Mansion Restoration

Research & Collections

After assuming stewardship of Montpelier, The Montpelier Foundation determined that the question of whether Montpelier could be restored should be resolved. Although many elements of the Madison-era home were apparent, the full construction history of the house was uncertain, as was the feasibility of accurately and fully recovering the house as created and loved by James and Dolley Madison. With the help of a generous grant from the estate of Paul Mellon, in 2001 The Montpelier Foundation embarked on a comprehensive architectural study of the Montpelier home. A research team went to work, opening some three hundred "study units" into the house—cutting holes in walls, lifting floorboards, and chiseling through stucco and plaster. Their findings were thoroughly documented, and samples of paints, wallpapers, wood, and nails carefully cataloged. Researchers also combed through old records, some previously undiscovered, such as an 1808 architectural drawing, visitors descriptions, and nineteenth century photographs. Especially important was the itemized invoice from the builder of the 1810 expansion. The investigation lasted eighteen months, intensively examining every aspect of the home.

The Montpelier Foundation reviewed the findings with the assistance of a Restoration Advisory Committee composed of volunteer experts and concluded that the Madison home had survived largely intact and that it was possible to accurately restore the mansion to its nineteenth-century form. After reviewing the study findings, The Montpelier Foundation concluded that restoring the home was the right thing to do: restoring Montpelier would enable the life and ideas of James Madison to be preserved and presented to the public in a unique way in the very space home to the one the Madisons created during James' presidency, when it reflected both his entire career and his full architectural vision for his home. The Restoration Advisory Committee concurred with this decision, as did preservation agencies at the state and federal levels. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the National Park Service, and the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation were all consulted, and all endorsed restoring the home. The Montpelier Foundation also consulted with the members of the family of William duPont and received their support and encouragement. The estate of Paul Mellon again stepped in to make the dream a reality, this time pledging a grant of $20 million—$18 million of which would be used for restoration. In October 2003, the Foundation officially announced that the Montpelier mansion would be restored to the home of the Madisons.

Restoration of the physical structure of Madison's home was deemed officially complete on Constitution Day, September 17, 2008. However, the restoration process never really ends. Historians and curators continue to research and analyze data that gives insight into room use, furnishings, and the Madisons’ lifestyle. This is evident as we look at Montpelier as it is today.


Building a President's House: The Construction of James Madison's Montpelier

Conover Hunt, Bryan Clark Green and Ann L. Miller coauthored Building a President's House (2007) published by The Montpelier Foundation. This text discusses the various architectural campaigns to Montpelier during Madison ownership, the changes the duPont family made to the mansion, and the subsequent efforts of The Montpelier Foundation to restore the mansion to that of the Madisons' retirement.