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1812: A Presidential Home in the Jeffersonian Tradition

James Dinsmore and John Neilson, two Irish-born carpenters who worked extensively at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello before working for President Madison, are largely responsible for the renovations and additions made to Montpelier circa 1812. As a result of the changes made, Montpelier was transformed from a slightly off-balanced house that contained two distinctly separate households into a single, architecturally correct unit. Unsurprisingly, considering that the two principal craftsmen had also worked for Thomas Jefferson, after the renovations and additions Montpelier became even more closely tied to the Classical Revival style favored by Jefferson. On the exterior the windows on the main block were replaced, a central doorway and second floor window were added on the front elevation, wings were added, and a colonnade was added to the rear that featured a "Venetian doorway" on the second floor that led out to a deck. Changes to the interior also reflected the Classical Revival style and included a major reorganization of the first floor that transformed the once Georgian interior into a more typical Classical Revival style plan. This change is predominantly evidenced by the new Drawing Room and entry space that was created out of two of the ca. 1764 rooms (the Parlor and the Back Room). Other changes included installing chimneypieces in the ca. 1797 rooms and the new spaces associated with the wings. Distinctively, kitchens were found in the cellars of both wings. While finding a kitchen in the cellar of an 18th or early 19th century kitchen was rare, finding two kitchens in a house was almost unheard of. However, the double kitchens at Montpelier are related to the fact that President Madison's mother, Nelly, maintained her own household in the Mansion until her death in 1828.