— Poplar Forest is Thomas Jefferson's other house.
Everyone knows about Monticello, Jefferson's stunning 33-room home at Charlottesville at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Virginia.
But most people have never heard of Jefferson's simpler octagon-shaped country villa outside Lynchburg, Va. It is officially known as Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest. The house and surrounding plantation are a National Historic Landmark and have been nominated to become a World Heritage Site.
The rebuilt house is an architectural gem and an impressive reminder of Jefferson's genius. Poplar Forest is a restoration in progress with rebuilding, landscaping and archaeological work continuing.
The exterior restoration began in 1993 and was completed in 2009. The interior is still in progress.
Landscaping the site as Jefferson once did got under way in 2010. The tools, supplies and methods being used in that restoration are true to Jefferson's era. More than 200,000 archaeological artifacts have been uncovered.
Poplar Forest is a grand but intimate two-story Piedmont house, small, simple and comfortable. It may be the first eight-sided house in the United States, according to experts.
Jefferson was struck by the symmetry of an octagon-shaped house and how light and airy such buildings were. He added modern interpretation and innovation to classic design.
Jefferson said that Poplar Forest would be "the finest dwelling in the state, except that of Monticello, perhaps preferable to that, as more proportioned to the faculties of a private citizen."
Construction began in 1806 while Jefferson was serving as America's third president. His design was based on the Roman villas of Andrea Palladio, a Renaissance-era architect from the 16th century whom Jefferson studied and admired.
The red-brick building includes four stucco-covered columns at the main entrance, green shutters and white trim.
The house features a cube-shaped, high-ceilinged dining room at the center of the house, a peculiar alcove bed in Jefferson's bedroom (similar to one in Monticello), four elongated octagon-shaped surrounding rooms, a herringbone pattern in the oak floor in the dining room and sunny floor-to-ceiling windows with lots of glass in the south-facing parlor-library.
Other features included a skylight, a library with 1,000 books (Jefferson read in six languages), a deck, a kitchen with several cooking areas and even an indoor privy. There are four chimneys that serve 15 fireplaces.
Initially, the cooking and food storage were in the lower level. In 1814, Jefferson added a 100-foot-long east wing with a kitchen, a smokehouse, a laundry and a storage room.
The family would hang out on the wing's roof at night to observe owls and bats. Jefferson was often accompanied to Poplar Forest by his two surviving daughters and his 12 grandchildren.
Poplar Forest was Jefferson's escape, not an open-to-the-public place like Monticello. It provided, he said, the "solitude of a hermit." He referred to Poplar Forest as "my other home," "the most valuable of my possessions" and an "excellent house."
When his presidency ended in 1809, Jefferson visited his Poplar Forest retreat three or four times a year, staying from two weeks to two months. It took 20 years to complete the house, 1806 to 1826. It was Jefferson's second home from age 66 to 80.
Poplar Forest is 93 miles south of Monticello. Jefferson typically made the trip in three days by carriage or two days by horseback.
Jefferson's overall plan for Poplar Forest blended the architecture of the house and the landscaping of the ground. The man who penned the Declaration of Independence took great pride in landscaping Poplar Forest.
Two mounds near the house were constructed and planted in circles of aspens and willows. A sunken lawn sat outside the study-library with flowers planted along its edges.