Monticello and Charlottesville, VA
I saw quite a bit of Virginia on this trip; I was tired when I got home. My 9 hour trip included a visit to a wooded Civil War battlefield complete with remnants of trenches, Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello, and his other creation nearby, the University of Virginia. This trip took me and Ollie through huge expanses of farmland and rolling hills on a meandering path through the Virginia wing of America’s Bible Belt.
The Wilderness (part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefield)
I stopped at a small parking lot near the First Battle of Chancellorsville a few miles outside of Fredericksburg. I struck up a conversation with a hiker who said that if I wanted to see good examples of Civil War trenches I should drive about 5 minutes west to Saunders Field on Route 20, and walk through the woods along a trail leading from the pavilion off the main road.
Out of the hundreds of Civil War battles, The 1864 Wilderness campaign sticks out for its brutality: hundreds, maybe thousands, of troops on both sides burned to death in the thick forest.
I found the parking lot (see map below for exact location) and took Ollie on a well-marked trail through a beautiful wooded area speckled with fall colors. It looked like any other Virginia woods until I eyed two parallel lines of dirt piled about 2-3 feet high, extending deep into the forest. Though these trenches have been filled in a bit with soil by Mother Nature over 150 years, it was cool to realize that these were the actual trenches of the Wilderness campaign. If I understand it correctly, the opposing trench lines looked like they were only 150 hundred feet from each other.
If you have ever used a nickel, you probably can identify Jefferson’s Monticello. This 220 year old mansion, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, sits atop an 850 foot hill a few miles south of Charlottesville. I parked at the gleaming new visitors center, paid admission with a $20 and appropriately got a $2 bill in change, and walked up the back way because I had Ollie with me.
On the hike up from the visitors center, the first thing of interest I passed was a small graveyard containing Jefferson’s grave—I didn’t know he was buried here. Up the hill a bit more is the plantation’s vegetable garden, which had a big variety of vegetables, most of which Ollie tried to pee on. My judgement told me that that type of behavior is not encouraged, so I pulled him away from the kale and the chard taking care not to choke him.
The front of the main house was instantly recognizable. In front of it is the football-field size West Lawn, where Ollie rolled around in the grass and put smiles on tourists’ faces. To the south is Mulberry Row, the industrial heart of Monticello, where Jefferson’s slaves and indentured servants spent their days sawing, nail making, weaving, blacksmithing, and doing other work typical of the early 19th century.
Supposedly, Jefferson did not believe in the corporal punishment of his slaves; it is thought that they were relatively well-treated—if that can be said at all about an enslaved people—and not subjected to beatings and other brutality. I didn’t get to go inside the house because I had Ollie with me, but seeing the grounds and the exteriors made the admission fee worth it. I would like to go back one day.
Charlottesville, VA and University of Virginia
Monticello has to share its designation as a World Heritage Site with Jefferson’s other creation, the University of Virginia (UVA). This is not bad company.
After grabbing lunch at Miller‘s on the pedestrian-only Downtown Mall, I toured UVA, one of the best-designed and most beautiful campuses in the United States. I didn’t see the whole thing, as it was getting late. I focused my sightseeing on the neoclassical core of the campus, whose centerpiece is Jefferson’s Lawn, a grassy expanse bounded on all sides by red brick residential and academic buildings lined with white colonnades.
The trees were adorned in orange on this warm fall afternoon as students went about their day studying on the grass or playing Frisbee as the sun began its descent. I was disappointed that the keystone of Jefferson’s masterpiece, The Rotunda, was covered in scaffolding. I could still make out its Roman (and Grecian) elements—Jefferson modeled it after the Pantheon in Rome. On the way back to my car I walked through The Range, a long one-story building running parallel to the Lawn. It is fronted by a long, covered colonnade and walkway lined with student rooms.
I didn’t want to leave so soon, but Ollie was getting antsy and tired. I didn’t want to subject him to any more adventures for today.
This is a long but very rewarding day trip through Virginia’s heartland. You get a little bit of history and culture, and endless views of rolling hills and farms on your way to Charlottesville. There are a lot of spots to pick up vegetables on the way back, and a lot of wineries if you have the time. Suggest doing this trip in two days.
- Charlottesville: Millers: I chose this place because I had Ollie and was limited to restaurants with outdoor seating. It’s got a great location, right in the middle of Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. Served good food at a reasonable price. Eating al fresco in their enclosed patio reminded me of being in a European city, with the pedestrian mall around me.
- Bealeton, Messick’s Farm Market: If you’re into taking back roads on the way home from Charlottesville, this place off Route 28 northeast of Culpepper is definitely worth a stop. I loaded up on frozen meat, vegetables, apples, fudge, and other stuff I probably could have gone without. I loved the rustic wood building, the high vaulted ceilings inside, and the selection of produce. There were even goats out front next to a big pumpkin patch.