Between 2004 and 2009 James Madison's Montpelier underwent a restoration that returned the home and grounds of the fourth President to the period of his retirement (1817-1836). Montpelier is new to the community of presidential homes, remaining in private ownership until 1984 when it was transferred by bequest to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Unlike most presidential homes, Montpelier had undergone extensive changes. In the 140 years since Dolley Madison sold Montpelier in 1844, stucco was applied to the home's brick exterior, interior walls were moved, large additions were built and extensive changes were made to the landscape. Yet throughout all of these changes the core of the Madisons' home survived.
To unravel Montpelier's construction history, an intensive investigation was undertaken in 2001 and demonstrated without a doubt that the home that James Madison knew could be authentically restored. Based on this study, and nearly 20 years of experience attempting to present Montpelier's history to the visiting public, the Montpelier Foundation and the National Trust jointly determined that the home should be restored. The work was finished in 2009 and the historic exterior and interior of James Madison's Montpelier has been revealed again after over 150 years. Significantly, the restored Montpelier now functions as a historic museum that allows the public to achieve a deeper understanding of Madison and his contributions by experiencing the home he helped design.
Through the restoration project, the Montpelier Foundation accumulated one of the largest digital archives of data relating to the restoration of a historic site ever assembled and one of the first to be entirely digital. The archive includes over 80,000 digital photos; scans of historic maps and photographs; over 1,000 digital measured drawings; tens of thousands of pages of text documents; over 100 gigabytes of cloud point data; and over 500 gigabytes of digital video. Because this collection was not easily accessible to the general public the Digital Montpelier Project was created to present the most important elements of the archive to the public. Using three-dimensional, real-time models, the Digital Montpelier Project allows visitors to explore all three Madison-era construction phases (ca. 1764, ca. 1797, and ca. 1812). The digitally restored ca. 1812 model reflects the house's current form while the ca. 1797 and ca. 1764 models were based on information collected during the restoration. Embedded throughout these models are links to slideshows that present the documentation that reveals how individual architectural elements were investigated and restored.
The Digital Montpelier Project was funded by a Fellowship at Digital Humanities Centers grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project was undertaken as a collaboration between the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia and architectural historian Gardiner Hallock.
The team responsible for restoring Montpelier back to its ca. 1812 appearance was a diverse group of professionals that came from a variety of backgrounds including architecture, architectural history, conservation, carpentry, masonry, and archaeology. Each member brought invaluable insights to different aspects of the restoration. The Team included Michael Quinn (President of the Montpelier Foundation), John Jeanes (Director of Restoration), Mark Wenger (architectural historian working with MCWB Architects), Gardiner Hallock (Director of Architectural Research [2005-2008]), Alfredo Maul (Director of Architectural Research [2003-2005]), Maggie Wilson (architectural historian and photographer), Chad Keller (architectural historian), Josh Teates (archaeologist), Jennifer Wilkoski (architectural historian), Ann Miller (historian), Susan Buck (paint conservator), Natasha Loeblich (paint conservator), Christine Thompson (paint conservator), Catherine Matsen (conservator), John Mesick (MCWB Architects), Eric Kuchar (MCWB Architects), Mark Dahl (MCWB Architects), John Martin (MCWB Architects), Gina Gunderson (MCWB Architects), Ray Cannetti (independent mason), Blaise Gaston (restoration carpenter), Steve Chronister (restoration carpenter), Bill Bichell (restoration carpenter), Mac Ward (restoration carpenter), Mark Gooch (restoration carpenter), Austin Antrim (restoration carpenter), Keith Forry (restoration carpenter), Les Lamois (restoration carpenter), Gene Lyman (restoration carpenter), Joe Doody (restoration maintenance), Kevin Neito (restoration mason), Matt Reeves (Montpelier Foundation archaeologist), Wayne Mays (mason), Tim Proffit (mason), George Dempsey (mason), Robbie Kolb (mason), the carpenters of Mustard Seed Construction led by Scott McBride, and the painters from Webber Painting.
In addition to the Montpelier Foundation staff members, architects and tradespeople who worked directly to restore Montpelier, the Restoration was also greatly assisted by an advisory committee composed of leading restoration and preservation professionals. Included in the group was Willie Graham (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation), John Larson (Old Salem Museum and Gardens), Bill Bieswanger (Monticello/Thomas Jefferson Foundation), Dennis Pogue (George Washington’s Mount Vernon), Travis MacDonald (Poplar Forest), Calder Loth (Virginia Department of Historic Preservation), Barbara Campagna (The National Trust for Historic Preservation), and Orlando Ridout (Maryland Historical Trust).
Starting in 2001, an 18 month investigation was made into Montpelier's architectural history and an archive was created of historic documents and images that recorded the estate's documentary history. The investigation, which was funded by the estate of Paul Mellon, specifically attempted to determine if enough of the Madison-era house had survived the ca. 1901 renovations to allow for an accurate restoration of the Mansion to a date of ca. 1812. Their findings showed that an amazing amount of materials survived and that a full restoration of President James Madison's house was possible.
The leaders of the Investigation Team were archaeologist Myron Stachiw and architectural historian Mark Wenger. Also included on the team were John Jeanes, Alfredo Maul, Ann Miller, Maggie Wilson, Misty Eppard, Todd Gordon, and Felicity Blundon.
For more information on the preliminary investigation see: the Montpelier Foundation's website.