Forest, VA: The carriage turnaround at Poplar Forest has been restored, in exacting detail, to Thomas Jefferson’s original design for the entrance to his octagonal villa. The Garden Club of Virginia has been instrumental in the restoration, which began with archaeological explorations of the area in 2018. The landscape restoration is an official project of the Garden Club of Virginia’s Restoration Committee.
“We are extremely grateful for our partnership with the Garden Club of Virginia and their ongoing support of the restoration of Jefferson’s landscape at Poplar Forest,” said Alyson M. Ramsey, president and CEO. “The Garden Club’s commitment to this and prior restoration projects has made it possible for us to advance this work at a quicker pace than we would have been able to accomplish on our own. We could not have completed them without their generous support.”
“We’ve [the Garden Club] supported Poplar Forest’s efforts to return the landscape to Jefferson’s design since our first project together, the 2010 restoration of the west allée of paper mulberry trees, which Jefferson thought of as a wonderful source of shade to have near a house,” said Anne G. Baldwin, immediate past chair of the Garden Club’s Restoration Committee. “It’s been lots of fun being involved with a project where the archaeology is so thorough.”
“We’ve made a commitment to Poplar Forest with our gifts, and will stay involved in the continuing landscape restoration,” said Baldwin. “It will be very exciting when the new parkway opens; it will really change the visitor experience.”
The Garden Club’s landscape architect, William D. Rieley, PLA, and his team at Rieley & Associates in Charlottesville, guided the restoration of the carriage turnaround. This work has translated the archaeologists’ findings into plans for recreating the surface of the carriage turnaround with contemporary materials, while also carefully preserving Jefferson’s original carriage road below. Previous Garden Club restoration projects at Poplar Forest include replanting Jefferson’s west allée of paper mulberry trees and clumps of ornamental trees at the corners of the retreat house.
“The carriage circle project with its two oval beds of roses and one of bristly locust represents a remarkable step toward restoring the landscape at Poplar Forest to that envisioned and executed by Thomas Jefferson,” said Rieley. “We have enjoyed the collaborative process of working with Poplar Forest’s archaeologists and other staff to match the new work in the Garden Club of Virginia project with the historical record.”
Years of archaeological exploration and study preceded the carriage turnaround restoration, beginning with the initial exploration of the area and the subsequent removal of the historic boxwood plantings at the center in 2013, when they were found to post-date Jefferson’s time. “The carriage turnaround has been recreated in precise detail through a collaborative process that truly makes it special,” said Dr. Eric Proebsting, director of Archaeology and Landscapes at Poplar Forest, “from the dimensions of the carriage circle to the layout of the carriage landing at the foot of the steps leading to Jefferson’s retreat.”
The restoration team worked with historical records and scientific analysis of the archaeologists’ findings to determine that Jefferson’s early 19th-century turnaround was surfaced with a layer of local quartz stone that had been gathered from the plantation’s surrounding fields and pounded into the soil by enslaved African American laborers who lived at Poplar Forest. The new surface—laid by a team of expert masons from Charles Funk Masonry of Colonial Heights, Virginia—incorporates more than 40,000 quartz fieldstones donated by Bass Sod Farm in Campbell County, handmade restoration bricks and native schist stones placed in the exact locations revealed during the archaeological investigation and set in a bed of mortar that is an exact match for the soil color recorded during the investigation.
A glass-covered viewing window allows visitors to see the original surface. “Visitors will have the chance to stand and experience history preserved in stones from the original carriage turnaround designed by Jefferson and laid by enslaved African American laborers over 200 years ago, as they glimpse the intact surface preserved below for future generations to explore,” said Proebsting.
For more information about the restoration of Jefferson’s designed landscape at Poplar Forest, visit poplarforest.org.
Posted: September 8, 2020
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