Mr. Madison's Temple

Mansion & Grounds

A Classic Symbol Amid Natural Beauty

This graceful, classical, structure is used to represent Montpelier. The Temple is a fitting symbol for Madison, encompassing his intelligence and love of the classics, his appreciation of natural beauty, and his understanding of the useful and practical ways of men. Temple is classic in form, and beautiful in its setting, beneath it lies an ice well—two stories deep—that provided the Madisons with cool drinks and ice cream all summer long, a luxury in the 1800s.

While the original sketch of Mr. Madison's Temple was made in 1802 by Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton, wife of William Thornton architect of the nation's Capitol, construction didn’t begin until 8 years later. Thomas Jefferson, Madison's good friend and colleague, suggested two carpenters—James Dinsmore and John Neilson—for the job. They first dug a hole 24-feet deep for the ice well, and mounded the soil around the base of the temple to give it an appearance of being on a small rise.   Local bricks were used to line the well to the icehouse, and the Temple was built on top. The brick columns were covered with stucco so they would resemble the marble columns of ancient Rome. The Madison-era entrance (in the side facing the ice pond) was bricked in by the duPonts when they replaced the old wooden floor with a concrete floor.  Today the entrance, which is sealed, is through the floor.  Archaeological excavations have revealed the remains of an 18th century blacksmith shop below the ice house fill surrounding the temple.

Temple at James Madison's Montpelier