National Geographic : 1929 Apr
JEFFERSON'S LITTLE MOUNTAIN Romance Enfolds Monticello, the Restored Home of the Author of the Declaration of Independence BY PAUL WILSTACH AUTHOR OF "JEFFERSON AND MONTICELLO," "POTOMAC LANDINGS," AND "MOUNT VERNON," AND OF "HOLIDAYS AMONG THE HILL TOWNS OF UMBRIA AND TUSCANY," IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE SALL my wishes end where I hope my Says will end, at Monticello," wrote Thomas Jefferson to a friend. This great practical politician was at heart a bit of a sentimentalist. He had two great romances in his life: One was his one and only wife, the beautiful young Martha Wayles Skelton; the other was his "Little Mountain," the estate and the noble house he called Monticello. Driving across Tidewater Virginia to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and approaching the little city of Charlottes ville, the traveler's attention is at once ar rested by two related historic points. At the right a gatepost sign signals the en trance to Shadwell, where Jefferson was born in 1743; and, standing just here at Shadwell's gate, looking across a sweeping gap, through which the Rivanna races down from the mountains to join the James, one picks out an angle of a high white portico in the green forests on the nearer summit of a mountain group. It was there that the great author of the Declaration of Independence had the ful fillment of the best "wishes" of his long life, and his days did "end" there, for it is Monticello. The Little Mountain crept into the con sciousness of young Jefferson when he was a mere lad at Shadwell. It belonged to his father. HIS BY THE CONQUEST OF YOUTHFUL IMAGINATION While the Little Mountain was still his father's, and so only "ours" and not yet "mine," he nevertheless made it his own by the imaginative conquest of boyhood's playtime and dreams. During the lad's impressionistic years it held for him the chief mysteries of life. He found it peo pled with the elves and ogres which in habit every child's own world. Actually it was alive with the wild life which en gages every normal boy's curiosity. It was his constant playground, the gymna sium of his knitting muscles, and at its crest the far-flung panorama of a beauty which was to him unequaled and unim agined anywhere else in the world gave him his boyhood's greatest thrill. He was 14 years old when his father's death brought him a step nearer to the ownership and possession of his Little Mountain. During the next seven years in college and studying law at Williamsburg, the maturity of any dreams waited upon his coming of age, in 1764. Thereafter his notebook began to bristle with the preparations going forward on his mountain top. A cellar was begun in the winter of 1767-8. A well was dug, and he wrote that "they dug and drew out 8 cubical yds. in a day." On Christ mas Eve "the sawyers left off work," and they had "sawed 2,500 pales, 220 rails, 650 f. of inch chestnut plank & 250 of 2'4 -inch do." So were cut and left to season the planks which were to go into his house. THE SMALL HOUSE BECOMES HONEYMOON COTTAGE The following July the brick-making had begun, and by that time he had en joyed the thrill of seeing "Mr. Moore and his men" begin the leveling of the summit of the plateau of 120,000 square feet, measuring 600 by 200 feet, on which the first building rose within a twelvemonth. That building was a small, one-story brick house, which we see there to-day, southeast of the great mansion, which, however, was not completed until some 30 years later. Shadwell burned down in I770-young Jefferson was 27-and he thereupon moved up to the new little house on his mountain, and here kept bachelor's hall when not absent "practicing on the circuit," or "sitting" in the House of Bur gesses, or looking for a mate and mistress for his home.