Guest Blog - LEARNing from Montpelier

guestblg1-2As a born and bred Pittsburgher, and YPA member myself I am excited to share with this community a unique opportunity for some hands on preservation not too far from home!  Only a five-hour drive south of Pittsburgh, Orange, Virginia provides a scenic backdrop for individuals interested in learning more about traditional log building, the life and home of our fourth president, and the often overlooked history of the enslaved African Americans that lived and worked at Montpelier.  

Montpelier, James Madison’s estate was home to not only James and Dolley, but his aging parents, countless guests, and as many as 100 enslaved individuals.  Unfortunately, only two buildings from James’s life remain; the main house, and Mr. Madison’s garden temple.  In an effort to more accurately represent the landscape during James and Dolley’s lifetime, and provide the public with a physical structure marking the sites of enslaved households, Montpelier’s LEARN reconstruction programs were born.  

LEARN is the logo and acronym for the public programs held at Montpelier.  Standing for Locate, Excavate, Analyze, Reconstruct and Network, these week long programs provide an opportunity for members of the public to stay on Montpelier’s property for a week, and work alongside archaeologists and historians to help interpret the vast history at Montpelier.  

The Log Cabin School, held in February each year is especially exciting because it involves the reconstruction component in LEARN.  This program is designed to put historically appropriate tools in the student’s hands, and work side-by-side with master craftsmen and historians to help recreate one of the log cabin quarters at Montpelier.  Because the quarters have long since been demolished, their locations were discovered through archaeology.  During the week, students gain a full understanding of how archaeology can inform the design of the buildings.  Lectures and tours presented by the Historic Preservation and Archaeology staff provide the history of the property and buildings, so that participants learn the broader context of the site they are working on.  The bulk of the course is hands on log building, and the end result is a ghost structure that acts as a reminder of the countless cabins that housed the enslaved families at Montpelier.


These programs provide a great resource to preservation professionals and novice historians alike.  Similar to a historic preservation field school in structure, the log cabin school packs a lot of information into a short amount of time.   Lodging is included in the program fee, and due to the possibility of inclement weather, the entire program can be completed in one of our large barns if need be.  Situated in the historic Piedmont region of Virginia, Montpelier is a short drive away from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Shenandoah National Park, and some of the country’s most award winning wineries.   


Any questions or those that would like to register can email or call 540.672.2728 x 167

Interested in Architecture and Preservation at Montpelier? Follow us on Instagram @Preserve_Montpelier


This blog was provided by Betsy Sweeny, YPA Member and Preservation Technician at James Madison’s Montpelier.