1. Monticello


View east


© 2000 Airphoto—Jim Wark

Source and Paradigm

On 20 June 1803, after some eight months of planning and discussion, President Thomas Jefferson handed his twenty-eight-year-old secretary, Captain Meriwether Lewis of the First Infantry Regiment, a letter containing instructions for the conduct of one of the most significant undertakings in American history. "The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri river, & such principal stream[s] of it, as, by it's course and communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean . . . may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent for the purposes of commerce."

The two former Virginia neighbors were living in the still-unfinished—and as yet unnamed—president's house in Washington City, but Jefferson's innermost spirit was always absent, 120 miles south in Albemarle County, Virginia, at his hilltop plantation on the east slope of the Appalachian Mountains. Jefferson called the hill Monticello, an Italian word meaning "little mountain." Indeed, it rises only five hundred feet above sea level, five miles southeast of Charlottesville. On its summit Jefferson built—evolved, really—the beloved home he called by the same name. His body was fed and his spirit nourished from the vineyards, orchards, vegetable gardens and flower beds at his doorstep.

Beginning in 1769 at age twenty-six, Jefferson built Monticello over a period of forty years. The house and grounds stand as a physical manifestation of the mind of its creator, the man one French admirer described as a "Musician, Draftsman, Surveyor, Astronomer, Natural Philosopher, Jurist, and Statesman." Jefferson framed the house with "roundabout" roads lined with "allées" of mulberry and honey locust trees. Inside, Monticello bursts with Jefferson's inventions and experiments in architecture, furniture design, scientific equipment, and more. The crafter of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the University of Virginia was, in other words, a born explorer of ideas. The Corps of Discovery's journey west was yet another expression of his genius.


From Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air
Photography by Jim Wark

Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press