Exterior Restoration

Research & Collections
 

Perhaps the most dramatic discovery on the exterior was that the stucco finish on the building's exterior was applied after James Madison's death. Physical evidence ties the first stucco work to a ca. 1855 building campaign that also included infilling several windows and doorways, altering the portico, rehabilitation of the cellar, construction of new hipped roofs on the wings, and the covering of the entire house with a standing-seam metal roof. Underneath the stucco, Madison's original bricks remained intact and they have been re-exposed as part of the restoration.

Roof

The remains of the original Madison-era roof coverings were uncovered during the investigation. Eighteenth century, round-butt wood shingles were found in the attic, and they provided conclusive evidence for the roofing material over the main building and the portico. The investigation also found that the two ca. 1810 wings were capped with nearly flat roofs and a carpenter's bill from ca. 1812 revealed that sheet iron was used to cover them.

Windows and Doors

During the investigation, the fact that James Madison shifted and replaced virtually all the windows in the main house between 1809 and 1812 was discovered. They were replaced because the windows from the first two construction periods (ca. 1764 and ca. 1797) were not the same size, and so new windows were needed to give the house a uniform appearance. This major change was unknown prior to the investigation and its discovery revealed that the ca. 1810 renovations were much more extensive than originally thought.

A majority of the cellar windows were also found to have been replaced in ca. 1855. The original windows were quite small and, fortunately, several survived. Interestingly, the original cellar windows for the main block of the mansion were found to have never been fitted with glass, and so remained open year round.

As for the largest of Montpelier's windows and the opulent central entrance doorway below it, all doubts concerned their date were removed. The collusion of physical and documentary evidence demonstrated that they were both part of the 1809 to 1812 remodeling. Madison also reduced the widths of two doorways that flank the main entrance. He decided on this change for the same reason he wanted the windows replaced—to give the house a unified appearance.

Portico

Excavations undertaken during the investigation also located the top of the base molding for the giant Tuscan columns that front the mansion. Knowing the height of the base molding allowed the architects to establish the original height of the porch deck and, by extension, the approximate elevation for exterior grade during Madison's lifetime.

Colonnade

On the rear facade, the Madison-era colonnade was found to remain essentially intact—a breath-taking survival.

Cornice

Both cornice sections, that from ca. 1760 and that from 1797 to 1800, were found to be original and largely intact on the east and west facades. Amazingly, large sections of the cornice that had been removed from the north and south elevations during the duPont expansion were found in the attic where duPont plasterers used it to hang the ceiling of the third floor.

 

Removing the duPont Stucco

A mason removes the duPont era stucco with an air-powered chisel.