Reconstructing the Wing Roofs

Research & Collections

Based on evidence found during the investigation, as well as sections of the original rafters found, which had been re-used in a bowling alley on the Montpelier estate, the wing roofs were reconstructed to look as they did during Madison’s time. The roof, which uses a form of framing called terras, allowed the wings to appear as if they had flat roof when in fact it is formed from a series of ridges and valleys. This type of roofing was originally developed by Madison’s friend Thomas Jefferson and can be found at Monticello as well as at Poplar Forest and at the Lawn at the University of Virginia.

Images of the Reconstructed Wing Roofs

A carpenter helps to install one of the joists for the north wing roof. The new joists were cut from large heart pine beams and sit on ca. 1812 Madison-era brickwork. Taller joists were installed to form the peak of the rooflets while shorter joists supported the valleys.

After the joists were installed, wooden boards were installed to form the roof’s subsurface.

The completed roof system. After a rubber membrane was installed over the wooden boards, a covering of stainless steel sheets was installed (similar, but longer lasting, to the iron sheeting that President Madison used). Finally, the reconstructed decking was installed and painted to match the deck’s original color.

Installing the Chinese Railing. The final piece to be installed on the wing decks were the Chinese Rails. These rails were based on designs found in period images and physical evidence.


Chinese Railing

The railings on the Montpelier wing roofs feature Chinese fretwork. This design, as defined by the Art & Architecture Thesaurus, is a type of openwork pattern originating in Chinese art and adapted to Chinoiserie in Europe in the eighteenth century.