Begun in 1768, the South Pavilion is the first brick building built on Monticello’s mountaintop, and the first home of Thomas Jefferson and his wife Martha after they were married in 1772. It has one particular identifying feature that separates it from other buildings: the roof. Originally covered in Jefferson’s time with chestnut shingles painted off-white, the South Pavilion has the only painted shingle roof on the mountaintop. It contrasts with the ca. 1802 North Pavilion which was covered in sheet iron in 1821 after a fire destroyed the original roof in 1819.

Fragment of an original South Pavilion roof shingle

Written documentation and physical evidence was used to faithfully restore the South Pavilion’s roof in 2000. During the restoration, it was found that a vast majority of the original roof framing and sheathing remained. A fragment of one of the original shingles, which still had evidence of the original off-white stain, was also found in the attic and helped prove the Jefferson-era roofing material and color. Long lasting cypress shingles were selected to replicate the original, and stained off-white to approximate the paint found on the shingle. 

A photomicrograph of the original painted shingle

Since 2000, the roof has been re-stained several times. When the stain on the South Pavilion roof began to peel badly, the roof was stripped before reapplying a stain. To ensure the color of the new stain matched the Jefferson-era paint exactly, a paint conservator sampled the shingle fragment found 18 years ago. The cypress shingles were then re-stained with a penetrating oil-based stain recommended by our friends at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. This stain was chosen for its ability to deeply penetrate the wood, which should result in a gentle fade of the color over time rather than peeling like a standard paint.

Stripping the failing stain.

Monticello is, and always will be, a work in progress. Monticello’s curators and architectural historians are constantly looking for ways to more accurately present Jefferson’s home, and we’re happy to report that the South Pavilion roof is now showcasing the very best representation of its original appearance.

The South Pavilion, after completing the roof re-staining project