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Trace the Steps of One of Our Founding Fathers


© St. Petersburg Times

Thomas Jefferson knew "no condition happier than that of a Virginia farmer." Revered as a scientist, architect, politician, a voracious reader and prolific writer, the framer of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States, Jefferson found inspiration in his home colony.

From a 20th-century perspective, the Commonwealth of Virginia reciprocates the feeling and this year invites everyone to explore his diverse interests and rich legacy in "Jefferson's Virginia," a new driving tour.

This cultural experience covers nine sites, from the Tidewater region of Williamsburg and the fertile soils of the Piedmont to the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley. "Jefferson's Virginia" includes a map and an engaging historical scavenger hunt.

In the order in which he first experienced them, here's a glimpse at the sites in "Jefferson's Virginia." Tuckahoe Plantation

The discipline of Jefferson's mind began at Tuckahoe Plantation, his boyhood home just south of Richmond along River Road. Though he was born at Shadwell in 1743, the family traveled to Tuckahoe in 1745, where Thomas studied with the Rev. Douglas in a one-room schoolhouse. Tuckahoe is considered one of the finest early 18th century plantations. Here young Thomas became familiar with fine architecture, elements that would influence him in his quest for perfection at Monticello.

The grounds' orderly arrangements that so pleased Thomas are still evident today. Current owner Tad Thompson and his young family live at Tuckahoe and welcome visitors who call ahead for an appointment. The College of William and Mary

In March 1760, the tall, red-haired, 16-year-old left his home in Albemarle County with a packhorse for Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary. He would later say that it was in Williamsburg that he trained himself for his life's work.

Jefferson lived and attended classes in the structure known today as the Sir Christopher Wren Building, "rising early each day for prayers in the Wren Chapel and gathering with other students three times a day in the Great Hall for Commons." He described himself as a "hard student" with "a canine appetite for knowledge." Favorite subjects included mathematics and natural philosophy; music was his passion. Colonial Williamsburg

Jefferson entered politics in Williamsburg, the second capital of the Virginia colony. Just 26 when he took his seat in the House of Burgesses, he soon became a champion of American independence. His 1774 "Summary View of the Rights of British America" won him the assignment to draft the Declaration of Independence. At Williamsburg, too, Jefferson introduced the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, setting forth the doctrine of separation of church and state and laying the groundwork for the First Amendment.

Time travelers to Colonial Williamsburg may take part in thought-provoking debates between Thomas Jefferson, superbly portrayed by historian and Jefferson interpreter Bill Barker, and fellow statesman Patrick Henry, interpreted by historian Bill Weldon. Monticello

At Monticello (Italian for "little mountain"), Jefferson was "as happy as no where else." He spent 40 years in active construction of his home two miles southeast of Charlottesville, where he had played as a boy. Monticello is the remarkable integration of Jefferson's love of classical architecture and his passion for innovation.

The only house in America on the United Nations' prestigious World Heritage List as a site of international cultural importance, Monticello reflects Jefferson's interests in art, books and furnishings. His granddaughter recalled, "Books were his chosen companions . . . I saw him more frequently with a volume of the classics in his hand than with any other book." Jefferson's extensive collection of books, some 6,700 volumes, became the cornerstone of the Library of Congress in 1815.

Monticello's gardens include many rare varieties and have been meticulously restored according to Jefferson's original plans for flower and vegetable gardens, two orchards, two vineyards and an 18-acre ornamental grove. Barboursville Vineyards and Historic Ruins

Likening friendship to wine, Jefferson once described it as "raw when new, ripened with age, the true old man's milk and restorative cordial." He became a wine connoisseur while serving as minister to France from 1785 to 1789. He toured the wine country and studied grape cultivation.

Today, Barboursville Vineyards and Historic Ruins, just north of Charlottesville, surrounds the site of a mansion Jefferson designed for his friend, Gov. James Barbour. Virginia State Capitol

As an architect, Jefferson sought to create buildings worth "study and imitation." Since America at the time had no architecture of its own, and its citizens were considered to have no taste by European standards, his purpose was "to improve the tastes of his countrymen, to increase their reputation, to reconcile to them respect of the world, and procure them its praise."

He gave form to his desire to create a "specimen of taste" in public architecture when he planned the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond in 1785. The building is the second oldest working Capitol in the United States. Poplar Forest

Poplar Forest was Jefferson's personal retreat near Lynchburg, "the finest part of Virginia." Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the 4,800-acre plantation Jefferson built on land he inherited provided him with substantial income from crops of tobacco and wheat.

In 1806, Jefferson designed and built an octagonal house and called it "the best dwelling house in the state . . . proportioned to the faculties of a private citizen." A three-day ride on horseback from his besieged-with-guests Monticello, Poplar Forest gave him the "solitude of a hermit" and he retreated there often at various times of the year.

Today, visitors can watch as brick masons dust away 18th-century mortar and replace it with a stronger bond that will preserve Jefferson's design. Archaeologists are searching for clues about landscape design and plantation community. Natural Bridge

Just as he admired the timeless forms of classical architecture, Jefferson marveled at nature's own brilliance. Natural Bridge, a geological formation that spans a 200-foot deep mountain gorge near Lexington, intrigued him. In 1782 he proclaimed it "so beautiful an arch, so elevated, so light and springing as it were up to Heaven."

To ensure its availability to the public, Jefferson purchased Natural Bridge and 157 surrounding acres of land from King George III in 1774. University of Virginia

Throughout his public life, Jefferson championed public education as the surest safeguard against tyranny. His desire to prepare enlightened leaders for an enlightened people culminated in what he called "the last service I can render my country," the founding of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 1819.

Disdainful of the common practice of constructing "one large and expansive building" for a college, Jefferson favored a collection of faculty pavilions, each of which would house a professor's classroom and living quarters. Each pavilion would display a different set of classical details and serve as a model of "taste and good architecture."

Arranged around an open square of grass and trees, the Rotunda, the 10 pavilions and the six hotels (formerly student dining halls) formed what Jefferson called an "academical village." These buildings have changed little since the university enrolled its first students in 1825.

Like Monticello, Jefferson's "academical village" is on the U.N. list of internationally significant properties. Freelance writer Carol Godwin recently relocated from Falls Church, Va., to Dothan, Ala. If you go

The "Jefferson's Virginia" passport provides admission to Colonial Williamsburg for two consecutive days to all exhibition buildings, trade shops, history walks and all Colonial Williamsburg museums. The Monticello segment includes lunch at Historic Michie Tavern, Natural Bridge, Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest and Tuckahoe Plantation.

Barboursville Vineyards and Historic Ruins, the College of William and Mary, the University of Virginia and the Virginia State Capitol do not charge admission and welcome visitors during normal operating hours.

The "Jefferson's Virginia" passport costs $57 for adults -- a $25 savings on the cost of separate tickets for those sites that charge admission. Passports for children ages 6 to 12 are $25 each -- a $16 savings over separate admission.

Passports can be purchased at Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest or by calling (888) 293-1776. This number can also assist with accommodations along the tour. The passes are good through April 30, 1998.

Additional information about Thomas Jefferson and "Jefferson's Virginia" can also be found on the Internet (http:// www.jeff-virginia.org). SC:

Originally published June 8, 1997

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