Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Montpelier and Lee Chapel

Robert and I got to visit three president's homes while on our Virginia trip. Montpelier is the home of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States and father of the Constitution. Montpelier looks great on the outside but they are just starting to collect furniture and decorations for the inside, so inside it is a little sparse. (Both Jefferson and Madison died in debt, so not a lot of Madison's furniture stayed in the family. Instead it was sold to pay off the debt.) They do however do a good job of telling you the significant events that happened in each room. ("This is the room where the fourth president of the United States took his last breathe." "This is the room where the ideas for the constitution were born.")

The grounds here are beautiful. Madison spent months at Montpelier researching every form of government he could to prepare for the Constitutional Convention. At least he had a beautiful view to reflect on as he worked.
An iconic building of Montpelier is this little pagoda. It's actually an ice box, so underneath it is a giant hole they would fill with ice during the winter and then store things that needed to be kept cold during the summer.
James Madison's grave. It was cool to walk around the family graveyard and try figure out how they were related to Madison.

The next day we were down in Lexington and visited the Lee Chapel, where Robert E. Lee is buried. It is on the campus of Washington and Lee University where Lee was president after the Civil War. He had the chapel built because he felt like the students needed a place where they could come together. He attended church and college events there for a few years after it was finished and then he died. Now on the stage inside the chapel area there is a giant statue of Lee in his uniform asleep on the battlefield and in the basement of the chapel is the Lee family crypt where Lee is actually buried.

Robert E. Lee's trusty horse, Traveller, is also buried just outside the chapel.
To throw in a bit of history here, a lot of people might think it was odd to have a university named after the first president of the United States and the commander of the Confederate Army. Aren't they on opposite sides? Actually, they were both first and foremost Virginians. Washington was a major slave holder and lived in Virginia, a southern state. I'm not saying he definitively would have fought for the south if he were alive during the Civil War, but it's possible. And Lee wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea of secession, but he was loyal to his state and when Virginia seceded it was a hard decision for him to make to join with the Confederates. Also, Lee was married to Washington's step great-granddaughter (Martha's great-granddaughter) so the families are very interconnected.

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