6 Activities in Visiting Charlottesville Virginia and Thomas Jefferson

Do you feel that traveling enhances your continuous learning and curiosity? Perhaps visiting Charlottesville Virginia and Thomas Jefferson will help you in this answer. Let me elaborate.


I am in at the end of my third career now, so it has been a few years since my college days. But I spent 8+ years as an undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. And traveling has always been a favorite thing to do for myself and my family. And we have returned to Charlottesville on several occasions. It is a very special place to visit and learn many interesting things.


Yes, it has changed significantly since my college days. And that has made it even better as a travel location. Let me tell you the places and things that make Charlottesville and Thomas Jefferson so special.



Named in honor of Princess Charlotte, the wife of George III, Charlottesville was settled in the 18th century on a hill overlooking the Rivanna River. Today the city proper has a population of more than 42,000 with a metropolitan population nearing 200,000.


Charlottesville offers a unique combination of natural beauty, rich historical and cultural attractions, close proximity to both a national park and the nation’s capital, and a beautiful university.


University grounds
Don’t miss the University grounds.

The legacy of Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson’s legacy—while rightfully a point of pride—is invoked so frequently at the University, and in such a range of contexts, that the term “Jeffersonian” has lost a clear meaning. Often guides use the word “Jeffersonian” as a synonym for “traditional.” Jefferson, of course, was no traditionalist.


At other times, University professors and officials cite “Jeffersonian ideals” to support trendy higher-education initiatives in news releases. Many such initiatives—interdisciplinary seminars held in pavilions, efforts to increase undergraduate students’ exposure to study and international internships—are worthwhile. But it is not as if other schools, those unlucky enough to be founded by someone other than America’s third president, are not thinking about interdisciplinary programs and global studies.


Rather, Jefferson is enmeshed in the way University people talk about things at the University. People call on Jefferson to argue for the old, the traditional, and also the new and cutting-edge.


Images of his statue (located on the Rotunda’s north side) appear prominently on numerous University websites. Frozen in bronze, parchment in hand, Jefferson embodies the part we want him to play: the semi-divine figure who conjured up democracy, America and the University in a few pen strokes.


Jefferson the man was more complex. Sandy-haired and gangly, fearful of public speaking, Jefferson was, like many gifted people, consistently inconsistent. Pick a quote from his voluminous correspondence. What he says in one letter he will contradict in another.


Given his complexity as a thinker and the range of causes to which the term “Jeffersonian” is applied, does appeal to Jefferson’s legacy. It often sounds nice but does not mean much. But those at The University try, in their own way, to follow in his footsteps—to be inspired by the best of his thoughts.



University grounds

Early morning is the best time to appreciate Jefferson’s architectural genius. Walking through the university campus at this hour, you’ll find it nearly deserted. You can sit on the main lawn alone and marvel at the perfect symmetry of the Rotunda, a United Nations World Heritage site. The Rotunda sits at the north end of ‘the lawn’, surrounded by other pavilions, and the morning light makes the neo-Classical whites shine like a polished Army shoe.


Jefferson’s most important legacy, however, lies in the heart of the University. One for which the architecture is merely the outer trappings to underlying ideals: The Rotunda and adjoining Pavilions that form The Lawn at the University of Virginia founded what is today one of the top universities in the nation. The University fulfills Jefferson’s vision of creating a “bulwark of the human mind in this hemisphere.”


Free one-hour tours of the Rotunda are available five times a day (434-924-3239; www.uvaguides.org. ours: Admission tours are available through the Office of Admission and offered year-round, while classes are in session.



Visiting Charlottesville Virginia and Thomas Jefferson … Monticello

Monticello is hands down the most popular historical site in a region of many such sites. Certainly so for our family, as we have visited more than a half dozen times. Each time we learned many new facts.


Of course Monticello was the primary plantation of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, who, after inheriting quite a large amount of land from his father, started building Monticello when he was 26 years old. Located just outside CharlottesvilleVirginia the plantation was originally 5,000 acres, used for extensive cultivation of tobacco and mixed crops, with labor by slaves. Like other planters, Jefferson shifted from tobacco cultivation to a wheat plantation to respond to changing markets.


