How better to celebrate James Madison’s 262nd birthday than with a run through his Montpelier estate?
The grounds are ideal for a 5K run. Well-kept paths take you by the main house, gardens, cemeteries, a former Civil War encampment, ongoing architectural digs and the visitors center. Small country roads bring you around the former tobacco fields — now mostly horse pastures and well-groomed tracks for the November steeplechase races. If you want a longer, more rugged run, you can take on the trails within the James Madison Landmark Forest.
The plantation was in its prime during the mid 1700s. The Madison family became wealthy through tobacco farming fueled by the labor of enslaved African Americans. James Madison grew up on the farm, wrote the framework of the U.S. Constitution here and retired here when his second term as U.S. President ended in 1817. After Madison’s death in 1836, the house fell to Payne Todd, Dolly Madison’s son from a previous marriage. He had some expensive hobbies (drinking, gambling, etc.), which ultimately led to the estate being sold to pay off debts.
The duPont family bought the estate in 1901 and built the gardens and stables. Horse races began in the 1930s. The National Trust for Historic Preservation gained ownership in 1984 and has worked to restore Montpelier to how it looked during James Madison’s time.
For his birthday, admission was free and house tours were just $10. There was a wreath-laying ceremony, a band and re-enactors playing the part of James and Dolly Madison. Somewhere between 250 and 350 people came out on the chilly, occasionally drizzly, day.
James Madison isn’t the only U.S. president from the Orange County, located about 90 minutes southwest of Northern Virginia. Zachery Taylor, the 12th president, was born here, although the exact location of his birth is claimed by more than one site.
In 1734, Orange included areas that would eventually become the states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia. The guy at the Orange County Visitors Bureau said the town that is now Madison, Wisc., was also once part of the county, although I couldn’t confirm that. It was sliced to its current size four years later.
Today, it has a population of 34,000 and a median household income of about $43,000. It is home to some of Virginia’s top wineries.
43 runs down, 91 to go.
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