Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson's Secret Retreat

While staying at Otter Creek on the Blue Ridge, I took a side trip by car to Lynchburg, VA, to visit a place called Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson's well-kept secret. 

As you turn in the entrance road, you are transported back in time to the late 1700s, early 1800s. You can imagine Thomas Jefferson riding his horse down this lane.
Thomas Jefferson and his wife, Martha, inherited the plantation known as Poplar Forest from her father in 1773. 
The plantation provided Jefferson with significant income and provided a perfect setting where he could retreat to pursue his passion for reading, writing letters, studying, and gardening after retiring from public life.
He and his family eluded British capture by leaving Monticello and staying here for two months in 1781. They probably stayed at the overseer's house at that time.
In 1806, Jefferson traveled from Washington to supervise the laying of the foundation for the octagonal house we see today.
When his presidency ended in 1809, Jefferson visited the retreat 3 to 4 times per year, staying from 2 weeks to 2 months. He made his last visit in 1823 when he settled his grandson, Francis Eppes, on the property. Ill health prevented further visits.
In 1828, two years after Jefferson's death at age 83, Eppes sold Poplar Forest to a neighbor. THe property was privately owned until 1983 when a nonprofit corporation began the rescue of the landmark for future generations.
One of two "necessaries," or privies, also built in an octagonal design.

THe 16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio greatly influenced Jefferson's plan for his country villa at Poplar forest.
He became fascinated with octagons because of their symmetry and the light and airy environments they created.
Map of the grounds. In 1814, Jefferson added a 100-foot wing which included a kitchen, a smokehouse, one room likely used as the cook's room, a laundry and a storage room.
The property's name, which predates Jefferson's ownership, reflects the forest that once grew here. Several stately poplars in front of the home still welcome visitors.
The house is built of brick…both outer and inner walls. The columns are also made of brick and extend to the ground. The upper portion is covered with stucco.
Specially shaped bricks were made for the corners to create the octagonal shape. 
The brick structure survived a fire that burned all the parts made of wood, and it is still being restored according to historical accuracy. No photos were allowed during the inside tour. One half of the house, including Jefferson's bedroom is being restored with historically accurate wall coverings and woodwork, etc. The other half is being left unfinished as it allows you to see the construction details.
The basement that once held a wine cellar, now houses a museum.
The kitchen, relatively modern for its time, with 3 stew stoves for French cooking and a set kettle for instant hot water.
An innovative flat roof, called a terras roof, also served a recreational purpose. "About twilight of the evening, we sally out with the owls and bats and take our evening exercise on the terras."
These 19th century tenant houses are now used for administrative offices.

Archeological study has located the site of slave cabins, and an frame was constructed to depict the size and location of one.

I have been to Monticello, but I had never before realized this place existed, so it was a very interesting find.

Otter Creek, Blue Ridge Parkway, VA

After leaving Sherando Lake I drove south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to my next campground, Otter Creek. I stopped at a couple of overlooks to take a short hiking trail.
Lava flow...
Another flaming branch...
I thought this was interesting. I can't imagine sending slaves up here in mid-winter just to keep them busy.
Remnants of a "hog-wall."
More of the lava rock.

View from the trail.
The CCC did some amazing work in their time.
The second stop and trail led to a section of an old logging railroad.
Narrow-gauge railway used for logging.
Another trail leads above the tracks to a small waterfall. Not much water falling right now.
But enough for Thistle to get a drink.

View from another stop.

Raptor flying by…perhaps on migration.
Otter Creek Campground. I was the only camper in the RV loop. There were 3 tenters in the other loop.
There are trails along the creek, around a small lake, and to an old canal lock along the James River.
Otter Creek
The trail goes under the Parkway.
The James River
The old canal lock.

Otter Lake
Loop Trail
Some flooded areas along the trail.
Colorful fungi.
A solitary pair of Canada Geese. Looks like they missed their flight south with the flock.
Gray Catbird
Water over the dam...
Crossing Otter Creek
Another view of the lake and dam.
Next…a day trip to a special place.