An "essay in architecture"

Monticello sits on a hill in Albemarle County, Va., not far from the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president and the house's creator. Jefferson spent more than four decades designing and reimagining the estate, which he called his "essay in architecture," according to

When Jefferson was 21 years old, he inherited several thousand acres of land that included the family estate and Monticello (Italian for "little mountain"), a nearby hilltop where he chose to build his home. In 1768, workers broke ground on the site.

Although he had no formal training, Jefferson drafted the blueprints for Monticello's neoclassical mansion, outbuildings, gardens and grounds; he had read extensively about architecture, particularly involving ancient Rome and the Italian Renaissance. Jefferson later would become an architect, designing the Virginia state capitol and main buildings at the University of Virginia.

The bricks used to build Monticello were molded and baked with clay found on the property. The grounds provided most of the lumber, stone and limestone, and the nails were manufactured on-site.

In 1770, Jefferson moved into Monticello's completed South Pavilion after the family house at Shadwell burned down. In 1772, he was joined by his bride, Martha Wayles Skelton; the couple had six children together. After losing his wife in 1782, Jefferson moved to France in 1784 and returned home in 1796 with a new vision for the estate, having been inspired by French architecture.

The "second Monticello" was double the size of its original design. Enhancements included a central hallway, mezzanine bedroom floor and octagonal domeā€”the first of its kind in the U.S. The house was completed in 1809 and included 43 rooms; 13 skylights; about 11,000 square feet of living area; and eight fireplaces.

After Jefferson died in 1826, leaving debt for his family, his daughter was forced to sell the estate, which had begun to decay. In 1836, it was bought by Uriah Levy, a real estate speculator; he and his nephew helped to restore and preserve the house. In 1923, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation bought the property and continues to operate it as a museum and educational institution.

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