Fifth president James Monroe fought in the Revolution, was wounded in Trenton, and went on to hold more public offices than any other president. Monroe's close friendship with Thomas Jefferson brought him to Charlottesville from Fredericksburg. Monroe purchased 1,000 acres adjacent to Monticello in 1793 and with Jefferson's help built an estate he called Highland. (Later owners added Ash Lawn to the name in 1838 and a two-story addition in 1882.) Before Monroe could settle in, Washington named him minister to France and sent him to Paris for 3 years. By the time he returned, he was suffering financial difficulties, and his "cabin castle" developed along more modest lines than originally intended. When Monroe left the presidency in 1825, his debts totaled $75,000, and he was forced to sell his farm. He spent his final years near Leesburg and in New York City.
Today, Monroe's 535-acre estate is owned and maintained as a working farm by his alma mater, the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. Colonial crafts demonstrations recall the elements of daily life on the Monroe plantation. Sheep and cattle graze in the fields, while peacocks delight young visitors. The basement kitchen, the plantation office, the overseer's cottage, restored slave quarters, and the old smokehouse also remain. On a 30-minute house tour, you'll see many of the family's original furnishings and artifacts and learn a great deal about the fifth president. Allow another 30 minutes to explore the grounds and gift shop on your own.
Among many special events taking place at Ash Lawn-Highland, the outdoor Ash Lawn Summer Opera Festival (tel. 434/293-4500; www.ashlawnopera.org) features opera and Broadway shows and concerts.
- © Frommer's 2013
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