The house, which Jefferson designed, was based on the neoclassical principles described in the books of the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. He reworked it through much of his presidency to include design elements popular in late 18th-century Europe. It contains many of his own design solutions, which makes it the most fascinating location. The house is situated on the summit of an 850-foot (260 m)-high peak in the Southwest south of the Rivanna Gap.


At Jefferson’s direction, he was buried on the grounds; an area now designated as the Monticello Cemetery, which is owned by the Monticello Association, a lineage society of his descendants through Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson.


 The biggest change at Monticello over the last decade or so has been the creation of the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center and Smith Education Center. They serve as the 21st-century gateway to Jefferson’s timeless Monticello, with multiple components that transform the visitor experience by preparing guests for their trips to the historic mountaintop. They accomplish this through dynamic content presenting fresh perspectives on Monticello and the enduring significance of Jefferson’s life and ideas. Lots of stimuli for learning and discovery.


It has four innovative exhibitions to visit:


Liberty ‘illustrates is the development and ongoing influence of Jefferson’s core ideas about liberty on a wall of 21 flat-panel LCD screens, including seven interactive touch screens.


Monticello as Experiment: ‘To Try All Things’ explores Jefferson’s use of Monticello as a laboratory for his belief that “useful knowledge” could make life more efficient and convenient.


Architecture’ showcases the architectural origins, construction and four-decade evolution of the Monticello house, widely regarded as one of the icons of American architecture.


The Words of Thomas Jefferson brings Jefferson’s thoughts to light through projection in an innovative display




James and Dolley regularly welcomed guests to Montpelier and the centerpiece of the Montpelier experience is its mansion. The guided first floor tour takes visitors through the Drawing Room, filled with art and conversation pieces and the dining room where they hosted dinner parties for distinguished guests, friends and family. Also included is the Presidential Library, which is filled with books and maps that reveal the brilliant mind of James Madison.


Montpelier offers 2,650 acres of rolling hills, spacious horse pastures, and spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Don’t miss the opportunity to spend some time enjoying the gardens and grounds. Just behind the Mount Pleasant site lies the Madison Family Cemetery—the final resting place of James and Dolley Madison.

Central Virginia wineries

No wonder Thomas Jefferson started making wine at his Monticello home in the 1770s. The eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge and the rolling countryside to the east offer excellent topography, fertile granite-based clay soil, and a growing season of better than 200 days.


Enjoy tours and tastings at more than 20 vineyards along the Monticello Wine Trail, and hops-lovers taste still another side of the area’s award-winning small-batch breweries that make up the Brew Ridge Trail.


Virginia has 11 wine trails to explore and 136 wineries, many focusing on cabernet francs, which seem to adapt best to the local climate.  For more information on Virginia vineyards, see www.virginiawines.org.



Ash Lawn-Highland

Ash Lawn-Highland offers house tours year-round. In the restored house, the rich collection of period and Monroe-family furnishings perfectly exemplifies James and Elizabeth Monroe’s international style, while also demonstrating their strong American connections.


The house tour emphasizes Monroe’s many and varied contributions to our nation’s early history. Known for his two-term presidency, James Monroe held many political offices, including roles in the Continental Congress and the U.S. Senate, and multiple terms as Governor of Virginia. The story of James Monroe’s life features the American Revolution, southern and western expansion, international diplomacy, and of course his eight years as President of the United States.


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Do you like to blog? If you are looking for additional resources on blogging, one of my favorite experts is Amy Lynn Andrews. You’ll find lots of good stories and examples to learn from her blog.


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Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+Twitter, and LinkedIn.  


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More reading on travel recommendations from Digital Sparks Marketing’s Library:
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12 Amazing Finger Lakes Resorts for Getaway Celebrations
Mike Schoultz is a digital marketing and customer service expert. With 48 years of business experience, he consults on and writes about topics to help improve the performance of small business. Find him on G+FacebookTwitter, Digital Spark Marketing, and LinkedIn.



6 Activities in Visiting Charlottesville Virginia and Thomas Jefferson