Thomas Jefferson & his Hermitage, Poplar Forest
Monticello, courtesy of Monticello/Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.
I admit it, I am a Thomas Jefferson fanatic...
No well known historical person has combined so many diverse talents as good ole' T.J. ( well, maybe his friend, Ben did...) Besides his leadership and writing acumen, Jefferson was a genius when it came to building design and, yes, gardening.
1793 Plan for Washington, DC
Jefferson took immense interest in architecture, city planning and landscape architecture. During his years as president, he assisted in the design of Washington, D.C. and his ideas for the city's layout were combined with those of Pierre L'Enfant who was hired to draw up the plans.
Of course, we all know about his home on a hilltop, Monticello, in Virginia. But his finest achievement in design and site planning may be his plantation retreat, Poplar Forest, in Bedford county, Virginia.
In fact, the great historian, David McCollough wrote of Poplar Forest,
"This is an American masterpiece by a great American artist who happened to be The President of the United States.”
Poplar Forest was Jefferson's hermitage. He called it "the best dwelling house in the state, except that of Monticello; perhaps preferable to that, as more proportioned to the faculties of a private citizen." He went there to seek what he called, "the solitude of a hermit."
Jefferson used a single geometric form, the octagon, as the basis for the house. He took advantage of the sloping terrain and built the octagonal building into the slope so that lower entrance opens directly onto the ground level and the upper level opens out to the higher ground on the other side.
The curtilage fence appears to have been put up in the late winter and early spring of 1812-1813. Described as moveable, it was a Virginia ‘snake’ or ‘worm’ fence constructed of stacked rails. In fall 2002, archaeologists reconstructed one small part of the fence using black locust rails (see photo).
Poplar Forest was ahead of its time - as was its creator. He wrote, "It is the most valuable of my possessions." You can visit this restored 'villa retreat' - check out their website for a fascinating history of this wonderful place.