Montpelier and the Legacy of James Madison

The recently restored Virginia estate of James Madison was home to a founding father and the ideals that shaped a nation

"Montpelier, which lies a few miles south of Orange, Virginia, and about 90 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., is where James Madison grew up and where he retired after his days as president were over." (Kenneth M. Wyner, courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation)

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Once the restoration began, in late 2003, workers removed about two-thirds of William duPont's addition to uncover the original house. They found it so well-preserved that the majority of the floorboards from Madison's time remained. As the renovation proceeded, if workers couldn't use original materials, they painstakingly tried to replicate them, hand-molding bricks or combining plaster with horsehair.

Researchers used visitors' letters and other accounts to envision the house as it was during Madison's retirement years. Architectural plans from Madison's expansions were also an invaluable resource. Quinn says there was also a lot of forensic work: after stripping off coats of paint, for example, experts could see "shadows" revealing where certain pieces of furniture sat. Furnishing all of the mansion's current 26 rooms will take a few more years, Quinn says.

In the meantime, the Montpelier grounds are also home to the Center for the Constitution, a resource for advancing constitutional education—and another extension of Madison's legacy. When the mansion was reopened, in September, the chief justice of the United States, John G. Roberts, spoke from its front steps. "If you're looking for Madison's monument, look around," Roberts said. "Look around at a free country governed by the rule of law."

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