If Monticello were Hertz, then surely Ash Lawn, the home that Thomas Jefferson designed for James Monroe, would by Avis.
The gleaming dome of Monticello is visible from the porch of Ash Lawn, and the arch of the porch is unusually low; it's said that Jefferson made the arch that way so Monroe would have to bow toward Monticellow whenever he left his house.
Monroe lived in Jefferson's shadow, and even today his accomplishments are almost forgotten by comparison. As if consistent with his lot as second banana, Monroe is seen standing behind General Washington in the painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware .
Ash Lawn -- now administered by the College of William and Mary -- is less palatial than Monticello but no less interesting because it shows the way of life of the average gentleman farmer in the 1800s.
Surrounding the house, or "cabin castle," as Monroe called it, is a lush boxwood garden and a stunning collection of peacocks, 32 in all -- one elegantly perched on a tree limb, its tail touching the ground. Sheep and cattle roam the fields. Monroe kept the peacocks because their shrill cry was an excellent alarm against intruders.
The interior of the house has well-worn floors and two pianos, which suggest the Monroes' love of music. Guests at Highland, as the place was know in Monroe's time, stayed in the Monroes' bedroom, sleeping on a double bed stored underneath a large four poster bed -- the Monroes had lots of guests and no children.
Ash Lawn can be rented for special occasions -- the night before our visit a wedding reception had taken place, and chairs and tables were neatly stacked in a corner. In the basement of the house, a young lady was fashioning wool from a spinning wheel.
Down the winding mountain road from Monticello is Michie Tavern, where, folklore has it, one night Jefferson, Monroe and Madison sat down over beer and food. h
"Scotch John Michie," a member of the Jacobites strongly opposed to Scotland's union with England, was forced to pick from a bag containing black and white beans: Black meant death, white exile, Michie picked a white bean and gave it to his quaking friend Watson. He picked another bean for himself, and it was white, too -- the only white beans drawn that day, the story goes. Watson and Michie were sent to the colonies with their earlobes cut off so they could never return to their homeland.
Major Henry, Patrick Henry's father, sold Michie land and a deceptively large, dormered clapboard house, which he later converted to Michie Tavern. The land was sold when Patrick was 10.
Michie Tavern was a bustling, self-sufficient compound, with a blacksmith shop, a smoke house, a spring house, a gristmill and The Necessary. The Necessary contains four holes; one for women, two for men and a smaller one for children. A rope hangs from the ceiling and on the wall is carved "If ye fall into the hole, do not call proprietor, use rope to pull ye out."
The tables in the house looked newly varnished but in fact have been hand-rubbed with a mixture of beeswax and turpentine every day since 1735. The effect is a permanent hard sheen. There is a cheese press in the house and an odd-looking wooden machine with palms sticking out resembling a rolling pin. The curators of the tavern found out from the Smithsonian that the device is a curd-breaker used in making cheese.
It's said that the first waltz danced in America was done by Jefferson's daughter and her French boyfriend in the upstairs ballroom of the tavern. An enraged lady guest lectured young Miss Jefferson about the wanton dancing and she fled the room in tears.
The original tavern furnishings are intact, including an early version of a Murphy bed and a Chippendale chest with a ball-and-claw feet. Guests can lunch daily from 1 to 3 in The Ordinary, a converted log cabin used 200 years ago as a slave house. The bill of fare, said to represent a typical colonial meal, includes blackeyed peas, curd cheese, home-made corn bread and fried chicken.
If antiquing is your pleasure, there are several good shops on Main Street including Ann Woods Ltd., Bernard Caperton and 1740 House Antiques on Route 250 West. But one of the most intersting shops is Hensley's at 101 East Water street.
Hensley's specialty is "junkatique" -- everything from old campaign buttons and post cards to a vast collection of salt and pepper shakers and commerical liquor decanters. Located beneath a pool hall overlooking a trainyard, Hensley's functions like an old country store where local folks sit for a spell and just talk. Grab a soda from the vintage cooler and wander among old irons, sleds, books and piano rolls, and listen to the passing trains and the pool balls hitting the floor of the hall above.
For the dedicated sightseer, the local Chamber of Commerce will tell you about the "John Boy" tour. For $10, a bus will pick you up and take you to Schuyler, Virginia, the home of Earl Hamner, whose writing inspired the television series "The Waltons." Soapstone was quarried in Schuyler, but the only evidence of that activity today is abandoned company shacks and large ugly holes in the earth. Hamner's mother, recently visited by Lillian Carter, still lives in the town; and while a visit to her is not promised, the trip is said to include an icecream cone from the country store know as "Ike Godsey." There are many mountains in the area, but not one of them is named Walton's mountain or "Hammer's mountain" -- it is not a place as much as a state of mind.
The campus of the University of Virginia, just off the main drag, was designed by Jefferson, who watched the workers building the school through a telescope from his nearby mountain home, Monticello. Campus tours are conducted by students, who speak in detail about Jefferson's complex architectural concepts.
A lovely, dimpled young lady took our group through Jefferson's orginal library, know as the Rotunda, and to Edgar Allen Poe's room, which she admitted is periodically vandalized by students -- in the spirit of Poe's memory of course. Is seems that Poe's stay at the University was tumultuous and marked by frequent bouts with booze.
Jefferson is to Charlottesville what Noah was to the Ark, and the visitor is dutybound to see the home from which Jefferson guided the ship of state. It's not too tiring or time-comsuming to see the campus and Monticello the same day.
Sally Hemmings, Jefferson's purported mistress, is never mentioned. In fact, Fawn Brody's biography, which frankly covers the subject, is not available in the Monticello gift shop, which carries other books about Jefferson. The cost of the tour is $2 per person. Throughout the house are examples of Jefferson's genius.
More than 10,000 iron artifacts have been unearthed during recent excavations near Monticello, including hand-made nails, axes, chains, gun parts and horseshoes, as well as varities of Chinese porcelain.
The Bicentennial Center for Albemarle County is on the way back t otown from Ash Lawn. A documentary film narrated by Earl Hammer shows the typical non-baronial home during the Revolutionary War and the lives of the first settlers, including Indians, to arrive in the county.
Even if sightseeing is enough to ruin your whole day, Charlottesville is a good place to rest, enjoy the Blue Ridge Mountains, take in a play and sample the local restaurants.
Lodgings are plentiful, ranging from Holiday Inns and a Ramada Inn on U.S. 29, featuring backgammon and disco dancing, to the serene and charming Boars Head Inn.
On U.S. 29 west, within sight of the mountains, the Boars Head has several tennis courts (three indoors), gyms for men and women each with a sauna, three swimming pools, four squash courts, a main dining room and a downstairs bar with a fireplace. Drinks are served outside, where guests can feed the ducks that waddle to the tables from two nearby lakes.
Also available are the services of Guest-houses, Bed and Breakfast, Inc. Guest-houses is a reservation service placing visitors in private homes and estates, cottages, or short-term efficiencies. Single and double rooms are available from $12 to $36 a night. The guest will awaken to a home-cooked meal and a hostess eager to answer questions.
Most of Charlottesville's movie theaters have a "Good Neighbor Hour" from 4 to 6 with tickets reduced to $2.