By Demetra M. Pappas
July 4th invites educational travel for adults as well as families. While my idea of educational travel started with graduate school, a road trip (or easy Amtrak journey) provides for both. This Central Virginia Presidential Home and “Home Battle Field” plan of battle suits either way.
Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville is a superb place to start; as Jefferson built and rebuilt the house and garden for over 40 years, it appealed to the academic in me. There is a day in the life tour, and it is a treat to have Jefferson’s inventions pointed out en route. For a pre/post tour of a different sort, lunch nearby at Michie Tavern and learn that reading (or even walking along the path of history are not self-limiting) and for homework, get A Taste of the 18th Century (Michie Tavern ca. 1784). Jefferson’s post-presidential retreat at Poplar Forest in Bedford is a smaller, more intimate experience (where I recently attended an erudite and politically humorous conversational debate between Jefferson and Benedict Arnold).
The University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, has contemporary cultural learning opportunities, as well as Jeffersonian architectural genius. The Small Collections Library is a true treasure trove, with small exhibits and a view of open stacks of rare books behind gleaming glass – access without risk. The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia has rotating innovative exhibits. For theatrical goings on, the UVA theaters (Ruth Caplin, Culbreth and Helms) are running a Heritage Theater Festival over the summer.
Move onto Jefferson’s protégée, James Monroe, the last Founding Father and fifth president, by visiting his home, Ash Lawn-Highland in Charlottesville. A curious fact is that Monroe died in NYC on July 4, 1831. More importantly, he held more major offices than any other President – U.S. Senator, Minister to France, England and Spain, Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State and War and President – life experience indeed.
The area is rich in sesquicentennial Civil War history. The Museum of the Confederacy-Appomattox, opened on March 31, 2012, interweaves stories of the Confederate government, military, civilians and enslaved and freed blacks, in an ethnographically spellbinding experience dotted with historical artifacts like General Robert E. Lee’s sword and frock coat. Within visual distance (and a short drive) is Appomattox Court House, where Robert E. Lee and soon-to-be president (then-general) Ulysses S. Grant met to have a civil surrender.
Old City Cemetery Museums & Arboretum in Lynchburg is the oldest public cemetery still in use. I was moved to notice that there were visitors (who are very much alive and strolling on a beautiful day) at the gardens. In addition, the Old City Cemetery has museums (and now has a 2013 cookbook, Food to Live For to match the 2004 Food to Die For: A Book of Funeral Food, Tips and Tales). People who view the medicine exhibit may be inspired to do further reading, such as the popular general and academic interest book, Prototype of a Confederate Hospital Center in Lynchburg, Virginia, which I read after a fascinating conversation over dinner at Lynchburg’s Main Street eatery with author and local medical historian, Peter W. Houck.
Experiential learning need not be limited to revolutions of the 1700s and 1800s. Virginia is rich in wineries and Albemarle Limousine and Travel Services provides Blue Ridge Wine Excursions that are scenic tutorials and tastings with docent level custom designed itineraries and wine/cider tastings.
Whether planning, training or driving, locations to stay range from the haute Charlottesville Omni to the home (UVA housing and conference spaces) to the hoot (and Kinky Boots evoking) Craddock Terry Hotel on the James River in Lynchburg. Sarah Jessica Parker herself might want to steal one of the red shoes on the exterior of this converted former shoe factory, original to the factory itself. •
Photos Courtesy of Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau