Sunday, October 13, 2013

Monticello's Transformation

A 3D animation on the demolition of Monticello I.
     It’s 1796. Thirty-one years after Jefferson ordered the mountain be leveled to build his dream, Monticello, and his mind is still consumed with expansion. During his presidency he expanded the nation, and then retired to his quiet villa in rural Virginia. Now he’s changing that quiet villa into a massive mansion, more than doubling its size. It was during this year, 1796, that he began demolishing his upstairs and turning his new design into reality.

A 3D animation of the building of
Jefferson's dome.
It is important to remember that Monticello as a building was quite different from its present-day configuration. With that in mind, and the current Monticello, one interesting question arises. What’s with all the French elements that weren't there before he rebuilt? At one point, Patrick Henry, jokingly suggested that Jefferson’s time overseas had “Frenchified him,” but was referring mostly to his food preferences. But was Henry onto something? Let’s look at the dome Jefferson had constructed during his renovation. He placed the dome over the already-existing Parlor, making Monticello the first home in the United States to have that feature. His inspiration? The Ha’tel de Salm. While on a visit he noticed the one-story building, at least from the outside, appeared to be a gigantic three-story structure. To achieve this at his own home, Jefferson added new windows in the second-story bedrooms that were mounted almost level with the floor. 

Alcove beds and indoor privies also provide us
with examples of the French’s influence.

Staircases from the top floor to the basement
in Jefferson's Monticello. 

Monticello is also home to some small staircases. Jefferson, during his renovation, added two stairways that measured twenty-four inches wide, provided him with access to his upper bedrooms, but as they descend to the basement where the kitchen was housed, they begin to widen to thirty inches which provided more space for less congestion during the busy times of the house. Jefferson even wrote that the smaller staircases would provide a “space that would make a good room in every story.”

Finally, forty years after he first leveled that mountaintop, Monticello was complete. The final proved to help Jefferson leave a lasting impression upon the nation he helped found. He had completed a ground-breaking project that was unlike anything in America at that time. One of the visitors of Monticello, Marquis de Chastellux, describes it best when he wrote, “My object in giving these details is not to describe the house, but to prove that it resembles none of the others seen in this country; so that it may be said that Mr. Jefferson is the first American who has consulted the Fine Arts to know how he should shelter himself from the weather.”

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