Thomas Jefferson was a pretty amazing person. In between writing the Declaration of Independence, serving as Secretary of State under George Washington, Vice President under John Adams, and then serving as the third President of the United States, his favorite hobby was architecture. He wrote, “Architecture is my delight, and putting up, and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements.”
Jefferson’s favorite architect was the 17th century Italian master Andrea Palladio, and he called Palladio’s “Four Books on Architecture” “my own Bible.” Jefferson’s dream for a new American architectural style was based on the classical ideals of ancient Greece and Rome, when democracy flourished. The statesman wanted Congress housed in a replica of an ancient Roman temple, and he thought the Capitol building should be “spherical,” which is why it closely resembled Palladio’s Villa Rotunda. And in fact, as president, Jefferson modified the White House to add typical Palladian elements, including the two lateral wings and the pronaos, the porch that rests on columns, at both the north and the south entrances.
The last private home attributed to Jefferson is known as Edgemont, a Palladian mansion in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Surrounded by 572 acres of rolling Virginia farmland, with the Hardware River running through the lush fields, the estate is available for sale for $19 million via Steven McLean at McLean Faulconer. (Note: there are many reasons to believe Jefferson had at least a hand in designing the house, but the attribution is not entirely firm.)
Sited at an elevation of about 1,000 feet, the estate’s main house was built in 1796 for Colonel James Powell Cocke, a malaria suffered who traded his lowland estate for land closer to the mountains, mountain air being considered more healthful. In a letter of Jefferson’s from 1796 he refers to a house for a Mr. Cocke: “I now enclose you the draught you desired, which I have endeavored to arrange according to the ideas you expressed, of having the entry, not through a principal room as in Mr. Cocke’s house, but at the cross passage.” Edgemont’s entrance is through just such a room. Also, there are drawings by Jefferson of an elevation and floor plan that are almost identical to this house, which adds to the evidence of his involvement.
Elegant and gracious, the main house spans a reasonable, manageable 4,836 square feet, with just three bedrooms and three and half baths, but there are at least another half dozen bedrooms and a similar number of bathrooms throughout the various outbuildings that surround the house. Up-to-date additions include a tennis court and swimming pool, as well as a pool house, and a guest house, both in the same Palladian style of which Jefferson would surely have approved.
The ingeniously efficient layout of Edgemont’s interiors is quintessentially Jeffersonian. The two-level structure appears to be a single-story home from the front, another Jeffersonian device. The main entry is on the upper floor and opens into a reception hall with walls covered by a sweeping mural of a hunting scene.
The octagonal drawing room, the centerpiece of the house, features many Neoclassical features, such as an egg-and-dart cornice over an ornate swag motif and an Adamesque mantel. French windows open onto a portico that looks out upon the terraced gardens and the river below. Flanking the octagonal salon are the master bedroom and dressing room, an en-suite guest room, and a paneled library. At Monticello, Jefferson’s own bedroom is right next to the principal reception rooms, another of the many features that points to his hand in this house.
A narrow, hidden stairway — Jefferson didn’t like wasting space on staircases — leads to the garden level, where there’s a 28-foot-long dining room dominated by a wide stone fireplace, a chef’s kitchen, and a breakfast room with the remains of a stone fireplace. Also on this level are an office or possible bedroom, a large bathroom and a tiny powder room. A pair of pavilions, both with a couple of guest rooms and baths, flank the main house.
Besides the pool and tennis court, there are two acres of beautiful formal gardens, with rock walls and brick paths, formal parterres and a bowling green. There are rose and water gardens, as well as a rubblestone dovecote. The rest of the acreage is laid to cattle farming, with pasturage and barns.
Other dwellings on the sprawling property include a stone and weatherboard farm manager’s house, a rustic cabin on a wooded lot, a detached garage topped by a staff or guest apartment, and a restored two-story log house.
Beautifully maintained and carefully updated for the 21st century, surely Jefferson would be happy Edgement is doing so well all these 226 years later. The $19 million price tag, however, might surprise him.