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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.1 Dry weather conditions, however, caused the well to fail for six of the years between 1769 and 1797.2 Whenever the well ran dry, water had to be carted up from springs lower down on the mountain.3

In 1808, Jefferson settled upon the construction of four eight-foot-cube cisterns.4 The cisterns were positioned near the house to capture rainwater running off the roofs and terraces.5 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.6

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