Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Highland provides a glimpse into the life of the fifth U.S. President

Going a bit off the beaten path today from the District and Northern Va., I travel downstate to Charlottesville and visit Highland, the home of the 5th U.S. President, James Monroe. 

James Monroe home in Charlottesville
This is what visitors see from the home's front. This is not the original - it is an addition added to the original house decades later.
Nestled in the mountains and valleys in central Virginia, this made a great day trip from Northern Virginia. Originally called "Highland," the home was sold in 1826 and renamed to "Ash Lawn" in the 1840s by a later owner. After being opened as a museum, for a time it was called "Ash-Lawn Highland" but recently changed to be simply "Highland" to reflect Monroe's time there.

Monroe spent much of his life in his native Virginia and he and his family settled down in 1793 in Charlottesville before he was elected to the U.S. presidency. He did so at the urging of friend and mentor Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson is said to have wanted to form "a society to our taste" in the rural Virginia farmland. The Monroes lived on the plantation from 1793 to 1826, neighboring Thomas Jefferson.

Ownership of Highland

Over the years Highland has changed hands numerous times and, as a result, had been altered over time. Today it is restored, perhaps as much as can be, however, is not the same exact structure as when the Monroe family owned the property. The current home is the way it looked when a man named John Massey lived on the property.

When we arrived at the house, it was clear the house had been changed at some point, but was not immediately evident to me when or how. I later learned a fire occurred at some point and the current Victorian-style house that comprises a large part of the dwelling was built over the foundation of the original section of the Monroe house that had been destroyed in fire. This addition was built in 1880.
Side view of Ash-Lawn Highland showing both the original and addition to the home
Side view of Ash-Lawn Highland showing both the original and addition to the home

Currently, the property is owned by the College of William & Mary and is open to visitors to tour and enjoy. Highland gives a glimpse of early American life for the prominent, along with a historical account of the long public servant career of Monroe and how his family lived.

Visit to Highland

Tours run frequently throughout the day and visitors can view the interior of the first floor of the original home through a guided tour. The first two rooms  contain exhibits that display many possessions of the Monroes and period pieces from this era. Visitors are welcomed to walk through and self-tour these rooms prior to the tour.

While the exterior of what remains of the original "Highland" is not what you'd describe as appearing "affluent" when considering the architecture of other historical homes of wealth from this era, such as Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and George Washington's Mount Vernon, the inside of the Monroe home tells another story. The affluence of the Monroe family is evident in the rooms shown on the tour. (Edit: As an aside, a 2017 tour of the James Madison museum in Fredericksburg noted the current structure is now not believed to be Madison and his wife's original home but a guest house. I haven't yet been able to find further information. If this is the case, it would explain why the home isn't as "magnificent as the homes of other Founding Fathers).

James Monroe was a Virginian, but spent many years in France, along with some time in Spain and England during his extensive public career. His love and influence of European d├ęcor is shown throughout the house. Visitors are not allowed to take photos inside, but you can learn more about the interior rooms on the Highland website.

There are other buildings located nearby to explore and visitors are welcomed to take photos of the downstairs rooms, including the kitchen. 

Ash-Lawn Highland in Charlottesville, Virginia
One of the guest rooms located in one of the outer buildings at Highland
Ash-Lawn Highland kitchen
Section of the kitchen at Highland

Hours and admission information

Highland has variable hours, depending upon season. The property is open during April - October from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. From November - March, the hours shorten and Ash Lawn-Highland is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Additionally, the property is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.  

Admission in 2016 is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors 60 and older, children 6 -11 are $8. Additionally, there are group discounts, military discounts and local residents can receive low-cost prices for entry.
Charlottesville, VA Ash-Lawn Highland
A tree from Monroe's day

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