Thomas Jefferson, governor of Virginia, founder of the University of Virginia, author of our Declaration of Independence, and third president of the U.S., was born in Shadwell, Va., 270 years ago April 13.
Jefferson is closely associated with Monticello, his long-time Virginia home near Charlottesville that he designed, built, and continually altered over a period of four decades after moving into the home in 1770. The Charlottesville home, owned by a non-profit foundation since 1923, is a popular stop for travelers and welcomes just under a half-million visitors each year.
Less well known is another Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson, Poplar Forest. Located near Lynchburg, 80 miles southwest of Charlottesville, Poplar Forest became Jefferson’s “retreat” where he could relax, read books, and enjoy time with his family and friends. These had become ever rarer luxuries in Washington where he was continually occupied with issues related to the nation’s public affairs.
The house at Poplar Forest was constructed on a 4,800-acre plantation that Jefferson’s wife, Martha, inherited from her father in 1773. Jefferson served as Poplar Forest’s absentee plantation manager during his working years as a lawyer and public servant, and it was not until three years prior to the end of his presidency in 1809 that he traveled here to supervise the laying of the foundation for what was to become his retreat. His wife, Martha, had passed away in 1782 after 10 years of marriage. Following his years as president, Jefferson traveled to Poplar Forest three to four times each year for stays that would last for up to two months.
During his final trip to Poplar Forest in 1823, three years prior to his death, Jefferson turned the plantation and home over to grandson, Francis Eppes, who five years later sold it to a neighbor before moving to Florida. The house would subsequently suffer fire damage, pass through several owners, and go through major alterations before being acquired in 1983 by the Corporation for Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, a nonprofit with the goal of restoring and preserving the home and grounds.