Historic Sites and Buildings
In 1806-19 Thomas Jefferson designed and built this architecturally notable octagonal house on his 4,000-acre Bedford County plantation as a summer home and retreat. He occupied it intermittently until his death in 1826.
The plantation came into Jefferson's possession through Martha Wayles Skelton, whom he married in 1772. For many years, whenever he visited it to superintend its management, he resided in a two-room cottage, the only dwelling. In June 1781, just after abdicating the governorship and narrowly escaping capture with a group of legislators during a British raid on Charlottesville, he temporarily moved his family to the cottage. Before the month was out, a horse threw and injured him. During his recuperation, he wrote Notes on the State of Virginia, a study of social and political life in 18th-century Virginia. In 1806-19, during which time he retired from public office, he erected Poplar Forest. When visitors became too numerous at Monticello or the fancy struck, he took up residence at his retreat for a month or two, usually twice a year. As time went on, he refined the structure.
In 1845 a fire destroyed the roof and interior, leaving only the four chimneys, the brick walls, and possibly the portico columns. That same year, the present unadorned roof, octagonal and hipped hike its predecessor, and dormers were added. Prior to the fire, a skylight and balustraded deck at the edge of the roof, with a Tuscan cornice below, extended around the building. The one-story brick residence is set over a high basement. Because of the sloping ground on the rear side, the structure is two stories high there. One and two-story tetrastyle Tuscan porticoes are attached to the front and rear of the house respectively. The front one is pedimented; the unpedimented rear one is built over a one-story arcade.
The original interior plan is unchanged. Four elongated octagonal rooms are grouped symmetrically around the present dining room, a square central chamber that was once lighted from above by a skylight, not replaced in 1845. No aboveground traces remain of a flat-roofed office wing, referred to by Jefferson, but a kitchen and smokehouse still stand.
Poplar Forest is in good condition.
Last Updated: 22-Jan-2004