
We made it back to the visitors center and decided to check out the children’s center. Although small, it had lots of hands on things for kids. There was a bed inside of an alcove, chess sets, interchanging tiles for a fireplace, a wood joiner station, and even a spot to make a crayon rubbing of his grave marker. There was even a tiny corner filled with picture books about Jefferson or Monticello. My boys favorite was the polygraph machine, as seen in the photo.
We even ate lunch in their cafe before we left. It was small but I was surprised by the choices they offered. Sandwiches, grilled cheese, hot dogs, soups, hummus, etc. Monticello was a great way to spend a couple of hours. Since it was at the end of our trip, we didn’t plan anything else for the day, and prepared for a flight home the following day. But you could easily visit the University of Virginia that Jefferson himself founded and designed, all in the same day.
We enjoyed our short tour of Monticello. In case you are interested, they do have a longer tour that takes guests upstairs to more bedrooms and the dome room. However, the tour guide told us, while impressive, the dome room was not a utilized room in the house. If I was without kids, I might have waited around to take the longer tour, as it is offered fewer times during the day, but the shorter tour was just perfect for us. Mission accomplished.