Montpelier was a large tobacco plantation and estate of the prominent Madison family of Virginia planters, including James Madison, fourth President of the United States. The manor house of Montpelier is four miles (6 km) south of Orange, Virginia, and the estate currently covers some 2,650 acres (10.7 km2). It is a declared National Historic Landmark (1960), listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1966), and since 1984 has been owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Madison family

The land, in the Piedmont of Virginia, was acquired by James Madison's grandfather, Ambrose Madison, and his brother-in-law Thomas Chew, in 1723. Ambrose and his family moved to the plantation, then known as Mount Pleasant, in 1732. When Ambrose died only six months later, poisoned, according to court records, by three African American slaves, his wife Frances managed the estate. In time she was assisted by their only son, James Madison, Sr., later known as Colonel Madison. Colonel Madison's first-born son, also James, was born in 1751 at Belle Grove, his mother's family estate in Port Conway, but was soon taken to Montpelier where he spent his first years before being taken to a new house built by his father half a mile away. This new house forms the heart of the main house at Montpelier today. Built around 1764, with two stories of brick in Flemish bond, and a low, hipped roof with chimney stacks at both ends.

James, Junior inherited Montpelier after his father's death in 1801 and retired there after his second term as president came to an end in 1817. In 1797, after his first retirement from politics, he added a thirty-foot extension and a Tuscan portico. Single-story flat-roofed extensions were built at either end of the house and a Drawing Room was created out of two of the existing rooms in around 1810. James Madison died in 1836 and is buried in the family cemetery at Montpelier. His widow, Dolley Madison, moved back to Washington, D.C. after his death and sold the estate in 1844.

Montpelier was permanently staffed by an enslaved African population which fluctuated in size but averaged approximately 100 during James Madison's tenure as owner.

The Du Pont family

After some renovations in the later 19th century (c. 1855 and c. 1880), the house was acquired in 1901 by William and Annie Rogers duPont of the du Pont family. A horse enthusiast, William du Pont built barns, stables and other buildings for equestrian use. Marion duPont inherited the estate in 1928. She preserved much of the core of the Madison home, gardens, and grounds of Montpelier as a legacy for all Americans while enlarging the house considerably. She added wings that more than doubled the size of the house to 55 rooms.

It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Marion du Pont died in 1983 and her will wanted the property to go to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and left an additional $10 million to maintain it.. However, her father's will stated that if she died childless then the property would go to her brother, William duPont, Jr. Because he died in 1965, William, Jr's five children legally inherited the property. Three children sold their interest to the National Trust as did the other two after a protracted court battle.


A major $25 million restoration program was begun in October 2003, was completed on September 17, 2008, and was celebrated with a Restoration Celebration on Constitution Day, September 17 with major funding by National Trust Community Investment Corporation.

The restoration work restored Montpelier to its 1820 appearance. This involved the demolition of additions made to the house by the du Pont family, removal of the stucco exterior, restoration of the original brick exterior, and reconstruction of the house's interior as it appeared during Madison's tenure as owner. Authentic materials were used in the restoration, including horsehair plaster, and paint containing linseed oil and chalk.

Additionally, a wing in the visitors' center is dedicated to the du Pont family, including a restored art deco Red Room from the du Pont era, moved from the mansion.


Montpelier is open to paying visitors every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Montpelier is now embarking on a "Presidential Detective Story" to return the furnishings and decor to the home of James and Dolley Madison.

At the entrance to the Montpelier garden is the largest of several Cedars of Lebanon, this one certainly planted during James Madison's lifetime.

Montpelier abuts the James Madison Landmark Forest, a 200-acre (0.81 km2) stand of old growth forest, one of the largest and best preserved groves of old-growth piedmont forest in the eastern United States.

Annual events

Montpelier is the site of many annual events, but there are three events in particular that draw large crowds: The Montpelier Hunt Races, the Montpelier Wine Festival, and the Fiber Festival.

Montpelier continues to host special events including the annual Montpelier Hunt Races, an autumn steeplechase event started by Marion du Pont Scott and her brother William du Pont, Jr. in 1934. The races are held the first Saturday in November every year. The 75th running of the Montpelier Hunt Races was held November 7, 2009.

The Montpelier Hunt Races have been a Virginia institution for over 75 years. Montpelier boasts one of the only steeplechase tracks in the country that still uses traditional hedgerows for jumps. Montpelier always hosts seven races at this event. Guests may watch the races directly at the rail, and experience some of the finest and most exhilarating racing in America. This event is always on the first weekend in November.

The Montpelier Wine Festival showcases distinctive arts and crafts, speciality food vendors, local agricultural products, and, of course, Virginia wine from approximately 25 different Virginia wineries.

The Fall Fiber Festival happens every October, and is a popular regional event. The event showcases every aspect of textile manufacturing, from the production of wool to the finished product. Events include sheep shearing, craft demos, and a host of other activities. The most popular feature of the Fall Fiber Festival is the Sheep Dog Trials.