Your experience in Charlottesville may include visits to the estates of three American presidents: Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson; Ash Lawn-Highland, home of James Monroe; and Montpelier, home of James Madison.
Most of our Charlottesville programs also include lunch at the historic Michie Tavern. Established in 1784 by Scotsman William Michie, the tavern served as the social center of the community. Visitors today journey back to the eighteenth century while dining on a traditional Bill of Fare and witnessing such diversions as dancing and games.
A History of Charlottesville
Charlottesville's history begins in the eighteenth century with the story of the surrounding county of Albemarle – long before the granting of the city charter in 1888.
Occasional trappers and squatters probably explored this area before it was settled, but the earliest land grant in this area was actually settled and planted in 1727. Albemarle County was carved out of Goochland County in 1744, and named for William Keppel, Earl of Albemarle, who was the Virginia colony's official Royal Governor General in England. On December 23, 1762, the General Assembly passed an act which established as county seat a town located on the “Three Notched Road,” which at that time was the main route between the Shenandoah Valley and Richmond . This new town, more centrally located in the county, was named Charlottesville in honor of Queen Charlotte-Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the young bride of King George III of England.
The original expanse of town, a rectangular area of fifty acres adjacent to Court Square, was laid out in lots and placed for sale under the care of Dr. Thomas Walker of Castle Hill. The county land surrounding the public area was subdivided into lots of varying sizes and gradually sold. Fourteen town lots were sold in 1763 and ten the following year. The Revolutionary War saw Charlottesville as a gradually emerging town in the center of an agriculturally-based county. Small farmers and large landowners alike grew tobacco – which they considered the lifeblood of the economy – as well as wheat, Indian corn, barley and oats. The residents of both the town and the county had to be largely self-sufficient as transportation was difficult to points east, such as Richmond, the more populated Tidewater region, and the seat of colonial government in Williamsburg.
Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia
Near the end of his life, Thomas Jefferson completed one final act of public service by founding a university not far from his Monticello home. Jefferson was involved in every aspect of the founding of the University of Virginia, from designing its architecture to planning the curriculum and engaging the best scholars from America and Europe to serve on the faculty. The University of Virginia officially opened in March of 1825, and Jefferson served as rector until his death on July 4, 1826. During his final year, Jefferson often hosted students for dinner at Monticello, among whom was the young Edgar Allan Poe, who attended U.Va. from 1826 to 1827. At his request, Jefferson's tombstone lists three significant accomplishments of his public life; although the epitaph does not mention his Presidency, it does include the words "Father of the University of Virginia."