Presidential Detective Story: 2008-Today

Research & Collections

Rediscovering James and Dolley Madison

On September 17, 2008, Montpelier marked the completion of a five-year architectural restoration of President Madison’s lifelong home. Soon after, we launched the second phase of the home’s restoration—the Presidential Detective Story, a multi-year project to rediscover the furnishings of James and Dolley Madison and restore the interior décor of their home. Montpelier’s curatorial team is conducting extensive research to relocate, understand, and provide context for the Madisons' lives at Montpelier.

Objects owned by James and Dolley Madison have been dispersed widely over the past 150 years. Fortunately, various Madison-associated items have been saved and cherished, and are now privately owned, or are in other museum and historical collections. From carpet tacks to wallpaper fragments, undated receipts, and requests for goods abroad, curators and historians are carefully tracking and analyzing all available physical and historical data to paint a more complete picture of the Madisons' life at Montpelier, ensuring that all visitors have an opportunity to better understand the Father of the Constitution and the nation’s defining First Lady.

Currently on display on the second floor of the mansion, a special exhibit, The Presidential Detective Story, highlights the techniques used by Montpelier's research teams to determine the authenticity and significance of objects that may have been owned by the Madisons. The exhibit features architectural fragments such as an iron and brass rim lock, archaeological artifacts such as fragments from a chamber pot, and curatorial objects such as a French chair with purported Madison ownership.



Seal from a wine bottle discovered at Montpelier.