James Madison was the fourth President of the United States of America. Before he was elected to the Office of the Presidency, he was one of the founding fathers who drafted the Constitution for the nation. He then served as the Secretary of state under President Thomas Jefferson. During his presidency, he presided over the War of 1812 where he was forced out of the White House due to the attack of the British who marched on Washington burning the White House and many other buildings. After his presidency, he and his wife Dolley and his family left the White House and moved back to his lifelong home at Montpelier in central Virginia. He and his family lived at Montpelier, and he remained there until his death, and he is buried at the cemetery also located Montpelier.
Today, you can visit the home of James Madison and his family. You can take a guided tour of the family mansion and see the famous temple that is near the home. You can take a walk through the gardens, and you can see the rebuilt slave quarters and the award winning exhibition The Mere Distinction of Colour. You can step into the lab where archeologists are looking through their discoveries. There are a few galleries that you can explore. You can also hike a few trails through the woods, and you can visit the family cemetery and see where James and Dolley are buried. A visit to Montpelier is a day very well spent, and you will get to know the life of the Madison family.
Now some of you are saying, “Wow! That is so cool. James Madison was a great man for giving us the Constitution, and he had a great wife who was very supportive of his efforts. It would be great to visit this place. There are a few issues that I do have. First of all, there are no railroads here. Second, although he may have been alive when the railroad was alive and running, he was never seen riding a train. Plus, there were no railroads around Montpelier until after his death. Since the Madison family had nothing to do with railroads, I will have nothing to do with Montpelier.”
Those are very valid points. As far as it is known, James Madison never rode a train. However, after his passing, his wife, Dolley did ride the train between Washington D.C. and New York City, and it is said that she may have taken a train ride between Washington D.C. and Richmond Virginia. In her writings to a friend, she wrote about how much she enjoyed riding the train, but she never rode the train to Montpelier. What does this have to do with the Madison’s at Montpelier and the railroad? The answer is nothing. That will dampen your spirits to visit Montpelier, but Montpelier itself does have something to do with the railroad.
As mentioned, Montpelier was the home of James Madison and his family. The property consists of the mansion, the gardens, a small temple, the rebuilt slave quarters, an archeological lab, galleries, hiking trails and the family cemetery. The property also consists of the Gilmore Cabin and an old train depot. Some of you have fallen out of your seat at the mention of a train depot, but you have read correctly. There is a train depot at Montpelier. Built in 1910 to serve the town of Montpelier, it consisted of two waiting rooms: one for the ‘whites’ and one for the ‘colored’. (Laws during the time required separate waiting rooms.) There is also the ticket office where the station agent sold the tickets and also distributed the mail. During its time of service, the depot was a flag stop (meaning that the train only stopped when passengers requested to stop here or a passenger is waiting), and the depot served passengers, freight and a post office. There were platforms on each side of the tracks for passengers to board and de-board the train. Side tracks allowed trains to unload freight at the freight house, and there was a trestle built for unloading coal. Passenger service ended in 1967, and freight service ended in 1974, and the depot closed. The side track was eventually taken up.
Today, the depot remains and has been restored to its 1910 look. The main railroad line still passes the depot, and, if you are fortunate enough, you may see a passing train. You can also see where the passenger platforms were located. A short ways from the depot is the ruins of the old coal trestle. The depot houses the post office for Montpelier where you can get your letters stamped and mailed.
Montpelier is open seven days a week, but hours vary throughout the year. You will want to plan about two hours to do the house tour and the grounds plus an extra hour for the Gilmore Cabin and Train Depot. It is located at 11350 Constitution Highway (Virginia Route 20) in Montpelier Station, Virginia. (This is east of U.S. 33 in Barboursville and west of U.S. 15 in Orange.) You can go to https://www.montpelier.org to get more information at Montpelier, admission, the hours for your day of your visit, read up on the lives of James and Dolley Madison and to purchase tickets.
Come see Montpelier, the home of James Madison, President of the United States of America, the father of the United States Constitution. Come and see the train depot where visitors once rode the train to visit Montpelier.