First Monticello

The "First Monticello," sometimes called "Monticello I," refers to the house as it was during the period of roughly 1770 to 1796.

Though more modest in size than its successor, the first version of the Monticello house was hardly less ambitious. Built in a strict neoclassical style with double porticoes, it was a building that, as one European visitor wrote in 1782, "resembles none of the others seen in this country."[1]

Model of the First Monticello

This was the house that Jefferson was fashioning when he married Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772 and in which they planned to raise their children. During its construction Jefferson served as member of the Virginia House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, Virginia; as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and as Governor of Virginia in Richmond, Virginia. This is the same period in which he wrote the political documents that made his early reputation: A Summary View of the Rights of British America, the Declaration of Independence, and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, which was later enacted into law.

The exact extent to which the house was finished is unclear. The physical and documentary evidence indicates that by the death of Jefferson's wife in 1782, the house had been enclosed. But twelve years later, after serving five years as the United States Minister to France and four as President Washington's Secretary of State, Jefferson wrote to a friend that he was "living in a brick-kiln," suggesting that much of the interior work had not been started.

Jefferson's years in France (1784-1789) marked a radical turning point in the design of the house. Before then, Jefferson's architectural education had been largely through books, including the Four Books of Architecture by sixteenth-century architect Andrea Palladio. In Paris, where Jefferson saw a new style of domestic architecture that was elegant and less academic in its classical form, he began to think about remodeling and enlarging his house from eight to twenty-one rooms. Demolition of the first Monticello, which began in 1796, was limited to its upper floors and northeast front. Much of the original brickwork of the first floor was incorporated in the new house on the southwest side.

Footnotes

1. Marquis de Chastellux, Travels in North America in the years 1780, 1781 and 1782, trans. Howard C. Rice, Jr. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963), 391.

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