Friday, December 31, 2010

Poplar Forest

Since Aaron and I failed at visiting Poplar Forest in March of this year, we decided that it would make for an excellent mid-summer "meet in the middle" location. Yes, Aaron was out of state this summer interning...again. One of these summers Aaron and I will both be in the same state. 2012, anyone?

Back to the mid-summer meet in the middle trip. The drive to Lynchburg from Raleigh is gorgeous. Lots of small towns and farms. To give you an idea of how rural and untraveled the road was, I saw, perhaps for the first time ever, a live hippity-hoppitying little brown bunny on the side of the road. I resisted the urge to stop in the middle of the road to watch it munch on wild grass and continued on. I think downtown Lynchburg is in the beginnings of a revival, because while some blocks were lively and busy, other sections were nothing but broken windows and empty buildings. Still, not a place I would want to be walking around alone at night.

I had done some food research before leaving to find some local places to eat while we were there. We ate at a roadside diner for breakfast for what I hoped would be down home and tasty food. Well, they got the down home right, but not so much on the tasty. Both of the plates Aaron and I ordered came different than how we ordered (different sides and omelet fillings). I am not that great of an egg maker, but I probably could have made a better, fluffier omelet than what I was given. Live and learn, I suppose.

Poplar Forest, for those who are oblivious to what it is as we were earlier this year, is the retreat home of Thomas Jefferson. It was designed entirely by him and is smaller, quieter, and more removed than Monticello. It sits near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains far from anything resembling a city, both then and now. The house itself is an octagon with an offshoot bottom floor that housed the kitchen, some slave quarters and such. Jefferson designed the landscaping as well, with a mix of formal garden and open lawn.
This place is amazing. The preservation society has worked methodically to regain as much of Jefferson's original land as they could, and the results vastly improve the entire experience when visiting. Standing on the back lawn, looking across to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, there is no sound of cars, no barking dogs, only the muffled voices of other visitors and guides. And suddenly it is crystal clear why Jefferson selected this place as a retreat. Here, he could get away from the visitors, the obligations, the busyness of Monticello and read, relax and reflect. I think he earned it, too!
I hope I am correct in speaking for both Aaron and I when I say we fell in love with this place. It lacks the grandeur of the other presidential homes we visited; it is not polished or put together. But it is personal, so simply handsome. Those who are restoring the property and home are meticulous in every detail. They read Jefferson's letters for any hints of the moldings and furniture; they have plant archaeologists combing the ground and soil for remnants of roots and seeds from when Jefferson began plantings. They hope to restore many of the poplar trees that gave this home and property its name. It is apparent how dearly these people care for this place, and I think it rubbed off on Aaron and me. Poplar Forest invites the same sentiments Jefferson must have striven for then in its visitors today - reflecting, dreaming, resting, and re-energizing.

Sadly, we eventually had to leave Poplar Forest. However, my pre-trip food searches paid off this go around with a fantastic coffee shop, The Muse Coffee Company. Aaron and I found a table upstairs and enjoyed bagel sandwiches and some great coffee with an afternoon of chatting and reading before we had to head our separate ways for the remainder of the summer.

For those interested in a presidential homes' tour like Aaron and I accomplished in two parts, I would highly encourage it. In fact, here is a suggested route!

Mount Vernon - George Washington's home outside of Washington, DC
Montpelier - James Madison's home near Orange, Virginia (southwest of DC)
Monticello - Thomas Jefferson's home near Charlottesville, Virginia (southwest of Orange)
Ash Lawn-Highland - James Monroe's home near Charlottesville, Virginia ( down the road from Monticello)
Poplar Forest - Thomas Jefferson's retreat home near Lynchburg, Virginia

View Larger Map

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. The only thing I would add is that Poplar Forest is worth visiting now and re-visiting later. They are clearly in for a long restoration process (much like Madison's Montpelier) and I suspect that you'll see quite a few things change if you visit multiple times over the next few decades.