Montpelier Revealed

Research & Collections

In November 2001, The Montpelier Foundation embarked on an extensive architectural survey of Montpelier, the plantation seat of James and Dolley Madison, located near Orange, Virginia. The purpose of this undertaking, funded through a generous grant from the estate of Paul Mellon, was twofold: to characterize the house that existed during the years of James Madison's retirement; and to assess whether the resulting information was sufficient to warrant Montpelier's full restoration. On completion, the investigation would necessarily serve another, equally important end - informing a separate, but related, feasibility study for restoring the house.

To conduct the architectural investigation, the Montpelier Foundation enlisted the assistance of architectural historians from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Fieldwork commenced in October 2001 and continued through May 2002. In the intervening months, 228 subsurface investigations were opened and documented with photographs, narratives, and, in some cases, measured drawings. Another 67 evacuations opened during previous studies were also incorporated into the study.

The goal of the project focused on determining the appearance of the house during a 27-year period between 1809 and 1836. Post-Madison alterations were considered only to the degree that was necessary to detach them from other, earlier periods of construction. The result of the investigation was an award-winning report that details the form of the Montpelier mansion during Madison's Presidency and retirement, as well as the most accurate description of the house's evolution yet to be assembled. Most importantly, the investigation also demonstrated that it was possible to accurately restore the mansion back to Madison's period and provided information on the Madison-era floor plan, construction materials and finishes.


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