Sense of Place

I got to travel to my home state of Virginia this past weekend and while there I visited founding father Thomas Jefferson’s private retreat called Poplar Forest, outside of Lynchburg. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s initial visit to Poplar Forest, one of only two homes he designed and created for his own use—the other being Monticello in Charlottesville—and free admission made it even more fun.

The home speaks volumes about the man and his mind, as it is reportedly the first octagonal home built in America and featured many state of the art amenities, including indoor toiletry to supplement his octagon-shaped outhouses. Of Poplar Forest, Jefferson wrote to a friend: “When finished, it will be the best dwelling house in the state, except that of Monticello; perhaps preferable to that, as more proportioned to the faculties of a private citizen.”

Poplar Forest’s website at hints at the special place it held in its owner’s heart: “Poplar Forest was an important part of Jefferson’s life: a private retreat, situated far from the public scrutiny, where he could indulge in his favorite pastimes of reading, studying and thinking. Poplar Forest [was] a place where he came to find rest and leisure, rekindle his creativity, and to enjoy private family time.”

In a letter written to another friend, Jefferson wrote of Poplar Forest: “I write to you from a place 90 miles from Monticello…which I visit three or four times a year, and stay from a fortnight to a month at a time. I have fixed myself comfortably, keep some books here, bring others occasionally, am in the solitude of a hermit, and quite at leisure to attend to my absent friends.”

What was so special about visiting Jefferson’s hideaway is that it gave me a sense of place and how his home informed and inspired one of the truly revolutionary thinkers in history. It was moving to spend time in the same space that the author of our nation’s Declaration of Independence used to read and study and think grand thoughts.