Forest, VA: Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, the historic Bedford County plantation that served as Jefferson’s private retreat at the conclusion of his presidency, has introduced a new iPad app that offers several options for virtual visitors to learn about the original landscape at Poplar Forest. The free app, available through the Apple® App Store, gives the user the ability to stroll through a digital reconstruction of the ornamental grounds as Jefferson may have experienced them, change the vegetation or simply learn more about the plantation’s history. The Poplar Forest app was created by the Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites (CERHAS) at the University of Cincinnati in conjunction with Poplar Forest’s Department of Archaeology and Landscapes, and was funded through the generous support of the Verizon Foundation.
Poplar Forest plantation left the Jefferson family in 1828 and was privately owned until 1983. Now a National Historic Landmark, Poplar Forest opened to the public in 1986. Still in its infancy as a historic home and public attraction, Poplar Forest is open for visitors as the preservation, reconstruction and restoration of the octagonal villa and plantation grounds are in progress.
“Thomas Jefferson was a skilled landscape designer, blending architectural and garden elements into a seamless composition, and Poplar Forest is considered one of his greatest achievements,” said Jack Gary, the director of Archaeology and Landscapes at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. “Many of his original plantings are gone today, but our archaeological surveys and documentary research have unearthed the information needed to restore the landscape to his original vision. We know, for example, that the oval beds contained dwarf roses, large roses and shrubs of prickly locust; that Jefferson interspersed at least 14 species of trees throughout the grounds; and that plantings once lined the banks of the sunken lawn. We’re still years away from completing the restoration, but now through the generosity of the Verizon Foundation, the Poplar Forest app will give our guests a look at Jefferson’s original vision for the landscape and how it will look when the restoration is complete.”
Using archaeological and documentary evidence, CERHAS was able to create an extremely accurate virtual model of the ornamental grounds surrounding the house. CERHAS then utilized video game technology to turn the model into an interactive experience. The app opens with a re-creation of Jefferson’s revolving bookstand containing several “books.” By choosing the “Walk the Grounds” option, virtual visitors can tap the screen and stroll past mounds planted with aspens and willow trees or down the banks of the sunken lawn planted with roses and lilacs. Visitors also have the option to change the vegetation and create their own planting plans for different landscape elements. Other books in the app provide more in-depth information about the history of Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson and his design influences.
The free Poplar Forest iPad app is available in the Education section of the Apple App Store.
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