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Poplar Forest carriage turnaround restoration completed

FOREST — Poplar Forest has finished its latest step in returning Thomas Jefferson’s retreat home to its original appearance, completing restoration of a quartz-paved carriage turnaround after uncovering the feature’s original surface for the first time in roughly 200 years.

After years of archaeological explanation, excavation and restoration work, the carriage turnaround, 80 feet in diameter, is completed, restoring more of the home’s front entrance according to Jefferson’s original designs.

“What it’s done is restored the landscape in the front of the house to its Jefferson-era appearance, which we have not seen in over 200 years. It’s tremendous for us to have taken that step,” said Alyson Ramsey, president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest.

The Garden Club of Virginia played an integral role in the carriage turnaround project, donating full funding of an undisclosed amount for the physical restoration work and providing landscaping services, according to Poplar Forest.

The carriage turnaround restoration was a project of the Garden Club of Virginia’s Restoration Committee, guided by the club’s landscape architect, William D. Rieley, and his team at Charlottesville-based Rieley & Associates, Poplar Forest said in a news release.

The Garden Club of Virginia has supported restoration and landscaping efforts at Poplar Forest since its first project with the organization in 2010 restoring the west allée of paper mulberry trees, which Jefferson reportedly planted for the excellent shade they provided.

Archaeological and scientific analysis of the original surface determined quartz was the primary material used to pave the carriage turnaround. More than 40,000 quartz fieldstones were donated by Bass Sod Farm in Campbell County to incorporate in the restoration. The surface was laid by expert masons from Charles Funk Masonry of Colonial Heights.

With quartz a plentiful, native rock to the area, the choice of using it for pavement is not surprising, said Eric Proebsting, director of archaeology and landscapes at Poplar Forest. Slaves likely used quartz found in the fields to lay out the carriage circle, he said.

“The level of effort that went into creating the [original] carriage road at Poplar Forest was exceptional for this area,” Proebsting said.

The carriage turnaround restoration is an “extremely significant” project for Poplar Forest, he added.

“In recreating it, we are able to get inside of Jefferson’s design for Poplar Forest and also how he had envisioned for it to be experienced,” Proebsting said.

Jefferson, a prolific writer among his other widespread interests, left behind detailed notes about many things, including recorded plans for a carriage turnaround at the White House, as well as one for Monticello, his primary residence, in Albemarle County. However, Proebsting said that so far, no archaeological evidence of such a carriage turnaround has been discovered at Monticello. Poplar Forest is Jefferson’s first residence evidenced to bring the design to fruition, he said.

A 2- by 3-foot glass-covered viewing window will allow visitors to look at part of the original surface preserved below.

A portion of the original carriage turnaround first was uncovered in the late 1980s through 1990 during some of the first excavations on site, Proebsting said, but it was not until returning to the discovery in 2012 and working “in earnest” on it in 2018 that the circle was more fully understood and researched.

The next phase of the ornamental landscape restoration will be oval flower beds along the carriage turnaround. Work on the flower beds will start this fall, in continued partnership with the Garden Club of Virginia.

“When all that’s complete, we’ll be able to present the front of the house much the same way as Jefferson had envisioned it appearing for the first time. So that’s really exciting,” Proebsting said.


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