Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest plans to break ground on a long-awaited two-mile entrance drive later this year. Officials there say a fund-raising campaign exceeded its goal by $100,000. Poplar Forest must gain permit approvals before the work can begin. A more recent challenge grant will support design and construction of wayside and trailhead exhibits stations along the new road.

News release: Of the many majestic public reminders of Thomas Jefferson in Virginia, Poplar Forest, his private retreat in Bedford County, has the greatest untapped potential. In early 2014, the stewards of Jefferson’s octagonal villa and plantation, embarked on A New Path to Jefferson, a capital campaign designed to propel the historic property to the next level; improve visitor access to the property with the construction of the Poplar Forest Parkway, a new entrance road; and enhance the visitor experience with the addition of new interpretive elements throughout the plantation. Poplar Forest is pleased to announce the most recent contributions to the campaign.

In November 2017, Poplar Forest asked donors to help meet the terms of a $350,000 challenge grant issued by The Mary Morton Parsons Foundation of Richmond, Virginia, and two anonymous donors in support of the parkway project. A generous $250,000 grant awarded in September 2018 from the Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc., of Thomson, Georgia, helped to exceed the fundraising goal.

“Today, thanks to the generous support received from numerous individuals and organizations like The Mary Morton Parsons and Watson-Brown foundations, I am thrilled to announce that we not only met the terms of the challenge, we exceeded it by over $100,000,” said Jeffrey L. Nichols, president and CEO of Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. “We are so grateful to everyone who supported this challenge, many of whom were inspired to give, and give again, to help bring us closer to our goals of improving the plantation’s infrastructure and opening new avenues for visitor exploration.” The organization hopes to break ground on the Poplar Forest Parkway later this year, pending permit approvals.

A new $148,400 challenge grant received from Museums for America’s Institute of Museums and Library Services grant program in September 2018 will support the design and construction of a network of wayside and trailhead exhibit stations along the new entrance road. Using interpretive and site orientation signs and artifacts from the Poplar Forest archaeological collections, touchable props and life-size silhouette figures, the new exhibits will invite visitors to explore the lives of Jefferson and all the free and enslaved people who lived and toiled on the plantation, and will illustrate Jefferson’s relationship to slavery. The grant award requires a one-to-one match; fundraising to complete the matching requirement is currently underway.

Over the past 35 years, the octagonal villa Thomas Jefferson designed as his private retreat has been meticulously researched and restored to his original design. Restorations of the interior architectural elements and the original carriage turnaround are currently underway. When the carriage turnaround is completed, the north side of Jefferson’s retreat will, for the first time in over 200 years, look as it did during Jefferson’s ownership of Poplar Forest.

For more information about Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest or A New Path to Jefferson capital campaign, or to make a gift, visit or contact Alyson Ramsey at 434.534.8128.