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Trip Report Long weekend Virginia trip: Montpelier/shenandoah Park

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I am at the end of a long weekend trip to central Virginia and thought I would start (maybe finish) a short trip report before I catch the airport shuttle.

The main focus of the trip was a weekend reunion of some old friends at the Shenandoah National Park. I opted to fly in and out of Richmond rather than DC for two reasons. First, I lived in this area years ago and wanted to spend a little time here. Second, I hate driving around the DC airports and find Richmond very easy to navigate.

I flew out of Burlington VT via Philadelphia. The first leg was fine. The second was a nightmare due to storm activity south of Philly. I had started and somehow lost another report with more detail about this. Suffice it to say that the main lesson I learned is that when there are bad conditions your cancelled flight is not necessarily cancelled, but the airline (or at least US Air) is not at all good about giving updated information.

I spent Thursday evening near the airport and picked up the rental car Friday morning. the weather was much less humid and cooler than it had been earlier in the week so I guess the violent thunderstorm activity was good for something!

MONTPELIER: My main destination en route to the reunion was Madison's mansion near Orange, Va. Montpelier is a fascinating site. A huge restoration project to restore the mansion to the way it looked when the Madisons lived there has been completed in recent years, and the process of furnishing the interior is underway. The home was purchased by the Dupont family in the early 20th century, and the Duponts added a huge addition which has been torn down for this restoration.

The main emphasis now is on the Madison era, and there is a good tour of the house. There is also some information on the Duponts in the gallery adjoining the visitor center, and that is worth visiting, too. Two of the rooms from the Dupont era have been recreated, and the story of the Dupont's stay is very interesting.

I spent about 3 hours touring the site and could easily have spent more. I was disappointed that the exhibit about the freeman's farm that is on the estate was closed (only open on weekends). there is an interesting new exhibit at the train station used by the Duponts. It focuses on the Jim Crow era and shows the separate entrances and waiting rooms for blacks and whites.

My major criticism of the site is the way it handles the history of slavery at Montpelier. It is mentioned but the main exhibits talking about it are in the basement of the house which most people on our tour did not visit. Madison owned over a hundred slaves, and the tension between this reality and the ideals he wrote about is fascinating to me.

Our guide told us to tell our friends about Montpelier, so I am telling all of you. It is definitely worth visiting in addition to (not instead of) Monticello and is only about 30 miles away.

From Montpelier I drove to the Shenandoah Park, arriving at the Big Meadows lodge in time to meet my friends for pre-dinner drinks and conversation. I stayed in a cabin at the lodge which was pretty rustic but adequate. Some people in our group stayed in more elaborate guest rooms. We had two group dinners at the lodge dining room, and the food was fine, not outstanding but fine, and pretty reasonably priced. The woman who had set up the logistics for our stay found the process very frustrating, but once we were there everything worked out well.

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