Evolution of the Mansion Video

A short video created by the Montpelier Foundation and Partsense, Inc that shows the evolution of the Montpelier Mansion through the three Madison family construction periods.  The first period shows the circa 1765 Georgian house that was built by President Madison’s father (James Madison Senior).  The second period includes the circa 1797 additions that were added by President Madison when he returned to Montpelier with Dolley after serving the House of Representatives.  The last phase dates to circa 1812 and illustrates the changes Madison made to the Mansion after he was elected president in 1808.

A series of photographs showing the deconstruction of the circa 1901 duPont additions to reveal the circa 1812 appearance of Montpelier.


30 Responses to Evolution of the Mansion Video

  1. John Montague says:

    A friend of mine with Colonial Williamsburg (now with MESDA) strongly suggested I visit Montpelier, especially while the restoration was in progress. He couldn’t have given me better advice…I’ve visited several times and have nothing but praise for the work there since 2001. My comments echo the thoughts of others regarding the quality of the research and workmanship, as well as the brilliant decision to allow the public to view the entire restoration process. I spread the word every chance I get.

    Like Michael above, I find myself particularly attracted to the Period I house, with some interest in Period II. I noticed, on one visit, the alteration in size of the second story windows (actually appear to have been made shorter and wider), no doubt a result of the work in the 1809-1812 period, and I should think a purely aesthetic change. I wonder if enough of the brick fabric (closers, etc.) remains to determine the exact size of the 1764 windows, upstairs and downstairs.

    Thanks for the video and thanks for the tremendous commitment to excellence in the entire restoration process. I trust the public will be well served for decades to come.
    John Montague
    Raleigh, NC

  2. Dan,

    It’s great to hear from someone who knew the Mansion during Mrs. duPont’s time. We are also about to restore the old train station found across from the Farm store (although the building is almost untouched and will need very little actual restoration) and it would be great to talk with you about your memories of the building. We are going to move the Post Office to the freight area and use the old waiting rooms and station master’s office as an exhibit space showcasing the history of the building and the Jim Crow era in Orange County. If you are interested in talking with us, Tom Chapman in the Collections department would be the best person to contact.

    Take care and thanks again for your comment,


  3. John,

    One of the great aspects (architecturally at least) of Montpelier is that you can clearly see the evolution of Virginia’s architecture from its initial construction date of circa 1764 through to circa 1812. That’s only a 48 year time span, but the changes are still remarkable shows how quickly trends and styles changed even in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    Your also right that almost all the windows were altered in the period III renovations. We have also found enough evidence in the bricks to develop elevations that show what the windows would have looked like during the first and second periods. Briefly we found that the windows were the same width as the existing windows in period I, but a little shorter (they also featured 12 over 12 sashes on the first floor and 8 over 12’s on the second). The windows for the period II house were narrower then the period I windows and had more common 9 over 9 sashes on the first floor and 6 over 9’s on the second). We also agree that the change was almost purely aesthetic and was done to unify the facade and update the windows to reflect the current fashion.

    We are also using the new information on the windows (along with other features of the Period I and II houses, such as missing porches and shutters) to update the 3d video. The talented modelers at UVA’s Institute of Advance Technology in the Humanities (www.http://www.iath.virginia.edu/) are currently working on the new video and we should have it ready for the grand opening on September 17th.

    I’ll also put up the period I and II elevations (along with our current thoughts on the floors plans) for you all to see this week or next.

    Take care and thanks again for the great comment,



  4. John Montague says:

    We look forward to seeing the elevations and floor plans for Period I and II! Thanks so much.
    John M.

  5. Carrie & Darryl says:

    We were here over the Labor Day weekend and made an appoint to stop by Montpelier and take a tour. So glad we did too! We both love American history! I had no idea about all the owners of this home other than the obvious James and Dolly. When We learned that new owners had later bought the house and made so many drastic changes, it kind of saddend me to wonder why someone would want to change a historic landmark such as they did.
    Though I had never seen the duPont’s renovation other than what pictures were available, I’m so relieved to know that the house is being restored to its original state during the time of James and Dolley Madison! The renovation is coming along beautifully! We will have to come back when its completely finished.
    Thank you for doing this wonderful restoration so that America can revisit a little piece of history.
    Carrie and Darryl Wyatt

  6. Carrie and Darryl,

    Thanks for the comment and we are excited about how the restoration is coming along as well!

    Take care,


  7. Cosette Livas says:

    Thank you so much for the restoration. I was there for the celebration in 1987 with the James Madison Univeristy Marching Royal Dukes, and as much as we enjoyed being at the home of our namesake, it just did not seem right. Now that I see what the Madisons built and enjoyed it is so much nicer. Our history is important, and I pity those who cannot appreciate it for what it is. I understand the other owners making additions, but wow, if you buy a historic home…preserve it.

  8. Richard says:

    Thanks for you kind and thoughtful response to my post last March.

    I’m looking forward to my visit come spring ’09.

    I have a question about plaster and lath and chair rails (I own a 1806 house in coastal Massachusetts). Though I realize regional differences has to have occurred can you tell me if the later (or circa 1812 – 1820s) chair rails were applied FIRST then plastered to, or where they (especially the gouge-carved with medallion one) applied directly OVER the finished plaster?

    I’ve been able to retain all stable plaster and where it’s been removed or is unrepairable I’ve used new lath, a product called Structolite (scratch coat, then one more) to meld it to the original plaster surface.

