Local philanthropist David M. Rubenstein announced Saturday that he is giving $10 million to Montpelier, the historic Orange, Va., home of the nation’s fourth president, James Madison.
The donation comes on the heels of Rubenstein’s gifts of $5 million to the White House Visitor Center in September and $12.3 million to Arlington House, the home of Robert E. Lee, in July.
He also paid $7.5 million of the $15 million cost of the repairs to the Washington Monument after the 2011 earthquake.
The Montpelier gift, announced at the site, will fund reconstruction, refurnishing and archaeology at the plantation that Madison’s family occupied with its slaves for several generations.
Montpelier is about 90 miles southwest of Washington. Madison served as president from 1809 to 1817. When he retired, he moved with his wife, Dolley, back to the plantation where he had grown up and where his mother still lived.
“I do believe that we should learn more about our history, and particularly history relating to the rights and freedoms that this country has,” Rubenstein said in a telephone interview Thursday night.
“James Madison, as a person who lived in Montpelier and was the father of our Constitution, I think making sure that more people know about him is probably a good thing,” he said. “I wanted to try to make Montpelier a more attractive destination.”
“Montpelier, like Monticello and like Mount Vernon, are homes of great American leaders from that era,” he said. “And more and more Americans, I hope, will visit them.”
Monticello was Thomas Jefferson’s home. Mount Vernon was George Washington’s home.
Rubenstein — the billionaire co-founder of the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based global private equity firm — has a passion for U.S. history and has made numerous major history-themed donations in the past.
He said he called Montpelier several months ago and asked whether he could visit. “I came down and looked around,” he said, and was struck by the story of Madison’s diligence, learning and behind-the-scenes work ethic.
“He devoted himself entirely to public service,” Rubenstein said. “He got things done.”
Rubenstein’s gift is an “amazing and pivotal moment,” Kat Imhoff, president of the Montpelier Foundation, which operates the site and is receiving the donation, said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Madison and his famous wife lived in the house off and on for much of their lives, and Madison died there June 28, 1836, at age 85. Both are buried on the property.
“Our goal is to have a home that would feel very familiar to James Madison if he saw it today,” said Meg Kennedy, Montpelier’s director of museum services.
Madison, who could read Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, French and Hebrew, did much of his political thinking in Montpelier’s libraries, which held 4,000 books, experts said.
The mansion, which was substantially altered after it passed from Madison’s family, was restored to its 1817 appearance during a multiyear project that ended in 2008, Imhoff said.
But many rooms haven’t been refurnished because historians aren’t sure how they looked in the early 1800s. About $6.5 million of Rubenstein’s gift is going toward research and refurnishing those rooms.
“This will really put life and liveliness into all parts of the house that the visitors experience,” Imhoff said. “Getting it right. Being authentic. Hunting down as best we can original objects that were in the mansion or finding period pieces.”
About $3.5 million will go to archaeological and other work on a small complex of slave cabins, a kitchen and two smokehouses that stood just south of the mansion.
Experts believe about 30 people — “house slaves” and their families — occupied what were relatively comfortable structures. The plan is to reconstruct the buildings and furnish the complex.
“There’ll be these . . . wooden structures with glass windows, wooden floors,” Imhoff said. “We will also be furnishing them, so that when visitors are able to enter them you’ll see a fully functioning kitchen of that time period.”
The plantation’s “field slaves” lived in more spartan cabins of logs and mud near where they worked, said Montpelier’s director of archaeology, Matthew Reeves.
Madison, although troubled by slavery, at one point owned 118 slaves. It is said he talked more on the subject of slavery than on any other.
Rubenstein’s gift “is going to open up a whole new world for us,” Reeves said. The buildings in the complex were torn down in the 1840s. And the site has been undisturbed since then, he said.
“It’s perfectly preserved,” he said.