Ever heard of Montpelier? Neither had I -- at least not until a couple of years ago.
It happens to be the plantation house where James Madison (1751-1836), 4th President of the United States and father of the U.S. Constitution, and First Lady Dolley Madison (1768-1849) lived. They didn't live there full-time, of course, until Madison completed his second term in 1817.
Located near Orange, Virginia, the estate is comprised of a mansion, historic buildings, exhibits, garden, forest trails and archaeological sites.
The origins of the name Montpelier are dubious at best, but the first recorded use of the name is traced back to a letter written in 1781. Madison liked the French spelling of the word -- Montpellier -- which translates to "Mount of the Pilgrim."
Madison had a staff of roughly 100 enslaved African Americans at Montpelier who served in a variety of roles, from cooks to carpenters.
It was declared a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. It underwent a major restoration from 2003-2008, partly to return the mansion to 22 rooms -- the same number it had during Madison's two terms in office.
Dolley sold the estate to Henry Moncure in 1844. Since then, it has changed hands multiple times and has been owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation since 1984.
Madison is buried in the family cemetery at Montpelier. Dolley was first buried in Washington D.C. and later re-interred at Montpelier alongside her husband.
Visitors to Montpelier enjoy strolling the grounds, picnicking, and immersing themselves in history. It's a can't-miss stop for those planning a trip to Virginia, whether history buffs or not.
I definitely plan on adding Montpelier to my "places to see before I die" list. Do you?