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Water Supply

The water supply at Monticello was a constant struggle for those living on the mountaintop. In 1769, when construction began on Monticello, Thomas Jefferson employed a crew of workers to dig a well near the South Pavilion. The men spent forty-six days digging through sixty-five feet of rock.[fn]Betts, Garden Book, 17, 283 n2.[/fn] Dry weather conditions, however, caused the well to fail for six of the years between 1769 and 1797.[fn]Thomas Jefferson, 1776-1818, Weather Record, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Jefferson's notes concerning the water supply in the well are available online. Transcription available in Betts, Garden Book, 629.[/fn] Whenever the well ran dry, water had to be carted up from springs lower down on the mountain.[fn]Weather Record, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Jefferson's record of temperatures at Monticello's fifteen springs is available online. Transcription available in Betts, Garden Book, 630.[/fn]

In 1808, Jefferson settled upon the construction of four eight-foot-cube cisterns.[fn]Weather Record, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Jefferson's calculation on cisterns is available online. Transcription available in Betts, Garden Book, 630-31.[/fn] The cisterns were positioned near the house to capture rainwater running off the roofs and terraces.[fn]See Jefferson to James Dinsmore, November 7, 1808, Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society. Transcription available at Founders Online.[/fn] 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.[fn]See Jefferson to John Brockenbrough, June 4, 1823, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Polygraph copy available online. Transcription available at Founders Online.[/fn]

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