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3D Montpelier Restoration Project


Between 2003 and 2008, The Montpelier Foundation brought the main house at Montpelier from a 55-room 20th-century mansion back to the 22-room 1810s Madison dwelling. The physical evidence found within the walls and in the archaeology of the cellars provided the evidence for an authentic restoration of the Madison house. In addition, the archaeology in the cellar spaces revealed features created by the enslaved community to adapt work and living space for their own needs. This exhaustive restoration project included investigations from a team of 15 archaeologists and 20 architectural historians and technicians. The restoration team produced a massive archive of investigatory evidence, including photographs, drawings, field notes, video recordings, and a 3D CAD (Computer Assisted Drawing) model of the entire house.

For 20 years these records were either in paper form or in inaccessible digital formats that were not easily referenced for either internal or public access. This project was designed to create an online 3D geospatial database for these architectural and archaeological investigations. This effort will continue the revolutionary preservation and restoration efforts conducted in the early 2000s, and bring it all into the digital world – making the process of the restoration visible to the public once again.

This project was made possible through a partnership with the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST) at the University of Arkansas, the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the University of Virginia, and generous funding from an Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS) Museums for America Grant.

The Montpelier House Restoration

In 2003, the Montpelier Foundation embarked on the restoration of James Madison’s Montpelier, the last of the Founders’ homes to be opened to the public (1987) and restored (2003-2008) (Gontar 2007). This massive project – one of the most important restoration projects of the last 50 years – involved deconstructing an 55-room mansion enlarged in the twentieth century to reveal the 1810s core the Madisons knew. The physical evidence found within the walls provided the evidence for an authentic restoration of the Madison dwelling.

While the restored house represents the tangible result of the restoration process, the evidence used for achieving this restoration was not accessible to staff, scholars, or the general public. This included countless notebooks, photographs, videos, and maps chronicling the restoration process and its discoveries. This project ensures accessibility to these records for all these constituencies.

The 3D Model and Landscape

After two years of organizing, sorting, and digitizing all the paper records, all the restoration records are now publicly available through the 3D model. Every architectural element in the model is selectable and when clicked on a pop-up window appears with information about that element. This window allows the user to view information and select links that will open folders with related research, photos, fieldnotes, drawings, and video footage from the restoration.

Architectural Overview by Room

As part of this project, storymaps for each room in the house have been made to outline the evolution of the room from construction through the restoration. It outlines the room’s use, alterations, and any investigations that went into the restoration of the space. Click on the images to the right to learn more.

Archaeological Investigations

Extensive archaeological investigations occurred in the cellar space of the main house during the restoration. Through these excavations, the restoration learned a great deal about how the enslaved African American community navigated and used the main house. Excavations were also conducted underneath the front portico to understand sequences of modifications to the structure. Archaeologists produced thousands of paper records, photographs, and artifacts during these excavations, which this project will make accessible. The ESRI StoryMap to the right shows how these records will be accessible through GIS.

3D Digital Reconstruction

At the core of this project was mapping all of the records from the restoration into a 3D Geographic Information System (GIS) model of the house. GIS allows the creation of geospatial databases where information (photos, notes, videos, drawings, etc.) can be linked to locations on a map (building footprints, landscape features, roads, streams, etc.). Montpelier has worked with CAST to bring much of our archaeological data into GIS using ESRI’s ArcGIS Pro software, which is an industry standard for GIS database modeling. This project was an extension of that work.

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