When visitors are interested in experiencing Charlottesville history, the city and surrounding area has an embarrassment of riches. It’s less a question of how, and more a question of which aspects of Shenandoah Valley history to begin with.
One way of experiencing Shenandoah Valley history would be to focus on the people. Such historic giants as presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe all hailed from Charlottesville. Less nationally famous but equally important figures include Patrick Henry and George Mason.
Read on to learn how you can make Charlottesville history come alive by following the trails of these outstanding people.
Did you know that Thomas Jefferson wrote our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, in Charlottesville? You simply cannot experience Shenandoah Valley history without visiting Jefferson’s Monticello.
Monticello was the center of Jefferson’s world. He designed it, worked on it throughout his life, and reveals as much about the man as any of his writings. Monticello encapsulated the interests, talents, ideals, ambitions, and realities of its creative and complex owner.
It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1987 Monticello and the nearby University of Virginia, also designed by Jefferson, were together designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has owned and operated President James Madison’s estate since 1984, a multiyear major restoration preserved interior and exterior details. Visitors to the estate can follow the multifaceted restoration in the “Restoration Room.”
One of the estate’s most important and enduring legacies for Shenandoah Valley history has been through archeological investigation: the estate has revealed new information about African-American life at the plantation.
Ash Lawn-Highland is the home of James Monroe, fifth President of the United States, which is now owned and operated by The College of William and Mary, Monroe’s alma mater.
Ash Lawn-Highland is both a historic site and an events venue, continuing Monroe’s tradition of welcoming friends, neighbors, dignitaries, and visitors from around the globe. The house tour offers a compelling glimpse into a period of growth in U.S. history, in a setting full of abundant charm.
The name Patrick Henry may or may not ring a bell, but almost everyone would be familiar with the phrase “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Scotchtown is where Patrick Henry penned that famous speech.
He purchased the house in 1771 and lived there with his wife, Sarah Shelton Henry, and their six children. It was also his residence when he was elected Governor of Virginia in 1776. His wife, who suffered from mental illness, died at the site in 1775.
George Mason, along with James Madison, is considered the Father of the United States Bill of Rights. In short, he is another Founding Father of the United States who adds to the richness of Shenandoah Valley history.
George Mason University, named for the man, is the largest public research university in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In recent years, George Mason faculty members have twice won the Nobel Prize in Economics. A bronze statue of Mason is located at the university.
Gunston Hall was Mason’s home, now owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and open to the public. The home and grounds were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
If you’d like to experience the full presidential impact on Shenandoah Valley history, consider buying a President Passport, which includes admission to Monticello, Montpelier, Ash Lawn-Highland, and the nearby Mount Vernon, home of George Washington.
To further immerse yourself in Shenandoah Valley history, we invite you to stay at Prospect Hill.
Photo Credit: Emily Carlin /