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Montpelier discovery
Visitors get first look at latest archeological finds at Montpelier

 Lynne Lewis, National Trust archaeologist (left), and volunteer Nancy Wright work on the digin front of James Madison's Montpelier yesterday.
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Date published: 10/1/2006

By CATHY JETT

JAMES MADISON had a reputation as being soft-spoken and shy, but he certainly knew how to make a fashionable entrance.

For his beloved Montpelier, that is.

An 1818 painting by a visitor to the fourth president's Orange County plantation shows a curving fence and gate at the end of the carriage road leading to the main house. The curve was characteristic of the neoclassical "picturesque" style then all the rage in Europe.

"It shows he was a modern man, which reflects in his work on the Constitution as well," said Matthew B. Reeves, Montpelier's archaeology director.

The front gateway and the serpentine carriage drive leading up to the house were buried in the mid-1800s when a later owner, Benjamin Thorton, gave Montpelier a Greek Revival update. But Reeves' team of archeologists, aided by dozens of volunteers, have spent the last three months uncovering postholes and cobblestone paving in front of the house.

"Can you see this little blackened area here?" archaeologist Mark Trickett asked Duane Hawthorne and his family, who visited Montpelier yesterday during a public viewing of the site. "That's actually the remains of a wooden fence post. They charred the end to make it resistant to bugs and rot."

Hawthorne, who lives near Richmond, is a contractor who had helped lay stone for some of the paths at Montpelier. "I've taken the tour before," he said. "I was just interested in what they'd found."

Ongoing work at Montpelier, which is being restored to look as it did during Madison's time, is helping to increase visitation at the 2,650-acre estate, said spokeswoman Peggy Seiter Vaughn.

"It's up 10 percent this year, and it was up 3 percent last year," she said. "It's because there's a lot that's new to see here."

The stucco that once covered the main house already has been stripped away, as have the 20th-century additions made by the duPonts, the last family to own Montpelier. Inside, workers are peeling back plaster, replacing floorboards and repairing crumbling brick.

When that work is finished late next year, visitors will be able to see what the interior would have looked like when Madison and his wife, Dolley, lived there.

A replica of the wooden fence and gate, however, probably won't be installed for another three years.


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