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History comes alive at presidential homes

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The front entrance atMonticello, the home and estate of Thomas Jefferson, seven miles from Charlottesville, Virginia.
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While George Washington had the novelty of a camel on his property at Mount Vernon, today, a celebrity camel lives there – the Geico Insurance "Hump Day" camel.
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The front of George Washington's estate, Mount Vernon.
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The White House East Room portrait of George Washington. First Lady Dolley Madison insisted that this painting be saved before the British burned down the first White House on the grounds in the War of 1812.
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Montpelier, the home of President and First Lady James and Dolley Madison. On the day we visited, there were snow flurries, adding the the Christmas-themed ambiance.
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The remains of President George and First Lady Martha Washington are above ground on the Mount Vernon estate for all to see. George’s crypt is visible in this photo.

By DONNA CRONK - dcronk@thecouriertimes.com

EDITOR’S NOTE: This concludes a two-part column series on a historic Christmas tour. The first column appeared in Sunday’s newspaper. 

As a modern motor coach dropped 120 Hoosiers off at the homes of three Founding Fathers’ estates earlier this month, we were transported 242 years into the past.

First stop on our initial Virginia leg of the journey, coordinated by Tom and Sue Saunders of Lewisville, was to Montpelier, home of President James Madison and his wife, Dolley. We learned how the wealthy William and Annie DuPont family purchased the home in 1901 and had it until 1984 when the National Trust for Historic Preservation took it over.

It was the will of the DuPont family that the home of the nation’s fourth president be opened to the public. It was renovated and restored to 1820 decor and appearance after a 2003-08 redo.

Madison composed the first drafts of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights as well as oversaw the Louisiana Purchase.

When he and Dolley owned the estate, 100 enslaved people lived on the grounds. Slave quarters are located on the property and today, their roles are recognized in a public way as “Slavery-Madison’s worst regret.” 

Other areas explored in a tour include Madison the man, The Constitution and Bill of Rights and America’s First Lady Dolley Madison, who insisted that White House staff save the portrait of George Washington before the White House was burned by the British in the War of 1812.

We were then able to see the painting in the East Room of the White House later in the week.

After lunch at Michie Tavern, an 1784 18th-century inn, which several of us agree was the best meal of many delicious ones on the trip, we headed to Monticello, home of President Thomas Jefferson.

World-class site

We had the unique experience of seeing the mansion at night, beautifully decorated for Christmas. Monticello is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a national treasure that reveals much about the third U.S. President and his brilliance – as well as his complexities.

We were told that the second floor is rarely open to the public but we got to see its bedrooms and the large Dome Room which gives Monticello its iconic look from the outside.

Ironically, Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, died on the property on July 4, 1826. Also on that date, another Founding Father, President John Adams, also died.

There is also a tour, Slavery at Monticello, available to the public.

Father of our country

At Mount Vernon, the estate of George and Martha Washington, we learned about the architecture and how the wooden home is sided to resemble stone.

Most of the rooms’ furnishings are original, and the house has been restored to how it was when the Washingtons lived there. It may come as a surprise to see what may be considered the “back” of the house has a nice veranda furnished with chairs overlooking the Potomac River where fishing was a source of estate revenue.

The Washingtons are buried in above-ground vaults in an outbuilding on the property. The orientation film was excellent in the visitors’ center, and talked about Washington’s roles in American history as a general in the Revolution as well as being first President and Father of our country.

It was noted by our outdoor tour guide that Washington had a camel. Today, the grounds is home to a celebrity camel, the Geico Insurance camel from Hump Day-commercial fame.