Charlottesville: A Girl’s Guide to History

Monticello {Image via}

Monticello {Image via}

I was born and raised in Charlottesville, Virginia which meant that I spent most of my school years taking field trips to – insert historic site here. It was pretty par for the course. Learn about Thomas Jefferson; visit Monticello. Learn about James Monroe; visit Ash Lawn-Highland. Learn about James Madison; visit Montpelier. It was interesting enough, but what middle schooler wants to spend their Wednesday afternoon walking through dusty old rooms in single file? Not this one.

Years later, after a five-year stint in Tennessee, I returned to my hometown with a new appreciation for the history and culture it encompasses. Charlottesville is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is a quaint little college town that somehow manages to nurture a more liberal culture, thanks to the University of Virginia – while serving up Southern hospitality by the mason jar, thanks to our roots.

Growing up, I didn’t realize what living here allowed me to experience. From my dad’s house, I could see Monticello while riding my bike. My mom used to manage the gift shop of Ash-Lawn, and I spent summers roaming the grounds freely, no idea what it really meant to walk the same paths as a Founding Father of our nation. If history is your thing, Charlottesville is a must-visit!

If you only have time for one historical site, make it Monticello. Home of Thomas Jefferson, this landmark is worth the visit for the scenic views alone. The home itself was built and rebuilt for more than 40 years and is made up of 43 rooms, including the famed Dome Room. The gardens are masterpieces, and visitors can view Jefferson’s grave to pay their respects. It’s recommended to allow at least two hours to explore the home and grounds, but I personally would allow a full afternoon to truly experience Monticello and all it has to offer.

Ash Lawn-Highland, located just a few miles from Monticello, keeps up the Monroe family’s tradition of welcoming friends and neighbors from all walks of life. The property often hosts weddings and parties, as well as a number of other events throughout the year. The Monroe House is open for tours, and a variety of workshops like candle making and paper quilling are offered. My favorite part? You can feed peacocks!

Ash-Lawn Highland [Image via}

Ash-Lawn Highland {Image via}

In my opinion, Montpelier is one of the most important sites in our nation’s history. Home of James and Dolly Madison, it was here that Madison first dreamt up the basis for the United States Constitution. His thoughts and research lead to the Virginia Plan, which later served as its framework. That is certainly cool to ponder as you drive up to the home! Visitors can tour the Monroe mansion, gardens and historical buildings throughout the property and can also go for a leisurely stroll through the woods, just as Madison often did.

Montpelier {Image via}

Montpelier {Image via}

Michie Tavern, less than a mile from Monticello, was founded in 1784 and served as a social gathering point, offering food, drink and board. Visitors feel as though they’ve stepped back in time, as servers and Tavern staff are dress in period costumes and offer stories and knowledge from the travelers who once visited. Hint: There are also a few ghost stories, if you can find the right person to tell them to you!

Michie Tavern {Image via}

Michie Tavern {Image via}

For the literature lover, a visit to the area isn’t complete without a stop at the University of Virginia, established by Thomas Jefferson. In addition to the historical significance thanks to its founder, Edgar Allan Poe studied at the university in 1826. A dorm room has been restored to reflect the time period and includes an audio recording on his life.

These are just a few of the numerous historical sites located in Charlottesville and its surrounding areas. Whether you hit one or all, you’re sure to learn something and will probably come away with a souvenir or two while you’re at it – those presidential homes now include excellent gift shops!

Have you visited any of these historical locations? What is your favorite stop around Charlottesville?


Ash Lawn-HighlandCharlottesvilleEdgar Allan PoeHistoryJames MadisonLandmarksMichie TavernMonticelloMontpelierThomas JeffersonUniversity of VirginiaVirginiaVisit
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1 Comment

  • Reply July 25, 2013


    I absolutely LOVE this article! Thank you for writing about these historical locations. I’m currently reading the book “Founding Brothers”, by Joseph J. Ellis, and would love to see the homes spoken of in the book for myself.