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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Monticello - Thomas Jefferson's Home by Cynthia Howerter

Thomas Jefferson's proficiency for architectural design and household efficiency is visible everywhere at Monticello, including the estate's two dependency wings. These symmetrical L-shaped wings, extending from each side of the mansion, contain support services.

L-shaped North Terrace above the North Dependency

Jefferson, a self-taught architect, designed Monticello to be both elegant and practical. While understanding that support services (called "dependencies") performed by enslaved servants were necessary for the daily operation of his household, he thought it pragmatic to situate the work areas next to his house rather than away from it as was the practice of 18th century plantations. He also wanted the dependencies and the sounds and odors associated with them concealed from the living spaces of the mansion and its lawns.

View of Monticello's West Portico and North Terrace from the South Terrace
West Portico photograph ©The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, photograph by Cynthia Howerter

Jefferson constructed Monticello's dependencies along the natural slope of the mountain top with the result that the service areas are partially underground and cannot be seen from the mansion or the West Lawn. Their exposed roofs are ingeniously hidden underneath terraces, or walkways.

North Pavilion and Dependency set into the side of the sloping mountain top

The only clue that something exists beneath the South Terrace are two brick chimneys (from fireplaces in the smokehouse and kitchen) that protrude through the floor.

South Terrace

On the sides away from the mansion and West Lawn, both dependency wings are exposed. Access to individual service rooms is gained through doors at ground level. A covered exterior walkway protected the enslaved house servants from inclement weather and concealed them from the view of those inside the mansion and outside on the West Lawn.

Exterior view of the South Dependency

Both dependencies are easily accessible to the mansion and each other via a passageway that extends from the dependencies through the mansion's cellar.

The Cellar Passage connects both dependencies with the mansion's basement

The South Dependency contained rooms for dairy, quarters for several enslaved house servants, a smokehouse, the cook's room, and the kitchen.

Smoke House in the South Dependency

One has only to view Monticello's large state-of-the-art 18th century kitchen in the South Dependency to realize that Thomas Jefferson loved well-prepared foodin particular, French cuisine made by French-trained chefs. Such a man would also be concerned that food is hot when it reaches his dining room.

Monticello's kitchen (South Dependency)

Stew stove in Monticello's kitchen (South Dependency)

Most 18th century kitchens of the gentry-class were detached from the house. This meant that servants and the food they carried were exposed to the weather when walking between the kitchen and house, thus food meant to be served hot often arrived cold in dining rooms. At Monticello, Jefferson located the kitchen in the South Dependency and directly connected it to the Cellar Passage via a door. In the cellar, servants climbed a staircase that led to a food delivery area next to the dining room. Mr. Jefferson's attention to detail paid off; cooked food arrived hot.

An ice house, horse stalls, tack room, and carriage house are located in the North Dependency.

North Dependency

Stable (North Dependency)

Rooms along the Cellar Passage include storage for beer, wine, and firewood.

Cellar storage room for beer

On a recent visit to Monticello, my friend, Nancy Martin Moryc, and I marveled at the breathtaking views of the surrounding Virginia countryside as we stood on the North and South Terraces just as Thomas Jefferson, his family, and guests did over 200 years ago. Equally amazing to us were the dependencies hidden beneath our feet that once bustled with servants who kept Mr. Jefferson's household running efficiently.

View of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains from the North Terrace

Monticello's West Portico photograph ©The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, photograph by Cynthia Howerter

Photographs ©2017 Cynthia Howerter, courtesy of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

Monticello is located near Charlottesville, Virginia. For additional information, please visit their website:  

Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter grew up playing in Fort Rice, a Revolutionary War fort owned by family members, and lived on land in Pennsylvania once called home by 18th century Oneida Chief Shikellamy. Hunting arrowheads and riding horses at break-neck speed across farm fields while pretending to flee from British-allied Indians provided exciting childhood experiences for Cynthia and set the stage for a life-long love of all things historical. A descendant of a Revolutionary War officer and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), history flows through Cynthia's veins.

You can find Cynthia on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Google+.


  1. Wow. So very, very cool. It would have been a fun place to explore. :) Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Angela! Monticello is an incredible place. I hope you get the chance to visit it.

  2. Nice article - very interesting information! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Rebecca! I'm so glad you enjoyed the article! You would love visiting Monticello.

  3. Oh wow, Monticello is an incredible place, would love to explore it sometime. Very interesting stove in the kitchen. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thank you, Mrs. Tina! I hope you get the chance to visit Monticello - it's an extraordinary place.

  5. Thanks for the tour! It's been many years since we visited. Good to see the photos and remember. :)

  6. Oh, Pegg, you have made my day! I'm so glad that you enjoyed "seeing" Monticello again. I hope you're able to visit again as you won't believe the wonderful restorations that the Thomas Jefferson Foundation has made to the mansion, dependencies, and gardens. Each time I visit, I'm amazed.


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