- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2008


The five-year, $24 million renovation project for Montpelier - the plantation home of James Madison - was marked Wednesday with a celebration attended by two Supreme Court justices and thousands of school children.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and 2,600 students in forming a “living flag” on the estate’s front lawn to honor Madison, the country’s fourth president and the architect of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Speaking on Constitution Day, the 221st anniversary of the signing of the country’s governing document, Chief Justice Roberts said Montpelier is a fitting tribute to Madison, but the most prominent memorial is that the United States is “a free country governed by the rule of law.”

Chief Justice Roberts said Montpelier “stands with Mount Vernon and Monticello” — the homes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, respectively — as landmarks to the country’s Founding Fathers.

The brick Georgian home at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains underwent an architectural restoration to make the structure authentic to the period from 1809, when Madison was elected president, to when he died in 1836.

The celebration on the grounds of the 2,650-acre estate also brought together descendants of Madison’s family and servants and a representative from the duPont family, the home’s last private owner.

Raleigh Marshall, 25, is a descendant of Paul Jennings, a Montpelier slave. The most gratifying part of the project, he said, was that a Montpelier genealogist helped him piece together a family tree.

“I reunited with cousins I didn’t know,” said Mr. Marshall, an information technology contractor for the Defense Department. “I learned so much about family history.”

Jennings was Madison’s personal assistant and continued to work for Dolley Madison after her husband’s death. He was credited with helping Mrs. Madison save a portrait of George Washington when the White House burned in the War of 1812, during Madison’s second term.

About a half-dozen to a dozen Jennings descendants remain, Mr. Marshall said, and a reunion might be in the works.

Montpelier changed hands among several private owners after Madison’s death in 1836, and a number of them made drastic additions and renovations, including adding entire wings, moving doors and spreading stucco over the exterior of the structure.

The Montpelier Foundation, which operates the estate, started the restoration in 2003, nearly two decades after the National Trust for Historic Preservation took ownership of the property from the estate of Marion Scott duPont in 1984. The trust says the project was one of the country’s largest and most complex architectural restorations.

The restoration was funded largely by $20 million from the estate of banking heir Paul Mellon. After architectural historians uncovered evidence of the old structure from documents and physical imprints beneath renovations, workers removed entire wings added by the duPonts, reducing the structure from 36,000 square feet to 12,261 square feet. They also stripped off the stucco, rebuilt the front porch and rear colonnade, and replaced the tin roof with a cypress-shingle roof, among other projects.

“The pink stucco is gone and James Madison is back,” said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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