Thomas Jefferson and his wife Martha inherited the Bedford County plantation known as Poplar Forest from her father in 1773. The property’s name, which predates Jefferson’s ownership, reflects the forest that once grew here. Several stately poplars in front of the home welcome visitors today.
The 4,819-acre plantation provided Jefferson with significant income and the perfect setting where he could pursue his passion for reading, writing, studying and gardening after retiring from public life.
In the early years of his ownership, Jefferson managed Poplar Forest from afar as he practiced law and served in a series of government office both at the state and national levels. He and his family, however, did spend two months here in 1781 when they left Monticello to elude British capture. During this visit, Jefferson compiled much of the material for his only book – Notes on the State of Virginia – while he was probably staying at the overseer’s house.
In 1806, Jefferson traveled from Washington to supervise the laying of the foundation for the octagonal house we see today. When his presidency ended in 1809, Jefferson visited the retreat three to four times a year, staying from two weeks to two months at a time. His visits often coincided with the seasonal responsibilities of the working plantation. He also oversaw the ornamentation of the house and grounds, and the planting of his vegetable garden. Family members, usually grandchildren, often joined Jefferson.
Jefferson made his last trip to Poplar Forest in 1823 when he settled his grandson, Francis Eppes, on the property. Ill health prevented further visits. In 1828, two years after Jefferson’s death at age 83, Eppes sold Poplar Forest to a neighbor.
The design of Poplar Forest is highly idealistic in concept with only a few concessions to practicality – it was so perfectly suited to Jefferson alone that subsequent owners found it difficult to inhabit and altered it to suit their needs. In 1845 a fire led the family then living at Poplar Forest to convert Jefferson’s villa into a practical farmhouse. The property was privately owned until December 1983 when a nonprofit corporation began the rescue of the landmark for future generations. Visitors today see the house as preservation, reconstruction and restoration are in progress.