Montpelier, A Charlottesville Historic Home
Charlottesville real estate has always attracted buyers from out of state, in part because of Central Virginia’s historical allure and famous historical homes. Montpelier, one of the well-known Central Virginia landmarks, was the lifelong home of President James Madison, who many consider to be the father of the U.S. Constitution.
Montpelier was first settled by Ambrose Madison, James Madison’s grandfather, in the 1720s. The glorious estate’s famed history includes slaves who worked and lived on the plantation, Civil War soldiers who encamped on the property, and a freedman’s family who lived and farmed here after Emancipation.
One of several sites that should be added to a regional tour of Charlottesville historic homes, the Montpelier estate features the Madison mansion, historic buildings, exhibits, archaeological sites, gardens, forests, hands-on activities, a new Visitor Center, and a freedman’s cabin and farm.
James Madison, The Father of the U.S. Constitution
James Madison was born in 1751 in Orange County, Virginia, and was raised at his family home at Montpelier until he attended Princeton University, formerly the College of New Jersey. A student of law, history, and government, Madison helped frame the U.S. Constitution in 1776, was a member of the Continental Congress, and led the Virginia Assembly.
While a member of Congress, Madison helped draft the Bill of Rights and initiate the first revenue legislation. As a result of his leadership, the Republican, or Jeffersonian, Party emerged, with Madison serving as President Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State.
Madison was elected President in 1808 and subsequently prohibited trade with both Britain and France. In May 1810, Congress authorized trade with both countries, directing President Madison, if either would accept America’s view of neutral rights, to forbid trade with the other nation.
President Madison inherited Montpelier after his father’s death in 1801. He was responsible for adding a 30-foot extension to the home, as well as a Tuscan portico to the house. Madison also added single-story flat-roofed extensions to both ends of the house, and eventually transformed two rooms into one drawing room. Madison retired to Montpelier with his wife Dolley (our true First Lady) after his second term as president ended in 1817.
Montpelier Foundation and Historic Preservation
Today Montpelier and Madison’s 2,650-acre estate is a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Madison’s critical role in the creation of the United States of America nation is central to the mission of The Montpelier Foundation, which is to inspire continuing public engagement with American constitutional self-government by bringing to life the home and contributions of James and Dolley Madison.
In 2003 The Montpelier Foundation began the restoration of the Montpelier mansion to the 1820s home that James and Dolley Madison knew and loved. The architectural restoration was celebrated on Constitution Day, September 17, 2008.
Thanks to the efforts of the foundation, Madison’s lifelong home at Montpelier is today a window into his life and legacy and a place of education where visitors interested in Charlottesville historic homes can explore the ideas of the Father of the Constitution and fourth president of the United States.