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  house and grounds are in the center of a circular 'curtilage', a 61-acre enclosed landscape that forms the largest section of the domestic part of the plantation. It contained orchards, vegetable gardens, slave quarters, and farm-related buildings. Outside the curtilage were fields of the main cash crops, tobacco and wheat.

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).

Jefferson also created two artificial mounds on opposite sides of the house and planted trees on these hillocks to further envelope the house. The techniques Jefferson used in siting and manipulating the earth around the house were way ahead of his time!
Jefferson was also an ardent plant lover and a pioneer plant distributor. He collected exotic trees and shrubs and investigated new crops to grow in the United States. He sent rice to South Carolina and Georgia from his tour in Italy and, in time, it became a flourishing agricultural crop.

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.



  1. I am also a Thomas Jefferson fanatic!I took my children to Monticello about 20 years ago. While we were there a workman was cutting up a tree that had come down in a recent storm. It was a tree that my Tom had planted. My son asked for a piece of the tree for me. He was given a stump from one of the branches!

    1. OMG! that is such a great story! To me, that tree piece is a true family heirloom.

  2. Like most people, I knew of Monticello - but I'd never heard of Poplar Grove before. Thanks for sharing this fascinating home and garden!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Seabluelee. Poplar Grove fascinates me and I am glad you feel the same.

  3. Great article I think he was a great man and visionary. I have the new book "A Rich Spot of Earth" Thomas Jefferson's Revolutionary Garden at Monticello. I love the TJ quote "No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden."

    1. Laurin, I agree, definitely a visionary!

      31 years ago on my honeymoon, we went to see Monticello, that was my dream trip. We camped nearby and the red dirt of Charlottesville stained everything we owned! So that is my memories of the rich earth there...:-)


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