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The water supply at Monticello was a constant struggle for Thomas Jefferson and for the entire plantation community. In 1769, when construction began on Monticello, Jefferson employed a crew of workers to dig a well on the mountaintop. The men spent forty-six days digging through sixty-five feet of rock near the South Pavilion. Despite their efforts, the well went dry for six of the years between 1769 and 1797. Whenever the well ran dry, water had to be carted up from springs lower down on the mountain.
Finally, Jefferson settled upon the construction of four eight-foot-cube cisterns. The cisterns were positioned near the house to capture rainwater running off the roofs and terraces. Work on the new project began in 1810, but it took many years of trial and error to create a waterproof plaster before the cisterns held rainwater — and even then, it was never a perfect system.
- Betts, Edwin M., ed. Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book, 1766-1824: With Relevant Extracts from His Other Writings. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1944 (reprint edition, Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., 1999). Manuscript and transcription available at Massachusetts Historical Society.
- Betts, Edwin M., Hazlehurst Bolton Perkins, and Peter Hatch. Thomas Jefferson's Flower Garden at Monticello. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association and University Press of Virginia, 1986, 17-20.
- McLaughlin, Jack. Jefferson and Monticello: The Biography of a Builder. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1988.