Review first published in 2019; updated in May, 2023
The next installment in our series of Presidential and First Lady sites is James Monroe’s Highland, located just a few miles from Jefferson’s Monticello.
Now owned by Monroe’s alma mater, The College of William and Mary, Highland was the home of President Monroe and his family during the time that he served as Governor of Virginia, Ambassador to France, Great Britain, and Spain, Secretary of State and War, and as the 5th President of the United States. While not as well-known as many of our nation’s other Founding Fathers, President Monroe was a decorated Revolutionary War veteran who served with Gen. Washington in the crossing of the Delaware and served the nation’s new government in many different capacities. By seeing Highland and learning more about his life, your family will gain a broader appreciation of this time in our country’s history.
Visiting Highland is an easy addition to any visit to Monticello or Charlottesville. Continue past Monticello for 3 miles, and you will see the entrance to Highland. You will want to start your visit at the Visitor Center.
The actual home of President and Mrs. Monroe is no longer standing, destroyed in a fire in the 1830s after they had sold the farm. The main home at Highland is the Massey house from 1870.
The original Monroe home’s foundation is undergoing archaeological investigation, and we will hopefully learn more soon about the structure.
However the guest home behind the Massey house does date to Monroe’s time (see drawing below).
Your tour will take you into the home via the guesthouse. This is where the exhibits about the Monroes are located and include many artifacts from their time. Almost all of the furnishings were owned by them and these items include many that were brought from France or were gifts from their French friends (especially Josephine Bonaparte’s daughter!).
I especially liked looking at Elizabeth Monroe’s wardrobe, jewelry, and china.
Even without a guided tour, the docents in the house are a wealth of knowledge and were happy to talk all things Monroe with me! I loved looking at the portraits and talking with the docent about Monroe’s family life.
After your tour of the house, exit and walk around to the back to learn about the kitchen.
There are also some outbuildings to see, including the original overseer’s home.
You can continue your way around the house to the gardens, and you will end the tour at the James Monroe statue located at the end of the brick path in front of the house.
The grounds also contain beautiful demonstration gardens and a huge white oak tree that dates to the family’s time here.
Before you leave, be sure to stop in the gift shop for toys and books along with lovely local art and products. There are also the Highland Rustic Trails to hike.
To help prepare for your tour, be sure to view the virtual tour of Highland on Encyclopedia Virginia’s site. This virtual tour takes you inside the home and the grounds. I love how technology can help us tour the site, even from hundreds of miles away!
The Monroes loved the retreat in the hills around Charlottesville, and I can see why! It’s a lovely spot to visit and learn about one of our most impressive yet not well-known presidents and first ladies!
- Cost: Adults/$19; youth 6-11/$13; under 6/free
- Recommended: ages 10 and up
- Tour time: 1-1 ½ hours
- Gift shop located in Visitor Center
- Transportation: Highland is accessible by car only
- Dining options nearby: No cafe onsite but some snacks are sold at the Visitor Center. Michie Tavern is very close by and is a great Southern buffet in a historical setting. Mount Ida Tasting Room and Taphouse is also nearby.
- Nearby hotels include many chain hotels in Charlottesville, especially near the Downtown Mall area. A more luxurious child-friendly option is the Boar’s Head Resort.
- Nearby attractions include: Monticello, Carter Mountain Orchard, University of Virginia, Virginia Discovery Museum, and the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum
- Other Monroe sites include: James Monroe Museum and Library (Fredericksburg, VA), Monroe Birthplace (Colonial Beach, VA), burial site at Hollywood Cemetery (Richmond, VA), and home in Washington, DC
Books to Read:
Be sure to check out my Presidential book list on Bookshop.org, an Amazon alternative that supports independent bookstores.
- 14 and up:
- James Monroe: A Captivating Guide to the Founding Father Who Served as the Fifth President of the United States
- My Dear Hamilton (for older teens)
- First Ladies: Presidential Historians on the Lives of 45 Iconic American Women
- Elizabeth Kortright Monroe (can purchase at Highland)
- 10 and up:
- James Monroe: Fifth President, 1817-1825 (Getting to Know the US Presidents)
- DK Eyewitness Books: Presidents: Explore the Lives of the Presidents Who Shaped American History from the Founding Fathers to Today’s Leaders
- DK Eyewitness Books: First Ladies: Discover the Fascinating Spouses of the Nation’s Presidents from Early Patriots
- A Kids’ Guide to America’s First Ladies
- 6 and up: