The mansion that Confederate troops saw during their visit to Montpelier was changed from the one that Madison left, or even the one that Dolley sold in 1844.
Benjamin Thornton, owner of Montpelier from 1844-1848, was one of the few subsequent owners of Montpelier that would make their mark on the house and the landscape. Under his direction, the front portico was altered—the columns were lowered to the ground and a central stairwell created as well as the small gradient that rose up from the pathway removed. The iron hip roofs on the wings were also replaced, having long since rusted into ineffectiveness. For a detailed report on these changes, download the archaeological report on our excavations under and around the Portico that provided all of this info.
The Civil War soldiers that visited Montpelier also commented that the house appeared to be made of “granite.” This was a stucco coat put on the exterior of the mansion by Thornton to unify the external appearance.
Thornton also buried the early-19th-century drive that Madison installed, and laid a fresh quartz gravel road that curved in a large ellipse from Willow Gate to the front steps of the mansion.
Elevation drawing of circa 1848 mansion showing stucco pattern and Portico configuration based on archaeological excavations.
Detail shot of profile revealed during archaeological excavations below the front Portico. Excavations revealed the grade below the Portico was lowered in the late 1840s when the stucco was applied to the house. Less than a year later (1849) the grade was slightly raised due to Portico columns being undercut!