Roaming Roanoke: Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest
For this edition of Roaming Roanoke, in honor of Independence Day, we visited Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest!
Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence! It was adopted on July 4th, 1776. Jefferson, the nation’s third president, has an extensive history in Virginia where he lived, worked, and governed for much of his life. While Monticello was his primary home, his “vacation home” is here in our region – the Poplar Forest! Historians say Jefferson used Poplar Forest as his personal retreat after he retired at age 65. The website for Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest says,
“Poplar Forest was an important part of Jefferson’s life after age 65: a private retreat, situated far from the public scrutiny, where he could indulge in his favorite pastimes of reading, studying and thinking. This was a creative time in his life. He wrote to friends and colleagues, oversaw his farms, exchanged plants and seeds with fellow gardeners, read ceaselessly and designed his most personal landscape and architectural creation at Poplar Forest—a place where he came to find rest and leisure, rekindle his creativity, and to enjoy private family time. Jefferson loved having his grandchildren accompany him to Poplar Forest where they would spend quality time together.” (info from https://www.poplarforest.org/learn/thomas-jeffersons-life-and-times/thomas-jefferson/)
Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest is in Forest, VA on Bateman Bridge Road. It was very easy to find nestled between neighborhoods and businesses. While the area around it is modern, the Poplar Forest retreat house and property is like a step back in time. The house is designed to resemble how it was more than 200 years ago when Jefferson and his grandchildren frequently visited. There are tour guides available for tours at certain hours of the day, but we did not do a tour simply because I was not sure how my young children would be quiet and still. Instead, we used the Thomas Jefferson Poplar forest app that also has audio recordings to listen to as you tour the house on your own. Some of Jefferson’s original writings, architecture designs and maps are also available for viewing. Some of his original dinnerware china is on the table settings. The house kitchen is also available for viewing with an audio lesson on how it was “modern” for Jefferson’s time.
The historical site has a room by the visitor’s center that shows a 13 minute documentary program about Jefferson’s Poplar Forest house and property, the history of it, his time there in retirement, and a special segment on the enslaved people who played vital roles building the house, creating its intricate designs, and maintaining the farmland. Many artifacts that archaeologists have discovered on the property are also displayed.
The former slave home is also on the property with educational readings explaining about the enslaved people’s lives on Poplar Forest and each individual person and their role on the property and in Jefferson’s life. The basement area of the house also detailed story boards about the enslaved individuals and their lives.
Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest made a nice day trip for our family. We learned a lot about Thomas Jefferson, his role in United States history, and his personal life. We also learned a lot about the people who built the home and maintained the land for Jefferson’s profit. The history was explained in a manner easy enough for my young children to understand and learn. The house and surrounding property is not very large and easy to walk for all ages. My two year old did just fine walking on her own. The property is also pet-friendly. You can walk dogs on the property as long as they are on a leash. Dogs are not allowed in the house but there is a kennel on the property for no cost. We took our dog with us and put him in the kennel while we toured the inside of the house.
You must purchase a ticket to see Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. Admission is $18 for adults, $16 for senior citizens and military, $10 for ages 10-18 and college students, $6 for ages 6-11, and free for 5 and under. You can check the website for other information before visiting (https://www.poplarforest.org).
If you want a history lesson or want to see a home where Thomas Jefferson once owned and lived, Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest is a great place for a family field trip to learn about one of our country’s founding fathers.
If you have a place or event for Roaming Roanoke to visit, please let me know!
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