As the birthplace of eight presidents, Virginia is one of the best places to tour Presidential sites. Many of the presidents, including Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, have multiple sites you can visit. I’ve already reviewed James Madison’s home in the beautiful rolling countryside of Orange County, Montpelier, and this past Presidents’ Day weekend, I was excited to visit the James Madison Museum of Orange County Heritage in the same county.
James Madison was born on the Northern Neck in eastern Virginia at Port Royal (see my review of his birthplace here). The main home associated with Madison, Montpelier, is located in the rolling hills of Orange County, once the westernmost county in Virginia. Madison is known as a Founding Father, the father of the Constitution, and for leading the country through the War of 1812. He’s also known as Dolley Madison’s husband – she had quite her own following!
The James Madison Museum of Orange County Heritage is located in the lovely town of Orange and is the first museum to honor President Madison. Its location right in the heart of the quaint downtown makes it an easy stop before or after lunch at one of the cute restaurants or in conjunction with a visit to Montpelier, just a few miles west of the museum along Constitution Highway.
The museum opened in 1976 to honor President Madison and Orange-born President Zachary Taylor. It also focuses on the history of Orange County, including the story of Native Americans and enslaved people.
The museum is open daily and the docents are friendly and eager to show you around. They give tours to school groups so are ready to handle families with children.
The museum is made up of four main rooms along with an annex called the Hall of Agriculture and Transportation. After paying your entrance fee, you’ll go into the first room which has historical items from Orange County’s late 19th/early 20th century past. I loved seeing the difference in the dresses from the impossibly corseted late 19th century and the loose flapper dresses from the roaring 1920s!
Straight ahead is the room dedicated to President Madison and his wife, Dolley. I especially loved the displays about Dolley, she is such a fascinating person from history!
They even have a shawl worn by Dolley and a baby’s bonnet she knitted in 1806!
You can learn more about Madison and his rise to the presidency in the displays. There are several items of Madison’s on display.
There are also items from almost every Virginia president displayed.
Your kids will enjoy seeing how they measure up to the diminutive Mr. Madison, who stood at only 5’6”.
There are also two chairs in the museum belonging to cousins and fellow presidents James Madison and Zachary Taylor, who was born in Orange County.
After leaving the Madison room, continue out to the Hall of Agriculture and Transportation. If you have kids who love cars and tractors, they’ll love this part of the museum!
There are all sorts of transportation vehicles in the displays, from 1920s Model Ts to carriages from the early 19th century. I loved looking at the carriages, imagining the women in the large dresses fitting on the tiny seats!
There is also a reconstructed home in the hall. This home is an original 1732 cube house, one of the few left standing in the country. You can even walk in!
Don’t forget to get your children’s picture as James and Dolley!
Note the hall is not heated or air-conditioned so plan accordingly.
As you step back inside the museum, you’ll come to the Native American room, which details the history of the Native Americans in Orange County. If your child needs to do research on the Manahoac tribe, this room contains a wealth of knowledge!
The final room is the Black history room containing displays beginning with Black patriots’ work in the American Revolution. It has artifacts and maps about the passage of enslaved people from Africa to the New World and continues through the post-Emancipation struggle for civil rights.
The James Madison Museum in Orange is a great stop for families looking to learn all they can about the area’s history, particularly that of its most famous resident, President James Madison. I like how the museum also tells the complete story of the county’s history and provides a wealth of information for parents and kids alike. Make it a part of a field trip to picturesque Orange County this spring!
- Cost: $10/adults; $3/child
- Recommended: ages 10 and up
- Tour time: 30-45 minutes
- Gift shop located onsite
- Transportation: The museum is accessible by car only. Limited parking is available at the front door, additional parking can be found in the lot below the museum.
- Dining options: The museum is located just steps away from Orange’s quaint Main Street. Forked on Main is a great option and is run by the amazing Inn at Willow Grove owners.
- Nearby hotels: The Inn at Willow Grove is a nearby luxurious option. It is truly one of my favorite hotels ever! The Round Hill Inn is also an option. For more budget-conscious travels, Charlottesville is a nearby city with lots of chain hotels.
- Other attractions nearby include: The Historic Town of Orange, The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum, Wilderness Battlefield and Historic Ellwood, the historic town of Gordonsville, and Liberty Mills Farm
- Other Madison sites include: James Madison’s Montpelier, Belle Grove (Madison’s birthplace-see my review here), Octagon Museum (Washington, DC), Greensboro History Museum (near Dolley’s birthplace), and the Dolley Todd house (Philadelphia, PA)
Books to Read:
Be sure to check out my favorite recommendations of Presidential and First Lady history books for kids and adults at my Bookshop.org shop here (this is an affiliate link).
Here are some of my recommended books specifically about James and Dolley (all photos are Amazon affiliate links).
Montpelier and the Madisons: House, Home and American Heritage
Strength And Honor: The Life Of Dolley Madison
Dolley: A Novel
Dolley Madison and the War of 1812
The Great Little Madison
Dolley Madison Saves History (Graphic History)
Women Who Broke the Rules: Dolley Madison
The Bill of Rights in Translation: What It Really Means
What Is the Constitution?
… If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution
Dolley Madison Saves George Washington
Washington is Burning
A Picture Book of Dolley and James Madison
Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution
A More Perfect Union: The Story of Our Constitution