Author Archive

Mar 13, 2023

2022 Archaeology Field School

Poplar Forest was excited to once again host its Field School in Historical Archaeology last summer through the University of Virginia. We welcomed five students who learned the skills and practices essential to historical archaeology as they complete their undergraduate degrees at a variety of schools, including George Mason, Kansas State, Wake Forest and the […]


Feb 9, 2023

Artifact Spotlight: The Toy Turtle

“What is the metal turtle in that box?” It was an unexpected question, but not the strangest one I’ve been asked as the Archaeology Laboratory Supervisor for Poplar Forest. I love this type of question, though, because trying to answer it inevitably leads me down a research rabbit hole where I learn something new or […]


Feb 9, 2023

Sink or Swim, Soil Edition

When digging, archaeologists use mesh screens that allow them to recover artifacts that are ¼-inch in diameter or larger. But what about objects that are extremely small, that fall through the screens used in the field? Archaeologists invented a technique called soil flotation to account for this potential loss of information by recovering these special […]


Feb 9, 2023

1857 Slave Dwelling Repairs

The 1857 Slave Dwelling, located only a few hundred feet east of the retreat house, often gets overshadowed by Jefferson’s architectural masterpiece. But this relatively unassuming brick structure is quite significant in its own right. As the only plantation-era laborer housing still standing on the property, it provides an important link to the history of […]


Jan 31, 2023

A Very Private Space

One of the fundamental aspects of Poplar Forest was privacy. The plan and use of the house indicated its private nature.  Jefferson struggled with the design regarding where the staircase should go in this two-story house. In order to not interfere with its geometric design, Jefferson stuck two stair pavilions on each side of the […]


Jan 7, 2023

Final Ornamental Elements Installed

The final ornamental part of Jefferson’s villa retreat was installed in November 2022. The parlor’s Ionic Order entablature received its frieze ornaments. Like those of the dining room’s Doric Order entablature, these had been ordered from English Sculptor William Coffee who at the time was working in New York City. These had not been installed […]


Jan 6, 2023

Historic Paints Bring the House to Life

In October 2022, we accomplished an important and exciting restoration task. Chris Mills and team members Brad Steward and Jenna Stillwell spent four weeks on site making traditional paint finishes for the interior woodwork and plaster walls. Few people have seen traditional hand-ground paint finishes like the distemper and pigmented lime washes for the plaster […]


Jan 6, 2023

Experiencing Old Places

by Travis McDonald, Director of Architectural Restoration Recently it was my pleasure to give Thompson Mayes a tour of Poplar Forest. Mayes is a vice president and senior counsel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and was in Lynchburg to deliver a public lecture at Randolph College. Mayes was particularly interested in the restoration […]


Jan 6, 2023

Chimney Screen Restored

It is to our great fortune that Thomas Jefferson was a meticulous note taker. Museums such as Colonial Williamsburg credit the reconstruction of the Governor’s Palace to drawings he sketched, and the furniture it contained is known by inventories he wrote. In the case of Poplar Forest, it is the correspondence between craftsmen and Jefferson […]


Jan 6, 2023

The History and Restoration of Entablature Ornaments

On March 16, 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote from Monticello to his overseer at Poplar Forest to say that William Coffee would be dropping by to see the house. “He is a very eminent artist in statuary and painting and a very estimable man, and will call at P.F. to see the house and if he […]


Jan 6, 2023

The Beauty and Resilience of Old-Growth Wood

As our restoration craftsmen created and installed the entablatures, we were reminded of the specie and quality of using salvaged old-growth poplar, the same material Jefferson used. The heartwood of old-growth poplar was just as prized for exterior elements as was old-growth pine. Jefferson specified that heart poplar should be used for the balusters in […]


Jan 6, 2023

Reconstructing the Entablatures

Between late 2018 and mid-2020 one of the biggest pieces of the restoration took shape. Pieces of the old-growth heart poplar lumber that had been hand-molded into individual parts by the restoration craftsmen were put together to form a Tuscan order entablature. The Tuscan order, the lowest of the classical Roman orders of architecture, now […]