Change After Jefferson
Through the years, Jefferson’s cherished retreat underwent many changes as the families who lived there remodeled the home to meet personal needs and changing fashions, and provide modern conveniences.
In 1823, Jefferson established his newly married grandson Francis Eppes at Poplar Forest but continued to direct the finishing touches or changes to the house until his death in 1826. The first item in Jefferson’s will was the bequest of Poplar Forest to Eppes.
In 1828, before moving to Florida, Eppes sold the house and 1,074 acres to his neighbor William Cobbs. The first great change to the house occurred in 1846 when the house was rebuilt in a Greek Revival style following a fire. Still, the house retained its original octagonal design and walls, and parts of the wing and its foundation survived.
The Cobbs/Hutter family tenure lasted until 1946 when James O. Watts acquired the property. The Watts family modernized the house for twentieth-century living, reversed some of the earlier changes and restored the parlor to a Jefferson look. In 1969, during the Watts ownership, Poplar Forest was declared a National Historic Landmark. The Watts family continued living in the house and farming the property until 1979 when it was rescued from commercial development by Dr. James Johnson. By then the property consisted of only the house and 49.5 acres, with some of the surrounding property already developed as a housing sub-division.
In 1984, Dr. Johnson sold the property to the newly formed Corporation for Jefferson’s Poplar Forest as its permanent steward. Since that time the private, nonprofit corporation has purchased more than 600 acres of surrounding open land as an historic resource and to buffer the property from further encroachment. Archaeology and architectural restoration work have been on going since 1988, providing the visiting public an in-depth look at a museum-quality restoration project.