Did you know Thomas Jefferson had a summer home? I didn’t, so when I discovered I was only a short distance from his summer retreat, Poplar Forest, it was a no-brainer. I was going!
Situated in Bedford County, Virginia, about a 15-minute drive from Lynchburg, is what I call, Jefferson’s mini-Monticello. The secluded home considered by many to be Jefferson’s, “most perfect and perfectly executed architectural work,” is a wonderful attraction and opportunity to spend a few hours with our third president.
Jump Ahead To
The property known as Poplar Forest originally belonged to Thomas Jefferson’s father-in-law, John Wayles, and passed to Jefferson upon his death. Poplar Forest is about 90-miles away from Jefferson’s Monticelloso this secluded estate became a beloved retreat from his busier home in Charlottesville. The property’s name is believed to have derived from the fact there were so many grand tulip poplar trees at Poplar Forest. There’s even one estimated to be from the early 19th-century still standing, today.
Begin at the Beginning
As with any tourist destination, it’s always best to commence at the visitor center. Poplar Forest’s visitor center is where you’ll get tour details and admission tickets. You’ll also receive a map to assist in locating highlights and significant features of the property. Behind the visitor center, is where the tour begins with a brief film in the orientation center. Mr. Jefferson himself is the star of the film which gives wonderful insight into the man, his life, and his time at Poplar Forest.
Stroll the Grounds of Poplar Forest
Whether it’s before your tour starts or afterward, strolling the grounds of Poplar Forest is a must. The lush landscape and environs are excellent for taking the time to experience and imagine what life must have been like back in the 18th and early 19th-century. This is a peaceful location and it’s easy to comprehend how soothing a locale this must have been for the founding father.
The home tour gives the full story of not just Mr. Jefferson’s time at Poplar Forest, but also a comprehensive description of the architecture and restoration of this important edifice. Poplar Forest was a private home up until the early 1980’s. Since that time, archaeologists and researchers have worked as detectives meticulously piecing together the home’s story in order to present an accurate representation of what Poplar Forest would have been like when Thomas Jefferson and his family summered here.
We were fortunate enough to have timed our arrival to permit us to also take the Enslaved Community tour which gave a moving narrative of the lives of the enslaved residents of Poplar Forest. The highlight of which was a visit to the kitchen where I was called upon by our guide to read a letter written by one of Jefferson’s slaves. It was emotional for me, and yes, I got a little choked-up as I read.
Symmetry and shape, two architectural elements important to Jefferson, even the privy!
Planning Your Visit
Poplar Forest is located approximately 15-minutes outside of Lynchburg in Forest, Virginia and is open daily from mid-March through December 30th from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The last tour starts at 4:05. Poplar Forest is open for self-guided tours on weekends during the winter months and is closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Group tours are welcomed but should contact the office in advance and there are special events throughout the year so visit their website for details.
Tickets are available for purchase in the visitor center and online. Adult tickets are $16.00, Military and Seniors are $14.00, students and teens 12-18 years old are $8.00, youth ages 6-11 are $4.00 and kids under six are free. If you’ve got the time, there’s a D-Day Combo ticket available for $19.00 which also includes admission at the nearby National D-Day Memorial.
Pros, Cons, and The Gift Shop!
There are lots of pros about a visit to Poplar Forest; too many to list. However, to me the most noticeable plus had to be the crowd size. Monticello, Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, Virginia, is more famous and therefore more crowded. The smaller size and more rural location of Poplar Forest permits visitors to spend time absorbing their surroundings, learning, and exploring in a tranquil unhurried environment.
As for cons, a visit to Poplar Forest is what I characterize as history intensive. If you’re not a history buff or your traveling companions don’t share your love of historic attractions, it may not be for you.
Last but not least, there is a gift shop! The gift shop is inside the visitor center and features an extensive array of souvenirs, wine, toys, and other memorabilia. Jefferson once famously stated, “I cannot live without books.” He’d be delighted with the selection in this gift shop. It’s well-stocked with books on a variety of subjects, primarily and especially pertaining to Poplar Forest’s famous resident.
Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest 1542 Bateman Bridge Road Forest, Virginia 24551 434-525-1806 www.poplarforest.org