Dolley's Famed Hospitality Shines
During the Madisons’ years in Washington, Dolley learned to navigate the complex social relationships required by her positions as official hostess and first lady. Her dynamic approach to entertaining, which often featured an abundant meal served to a full dining room, eventually set a tone for Washington society. Dolley continued to entertain extensively at Montpelier during the Madisons’ retirement years. She wrote that she was “less worried here with a hundred visitors than with 25 in W[ashington].”
The general configuration of the Dining Room dates from 1797 to 1800, when James and Dolley Madison returned to Montpelier and added a Philadelphia-style townhouse to the north end of the original house. Restoration revealed that the room was heavily reworked during the 1809 to 1812 renovations of Montpelier, when architectural elements were installed and the window to the right of the fireplace was converted into a door to the new north wing. Builders Dinsmore and Neilson’s notes show that their work on the Dining Room included adding corner beads to the chimney breast, enlarging the windows, and installing a surbase. The chimneypiece they added to the Dining Room during this campaign was one of the most expensive in the house, suggesting the prominence and formality of the space.
Before 1809, the Dining Room likely also served as a parlor. The room now called Mr. Madison’s Room, which opens from the Dining Room, was likely used as a bedchamber or a private space. Many original elements survive from the 1809 to 1812 construction phase of this room, including the window sashes on the west wall, trim, plinth blocks, the east and north doors and trim, as well as the top of the chimney piece, which was returned by an Orange County resident living a few miles from Montpelier.
Warmth, Wine, and Scintillating Conversation
Prints on the Dining Room walls served to spark conversation.