Ash Lawn-Highland from a Cirrus SR20
During his presidency, James Monroe was most often a leader and not a follower. But earlier in his life, when it came to his choice of where to settle down, he followed the advice of his mentor Thomas Jefferson and bought land…right next to Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Monroe purchased land adjacent to Monticello in 1793 and made it his permanent residence in 1799. Then known as “Highland,” the Monroes lived there for most of the next twenty-four years. The name “Ash Lawn” was not used until after Monroe’s death. Today it is known as “Ash Lawn-Highland” and is owned by the College of William and Mary, where Monroe studied until he dropped out of college (to fight in the Revolutionary War).
I am embarrassed to admit that before I began reading Harry Ammon’s biography of Monroe, I was unaware the third and fifth presidents lived next to each other for over two decades. After all, I overflew Monticello earlier this year and took a picture or two of Jefferson’s home. Little did I know at the time, but I flew directly over Ash Lawn-Highland. So a couple weeks ago I flew back to see Monroe’s former estate from the air. Though it is modest in comparison to Monticello, it is quite charming and well-maintained (or so it appears from 2,000 feet overhead).
Sadly, personal debt forced Monroe to sell Ash Lawn and he spent many of his final years at Oak Hill, his estate about seventy-five miles to the north near Leesburg, Virginia. Unfortunately, Oak Hill sits near Washington’s Dulles Airport under tightly-controlled airspace. I will not be lingering overhead to take a photo…
Ash Lawn-Highland (unlike Oak Hill) is open to visitors, and while you’re in the area you may as well just start the fun at Monticello. The double-tour is so logistically convenient that you can purchase a Presidents’ Pass at Monticello which will also provide admission to Ash Lawn at a modest discount. I’ll see you there!