Each year, Poplar Forest hosts a performance entitled Conversations with Jefferson. The performances feature the inestimable Bill Barker as Mr. Jefferson in discourse with other talented interpreters portraying historical figures from his lifetime. In the past, he has entertained guests such as Aaron Burr, Dolley Madison, and even Napoleon Bonaparte. This year's Conversations is scheduled for May 7, 2011 when Mr. Jefferson will host King George III in the person of another exciting interpreter, John Hamant. Visit the Poplar Forest website for more information about this program and to purchase tickets.
Coinciding with this event each year is another performance geared towards a younger audience. Shaping the World: Conversations on Democracy features the same Mr. Jefferson and a guest, but occurs in more of an interview format with elementary and middle school students as the audience. The students are engaged by being encouraged to ask the questions themselves. This program is broadcast by Blue Ridge PBS and other local PBS stations, and is also streamed by the Virginia Department of Education. Poplar Forest also provides lesson plans and other materials to compliment the program. What an excellent and interactive resource for education this is! And now, for those of us who are no longer in school, but still consider ourselves students of history, these programs are available as free downloads via iTunesU.
Mr. Jefferson (Bill Barker) and Patrick Henry (Richard Schumann)
answer questions during a 2010 Shaping the World: Conversations
on Democracy program.
The property at Poplar Forest was inherited by Thomas Jefferson upon the death of his wife's father, John Wayles. Poplar Forest became Jefferson's retreat and over time he designed and built the octagonal home. His grandson, Francis Eppes (the only surviving child of his daughter Maria), began living there in 1823, though Jefferson still oversaw improvements on the property. Having received the property through a bequest in Jefferson's will, Eppes sold it in 1828, just two years after Jefferson's death. It remained in private hands until 1983 when a nonprofit corporation was formed to purchase and begin preserving and restoring the home and land on which it stands. As a National Historic Landmark, Poplar Forest continues to provide visitors with a unique look at Jefferson's retreat, as well as the opportunity to see an ongoing archaeological and restoration project.
The events above are only a glimpse of what Poplar Forest has to offer. I hope that those of you who live nearby or plan visits to the area will stop by to appreciate what has been accomplished and continues to be explored at Poplar Forest. Unfortunately, due to distance and my limited vacation time, I have yet to visit Poplar Forest myself. It has been on my dream destination list for quite some time, and I hope to have the chance to visit very soon. So I am very grateful for these new online Conversations and other updates via the Poplar Forest facebook page, which allow me to keep up with what is going on at Jefferson's retreat.