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17th May 2013

Local History: Poplar Forest

If you are looking for a nice day trip to take with the family or are just a history or architecture buff, look no further than Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s villa retreat. Located just ten miles outside of Lynchburg, it is the perfect way to spend the day learning more about one of America’s founding fathers, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and third President of the United States.

While Jefferson is well known for his contributions to the birth of our great nation, he was also an architectural prodigy. Jefferson inherited Poplar County, a 4,800 acre plantation, in 1773. In 1806, Jefferson oversaw the foundation laying of the house still standing there today. Its design was modeled using elements from a combination of Renaissance Palladian and 18th century French architecture along with British and local Virginian models. The main villa is octagonal in design and was the first of its nature in the United States.

Poplar Forest is much lesser known than Jefferson’s main residence of Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia. This may be due to fact that he spent limited time here; it was sold soon after Jefferson passed away and fell into disrepair for many years. The Corporation for Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, a nonprofit, has spent the last thirty years restoring the property and working to inspire visitors with Jefferson’s legacy and contributions to art and architecture.

Although Poplar Forest has been in restoration for a number of years, it is still far from complete. The main building exterior has been finished and some of the interiors are done but the renovation of the surrounding land is still ongoing. Funds for rescue of thirty-nine additional acres are still needed. The landscaping around the retreat is being studied as well to restore the grounds to Jefferson’s original vision.

Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970, Poplar Forest has hosted visitors from all fifty states and over eighty countries. Open visiting hours are daily from 10am to 4pm from March 15th through December 30th and weekends in January to mid-March from 10am to 3pm. Admission varies but tops out at $14 for adults and children under 6 are free. Exhibits available for viewing include an archaeology laboratory and slave quarter site along with a workshop detailing the restoration of the home and grounds.

With Poplar Forest just fifteen minutes out of town, it is the perfect day getaway. So jump in the car, grab the family, and take some time to learn about one of the most influential men in United States history!