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Monticello (House) FAQ
The following is a quick rundown of frequently asked questions about Monticello's main house.
- How many rooms does Monticello have?
- What are the overall dimensions?
- How high are the ceilings?
- How many skylights are there?
- Where did the windows come from?
- How thick are the exterior walls?
- What is the square footage of the living area?
- What percentage of original window glass is shown in the house today?
- How many fireplaces are there?
- When was the house built?
- Brief chronology of construction
- Where did the building materials come from?
- Who built the house?
- How much did the house cost?
- Which side is the front of the house?
- How was the house heated and illuminated?
- How was Monticello cooled?
- What are the holes over Thomas Jefferson's bed?
- Does Jefferson's bed rise out of the way?
- Where were the bathing facilities and privies?
- What was the Dome Room used for?
- How many of the house furnishings are original?
- What happened to the house and furnishings after Jefferson's death?
Number of rooms: There are a total of forty-three rooms in the entire structure: thirty-three in the house itself (cellar, twelve; first floor, eleven; second floor, six; third floor, four); four in the pavilions; and six under the South Terrace. The stable and carriage bays under the North Terrace are not included in these totals. The first design of Monticello had fourteen rooms total (cellar, six; first floor, five; second floor, three). [top]
Overall dimensions: 110' long, 87'9" wide (to outer faces of porticoes), 44'7" high (to oculus of dome). [top]
Number of skylights: Thirteen (oculus plus twelve). [top]
Thickness of exterior walls: Also variable, from 13.5" at the northeast front to 27" in the parlor side walls. Most of the exterior of the house is covered by red brick with limestone mortar. [top]
Square footage of living area: About 11,000 square feet, including the cellars below the house, but not including the pavilions or rooms under the terraces. [top]
Percentage of original window glass shown in the house today: About one-tenth of the window glass is original. [top]
Number of fireplaces: There are eight fireplaces and two openings for stoves on the main floor of the house. [top]
When was the house built? Construction began in 1769 according to Jefferson's first design, which was completed (except for porticoes and decorative interior woodwork) when he left for Europe in 1784. Work on a new design for remodeling and enlarging the house began in 1796 and was complete by 1809. [top]
- 1768 Mountaintop cleared and leveled
- 1769 First bricks made and construction begun
- 1770 Jefferson moved into the completed South Pavilion
- c. 1772 Dining Room (north wing) is the first part of the house to be completed and made habitable
- 1796 Demolition of upper story and construction based on new design begun
- 1801-03 North Terrace, South Terrace,and dependencies built
- 1806 North Pavilion under construction
- 1808 North Pavilion completed and South Pavilion remodeled [top]
Where did the building materials come from? The bricks were made at Monticello, as were the nails for the remodeled house. Most of the structural timber came from Jefferson's own land, while most of the window sashes were made in Philadelphia of imported mahogany. The window glass came from Europe. Stone for the cellars and the East Front columns, and limestone for making mortar, were quarried on Jefferson's land. [top]
Who built the house? Local white masons and their apprentices did the stone and brickwork. Local carpenters, assisted by several Monticello slave carpenters, provided the rough structural woodwork. The fine woodwork (floors, cornices, and other moldings) was the work of several skilled white joiners, hired from as far away as Philadelphia. One Monticello slave, John Hemmings, who trained under the white workman James Dinsmore, became a very able joiner and carpenter. [top]
- Jefferson estimated the value of the house and outbuildings for insurance purposes in 1800 at $6,300.1
- In his accounting of building costs for the period of March 4, 1801, to March 4, 1802 (including workmen's salaries, building materials, and other miscellaneous items), Jefferson noted a total of $2,076.29.2 He calculated his building costs for the following 12-month period to be $3,587.92.3
Taking the figure of $3,587.92, just as an example, and multiplying that by the number of years it took to complete Monticello (28), the total building cost would be $100,461.76. However, there are many variables unaccounted for in this calculation and thus it likely represents only a fraction of the true cost of constructing Monticello. For example, some of the building materials were purchased, and some were made by hand at Monticello; some materials and labor were not paid for with cash but were bartered; and the cost of food, clothing, and housing for enslaved workers is not factored into Jefferson's yearly estimates, either. A thorough examination of Jefferson's memorandum books might yield a more accurate estimate than the one above, but that estimate could probably not be considered a definitive figure.
