Flanking Structures (1763-1797)

Research & Collections

For many years, archaeologists believed that the 18th-century landscape was a tripartite, symmetric division between the central formal yard, and the industrial and service complex to the north and south, respectively.  Dividing these areas were two brick walls that marked the point at which “inside” became “outside,” the formal yard giving away to the less-controlled areas beyond.

When archaeologists returned to the area of the North West Yard in 2010, it was thought that the excavation would simply recover an 18th-century trash dump that was just beyond the landscape wall and outside of the formal yard, as well as identify some planting holes for the pine allée.  What they were not expecting was to find an entirely new building rather than just a landscape wall.

The structure that was identified had a brick foundation similar to that of the contemporary South Kitchen, thus was likely a timber-framed structure.  The dimension of the building—approximately 16 feet by 40 feet—is also consistent with contemporary 18th-century structures, including the South Kitchen and the Stable Quarter (both are 16 feet by 20 feet, so they share common dimensions even if they are not the same size).

The flanking structure also enjoys a spatial relationship to the main house—something that archaeologists refer to as “paying respect,” and can be seen in the modern day with roads paying respect to property boundaries.  At Montpelier, the flanking structure—and the South Kitchen—both line up flush with the front and rear of the original mansion.  

You can see this when you visit Montpelier.   Go and stand on the side of the timber-frame for the South Kitchen in the South Yard.  Look towards the mansion and you’ll see that it “pays respect” to the 1765 block of the mansion.  If you brought out a tape measure, you would also find that it lies 100 feet from the original doorway to the mansion and was part of James Madison, Sr.’s Georgian landscape.
 

You may also be interested in the Flanking Structures during:

 

The "North West Yard" excavations that revealed the 18th-century flanking structure.

The same image, with an overlay showing the projected foundation of the flanking structure.