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Found: James Monroe’s Actual House

It wasn’t the modest house standing on his estate, as previously thought.

This was just the guest house (with a later addition). (Photo: RebelAt/Public domain)

James Monroe, one-time ambassador to France, Governor of Virginia, and fifth president of the United States, may not have been as modest as he seemed.

Monroe’s estate, outside Charlottesville, Va., features a relatively small house that, for years, was considered to be the home Monroe lived in starting in 1799. It’s a much smaller building than, for comparison, Jefferson’s nearby Monticello mansion.

Turns out, it was the guest house.

Historians have long considered the house standing on Monroe’s property to be part of his house, a wing which survived a fire in the mid-19th century. But when the caretakers of the property dated the house’s wood, it showed the house was first built in 1818, well after Monroe moved onto this piece of land.

They matched that date to a piece of information in one of Monroe’s letters—he had built a small building on the property that same year, intended for guests to stay in.

Now, archaeologists have found the foundation, about 70 feet long, of another house, that dates back further in time. It was, says William & Mary, the college that owns the property, “a free-standing and sizable house.” This, they now believe, was Monroe’s actual house—a mansion actually fit for a future president from Virginia. 

Bonus finds: 4,000-year-old antlers

Every day, we highlight one newly found object, curiosity or wonder. Discover something amazing? Tell us about it! Send your finds to sarah.laskow@atlasobscura.com.