Translating such a figure into today's money adds another layer of complication to this question. There is no easy way to make this calculation, although there are sources that can serve as guides in making the attempt (see Further Sources below). [top]
Which side is the front of the house? When most people think of Monticello, they envision the dome and west-facing, columned portico shown on the nickel. But the dome and West Portico are not, strictly speaking, the "front" of the house. In fact, Jefferson never spoke of a single "front." Instead he spoke of both an "east front" and a "west front." As in Jefferson's day, visitors today enter through the columned portico of the East Front into the Entrance Hall. Presumably only the family and their guests ever used the door on the West Front, which opens into the Parlor. [top]
How was the house heated and illuminated? The house was heated primarily by fireplaces (at the rate of about ten cords of wood per month). From 1795, Jefferson used wood-burning stoves (both open and closed) in certain rooms. In the late 1790s, he altered the dimensions of his fireplaces to apply the fuel-saving principles of Count von Rumford. Candles provided most of the illumination, although Jefferson owned a number of oil-burning lamps as well. [top]
How was Monticello cooled? Cooling Monticello was no easy task in Jefferson's time, although the mountaintop could be a little cooler than the surrounding landscape. Windows and doors could be opened to encourage air flow through the house, and family and visitors could seek relief from the heat on the shaded porticoes. Jefferson also built what he called "Venetian Porches" on either side of the house, which feature wooden blinds.
There are also two references to fans in Jefferson's papers. While in Philadelphia in 1791, he paid 6 dollars "for mainsprings for fan."4 He also designed a fan for the Dining Room table, although Monticello researchers do not know if it was ever built.5[top]
What are the holes over Jefferson's bed? Jefferson remodeled Monticello extensively in the 1790s. In his bedroom he added a skylight and a partition wall to form a bed alcove below and a closet above. The closet was reached by a steep stair or ladder. The elliptical openings in the closet provided light and ventilation. [top]
Where were the bathing facilities and privies? There were five privies (toilets) in and adjoining the main house. Two were located at the north and south ends of the "all-weather passageway" that connects the cellars to the kitchen and stable wings. Two inside the house were located off the first- and second-floor south stair passages and a third was connected to Jefferson's bedroom. The three house privies, which Jefferson called "air-closets," were tiny spaces not much larger than what was needed for a seat. The sole source of natural light came from skylights. Each sky-lighted shaft extended below the floor to the sub-cellar level where it joined a single masonry-lined "sink" (tunnel) approximately 2.5 feet wide and 3.75 feet high with a fall (according to Jefferson's specifications) of 3 inches in 10 feet. Visitors today can see the termination of this tunnel in the hillside about 125 feet east of the house. There is no evidence, however, that the waste was flushed through the "sink." Nor has evidence come to light to support the statement found in a 1902 publication claiming, "This cellar is said to have had tunnels from it to convey the sewerage out to pits, by earth cars." The current speculation is that the waste was removed simply by removing chamber pots located under the seat. We do know that venting was by means of a chimney flue at the top of the shafts and we believe that the "sink" functioned as an air tunnel, supplying the shafts with fresh air. - William L. Beiswanger, Robert H. Smith Director of Restoration [top]
What was the Dome Room used for? The use of the Dome Room, which Jefferson sometimes called the "sky-room," is not known with certainty; at times it served as a bedroom for a married grandson, as a storeroom, and probably as a playroom for the grandchildren. [top]
How many of the house furnishings are original? About 60 percent of the furnishings on display at Monticello are or may be items original to Jefferson. Other items are period pieces or reproductions of original pieces. In 1993, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation commemorated the 250th anniversary of Jefferson's birth with a catalog and loan exhibition, "The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello." More than 150 objects and works of art once belonging to Jefferson returned to Monticello, and many of those items remain on exhibit. [top]
What happened to the house and furnishings after Jefferson's death? Because Jefferson died more than $107,000 in debt, his daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph and her son and financial manager, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, found it necessary first to sell nearly all of the contents of Monticello and then to sell the plantation itself. In 1827, the furniture, animals, farm equipment, and slaves were offered at an executor's sale. In 1831, James T. Barclay, a local apothecary, purchased the home and 552 acres for $4,500, less the value of his own home. Unsuccessful in his attempts to cultivate silk worms there, he offered Monticello for sale barely two years later. In 1834, Uriah P. Levy, a naval officer who admired Jefferson's views on religious tolerance, purchased the house. Levy died in 1862 and bequeathed Monticello to the federal government if certain conditions were met. During the Civil War, the Confederacy seized and sold the property. After the war, the federal government declined the terms of Levy's bequest, and Levy's heirs contested the ownership. Not until years of litigation had passed did Jefferson Monroe Levy, Uriah P. Levy's nephew, take possession in 1879. Both uncle and nephew strove to preserve Monticello as a memorial to Jefferson. In 1923, Jefferson Monroe Levy sold Monticello to the newly created Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns Monticello today. [top]
- Beiswanger, William L. Monticello in Measured Drawings. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1998.
- McLaughlin, Jack. Jefferson and Monticello: The Biographer of a Builder. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1988.
- Stein, Susan R. The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1993.
- Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2002.
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation. Monticello: A Guidebook. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1997.
- McCusker, John J. How Much Is That in Real Money?: A Historical Commodity Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States. Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 1992.
- Bear, James A., Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds. Jefferson's Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767-1826. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.
- Look for further sources in the Thomas Jefferson Portal.