    Quick story:

    When I removed layers of old wallpaper in my best room I found the shadow of a chair rail which apparently had been applied OVER the finished plaster where all the rest of the woodwork in the house appears to have been applied FIRST and then plastered TO.

    One small segment of gouge-carved chair rail has been discovered in the carriage barn here and it appears to fit the “shadow” of what’s missing in this best room precisely. It’s identical to your gouge-carved with medallion but missing the medallion element. IN profile it’s VERY thin. I’m timid about having it replicated until I’m sure procedurally if (in the above-referenced period) the chair rail was – in your experience – ever applied directly TO a finished plaster and lath wall rather than being applied first then plastered (giving it that imbedded look).

    Again I’m incredulous at the work and the attention to detail so evident in the Montpelier restoration. There must have been a time when the house began to give you its cues. The saving of Montpelier and its return to the Madison occupancy is significant to me since Madison contributions to the governing documents of this country are significant (more than most know). Had his and Dolley’s house somehow been lost to history it would have been a dreadful shame. Here’s to the duPont Scott woman!

    Also- ordinarilly I’d be averse to the removal of the duPont stucco and additions as a legitimate part of the house’s chronology but in this case I’m in total agreement with the direction the restoration took. This is certainly an exception to the rule in so many ways. Thank goodness it survived.

    In my view this particular period (with all its wonderful elements taken from Palladio and in turn Jefferson) becomes – in the vernacular – its own entirely American architecture.

    Oh how I envy you your work!

    All the best.

  9. Richard,

    Sounds like you have a great house and its wonderful its undergoing such a careful restoration. In answer to your questions, from my experience most architectural trim in this period is installed prior to plastering. However, that’s not always the case. At Montpelier the trim in every room except the Drawing Room was installed before plastering. In the Drawing Room both the chimney cap and the overdoor pediment, two of the most prominent features of the room, were installed on top of the plaster. I can’t tell you for sure why they would have treated these two pieces differently, but it might have been because delays caused them to be built after the plasters had finished plastering the room. Something similar might have happened with your chair rail. Because the gouging was a somewhat specialized skill, its possible that the chair rail was produced off-site by a trained carpenter/carver and then installed after the plaster had finished the room. However, its also possible that the chair rail was added during a later renovation.

    But, in your case, if the fragment you’ve found matches the shadow (or ghosts as we call them), then I would strongly suspect that it does in fact belong in the room. For more clues, you can also check the sides of any window or door trim that the chair rail would have abutted against. Usually you can see paint build up where the painters brush would have struck against the side of the trim, leaving a ridge that can sometimes reveal the profile of the chair rail. Often these ridges are very faint so it helps to rake light across the area with a flash light. You also mentioned that you didn’t have the medallions (or metopes) that we had on our chair rail. You might also want to look at the face of your chair rail under raking light to see if you can discover any evidence of original medallions that have been removed. The medallions we have are made of composition ornament (hide glue, whiting, resin and linseed oil putty that is pressed into molds), that were popular from around 1780 to about 1830. When composition ornaments fell out of favor they were very often removed in an effort to modernize the moldings, but traces of them can still usually be found with raking light or, if the budget allows, comparative paint analysis.

    Thanks again for your kind words and I feel the same way about the architecture of this period. The early-republic period was particularly kind to the piedmont region of Virginia and resulted in some wonderful buildings.

    Take care,


  10. Curt says:

    I have a question. I have been following the restoration since 2005. I have visited 3 times in those years. What I like most about Montpelier is the closeness. I can walk into the temple, I can walk into the cemetery. With the restoration has come many more visitors (which is a good thing) but will you be able to maintain accessability in the future?

    • Curt,

      We should surpass 70,000 visitors this year and other then an occasional short wait to take a tour of the Mansion, there hasn’t been a problem with the increased visitation. The temple and the graveyard are great sites and they are part of a large group of historic sites (Gardens, Education Center, Archaeology digs (spring, fall and winter) spread over many acres. So even if our visitation ever reached the 100s of thousands (like Monticello), I think the site will be able to handle the extra visitation. However, to ensure a peaceful visit, the best time to plan your trip would be in the early-spring or late-winter when our visitation is at its lowest.

      Take care and thanks again for your support of Montpelier!


  11. Kathy Jalm says:

    My husband and I were there in 2008 and could not beleive all that was going on and the guide had so much infomation to give us. We plan to visit this March and excited to see all the improvements. I got on the web site and so glad to see all that has gone on with the restro of the house. THAMKS for keeping our history for all to visit. Kathy Jalm

    • Kathy,
      We’re so glad you enjoyed your visit in 2008. So much has been done since then, we hope you’ll be pleased.
      Keep up with our ongoing efforts at our new blog site – montpelier.org/blog.
      See you soon,

  12. I visited Montpelier in the 1990s and am sure I saw a room decorated by Marion Scott that was meant to resemble a glamorous Hollywood nightclub atmosphere–something to do with her marriage to Randolph Scott. Was that true or did my imagination get the better of me? I’m not referring to the Red Room. This has been troubling me, and I would much appreciate an answer. Thank you.

    • Shirley,
      Since Montpelier opened to the public as a historic house museum in 1987 (under the ownership of the National Trust for Historic Preservation), there have been different approaches to interpreting the house. However, none of us could think of a room which might fit your description of a “nightclub atmosphere”. The rooms open to the public prior to the restoration were the Red Room, which you mention, and the Adams and Morning Rooms, both of which were decorated in a more early 20th century style. Perhaps you’re remembering a space from another duPont home?

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