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Montpelier from 2,000′ in a Cirrus SR20

In our nation’s earliest years, the journey from George Washington’s home (Mt. Vernon) to Madison’s home (Montpelier) to Jefferson’s mountaintop retreat (Monticello) and back to Mt. Vernon (by way of Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg…you know, to check on mom) required a sturdy horse and a trip of about 200 miles. And if you didn’t linger, perhaps three or four days.

Today, that trip can be made by car in just over four hours (ignoring the DC area’s famous rush-hour traffic).  Even better, in a small single engine aircraft the trip can be made in about an hour – if you ignore the difficulty of flying anywhere near Mt. Vernon given airspace restrictions around our nation’s capital.

The photo above is a view of James Madison’s Montpelier which I flew past earlier this year.  Montpelier was first constructed in the mid-1760s by president-to-be James Madison’s father (also named James Madison). Construction on the house apparently continued off and on until the mid-1790s, which sounds familiar if you know anything about Jefferson’s Monticello.

After Madison completed his service in the House of Representatives and returned to Virginia in the late 1790s, construction was re-started at Montpelier with the addition of the portico and extension and renovation of some parts of the house.  More renovations apparently took place during the early years of Madison’s presidency.  He and Dolley finally retired to Montpelier after his second term as president ended.

Dolley sold Montpelier a few years after James’ death and it underwent several ownership changes before being bequeathed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the early 1980s.  Today Montpelier is open for visits; just find your way to “bustling” Orange, VA and head west about four miles on the Constitution Highway (yes, for real).

MontVisWMontpelier Visitor Center
(Montpelier itself at top of photo)

And although you don’t expect to encounter much traffic while flying over rural Virginia (other than a few low-altitude bugs), you really never know what you might see…