Water Supply

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.

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