One of my favorite aspects of travel is discovering the little nooks and crannies of history that most people overlook. At even the most famous of sites and landmarks there are almost always tiny details that go unnoticed by the average traveler.
I came across one of these small peculiarities while visiting the vast estate and mansion of America’s fourth President, James Madison. The estate, Montpelier, is nestled deep in rural Virginia at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As we drove along the quiet rural roads, I wondered if we would be the only ones willing to make the trek to Montpelier.
Just thirty miles from Charlottesville, the estate feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere and it’s easy to imagine what it would have been like in Madison’s time. I’ll write about the estate in a future post, but I wanted to highlight a unique feature, a travel detail, that for whatever reason fascinated me.
As we were walking through the mansion I looked out of one of the many windows and noticed a strange structure in the north yard. It looked like the fanciest gazebo ever designed and seemed out of place in the rich, pastoral setting. I asked a guide who answered, “Oh, that’s Madison’s Temple.” Now I was intrigued.
The Temple was built by Madison not just to bring a bit of Roman classicism, a topic near and dear to his heart, to Virginia, but to house one of the estate’s ice wells. The 24-feet deep ice well supplied the household with ice for everything from drinks to ice cream throughout the year.
Rather than just cover the well with a simple hatch, it was quintessentially Madison to instead build a symbol of both his love of the classics and his appreciation of natural beauty. I spent several minutes standing underneath the President’s Temple with views of both Montpelier and a nearby pond, watching the other visitors mill about the mansion.
It was a perfect moment of quiet reflection and a tucked away area of the estate that I was thrilled to have discovered. These unexpected moments are honestly the reason why I love to travel and explore as much of the world as I can.
What are your favorite small travel details that you have found?