If you are heading to Charlottesville also be sure to check out Virginia’s Monticello and Visiting Montpelier: Madison Presidential Family Estate.
Tucked away in the beautiful hills of Charlottesville, VA is Ash Lawn-Highland- Home of James Monroe. It’s not as impressive as some of it’s Presidential neighbors but still holds an amazing place in history. And in 2016 they made a big discovery.
See those rocks on the ground? That is where the actual house used to be!
The house they always thought was the Monroe’s house turned out not to be. Archaeological work uncovered remains from the 1799 main house, preserved just below the ground’s surface. The newly discovered remains reveal a sizeable, freestanding house as the Monroes’ main residence. Part of a large chimney base, several sections of stone-wall foundations, and segments of thicker walls belonging to a stone cellar have been uncovered and point to a house fire that likely destroyed the house between the mid-1830s and early 1850s.
It turns out the house they had been saying for all these year was inhabited by the Monroe family is actually a guest house built in three stages. It sheltered visitors during Monroe’s two-term presidency from 1817 to 1825.
At that point they also changed the name to Highland- usually referred to as James Monroe’s Highland.
If you aren’t going to Highland as a group you only have one tour option. The ticket prices are crazy reasonable– we paid only $13 each with my AAA discount.
Click HERE to check out discounted tickets on Groupon!
The tour lasts about 40 minutes and you may need another hour or so to walk the property and look at everything. It’s a fairly small area right now- I am sure it will expand in coming years.
I will warn you- DO NOT PLAN TO EAT THERE- they basically have a few sandwiches thrown in a cooler. Instead head just down the street to SALT. You won’t regret it.
The Mile Marker
This is a mile marker from the first highway installed in the US- during Monroe’s presidency.
Monroe Era White Oak Tree
This beautiful oak tree- which provided great shade during our tour- was around when the Monroe family lived on the property.
This picture was stolen from the Highland Website because we forgot to take one.
The house you see above was always thought as a surviving wing of the the primary Monroe Family Residence. Eventually using scientific techniques they discovered the wood used to build the house was harvested in 1818. Since the original house was built in 1799 this didn’t work!
Basically the house was built in three sections and they are pretty easy to see from the outside. This is the entrance we used to go into the house. Like with the other historical houses no pictures can be taken inside so I can’t show you everything with your own eyes. When you first enter you have to duck if you are over 5’6″. There is an arch right by the door.
The guide told us that the joke is Jefferson designed it and wanted Monroe to have to hunch over when he entered. It turns out (and you can see this in the above picture) that there is a fire place each in the rooms to the right and the left of that door. They vent out together through that one fireplace- which meets over the front door.
Inside the house is set up as it would have been IF the Monroe’s had actually lived in. So it’s part historically based guess work. It is many of the original furnishings however. And it didn’t make the tour any less interesting.
This is the back of the guest house. It’s the door we exited. It now contains a museum with items from the family.
Statue of James Monroe
Check out his left hand. He’s missing a finger. It’s still a very impressive statue with the missing digit.
The slave quarters were pretty typical for that time period- white buildings with one big open room. However in this room was a person explaining medical procedures from that time.
It turns out Monroe had a bullet in his shoulder his whole life. They left it in rather than risk hitting an artery. It is discovered in some of his later clothing that one shirt sleeve was actually shorter than the other- it did affect his long term health.
So this gentleman explained many of the options that would have been available to Monroe and why he chose to leave the bullet in.
Other Items In The Basement and Beautiful Grounds