Virginia Crossroads Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Virginia Crossroads Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest

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30 years after work began at Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest archeologists at are still scraping their way to the truth about Thomas Jefferson's retirement home. 

They recently removed a huge grove of historic boxwoods, which despite their beauty were simply not Jeffersonian.

"They are beautiful in their own historic way.  Dated to be 150 years old, but clearly from a different era," said Jeffery Nichols, president of the non-profit organization that oversees Poplar Forest.

It's likely Jefferson didn't even like boxwoods.  He did not mention them in any of his writings.

"Through the excavations we've been able to uncover evidence that the boxwoods were definitely not planted by Thomas Jefferson," said Jack Gary, chief archeologist at the site.

Gary says there is a foot of fill dirt between the surface and what would have been Jefferson's garden. Bits of ceramic recovered in this layer are too new to have been from Jefferson's time.

"In this case, a fragment of this was found under the Boxwoods. This pattern was not manufactured until 1833.  Thomas Jefferson died in 1826.  There is no way that ceramic to have gotten there, said Gary.

 Newly released drawings show that the front of the house was home to an 80-foot wide carriage turnaround. 

Gary's team has uncovered cobble stones that so far, confirm that.

Now the key is to find what Jefferson had planted in the middle of that turnaround.  His writings suggest roses.

"The roots themselves are not there, but the rotted remains of them leave behind a dark organic stain in the soil.  So, by very carefully excavating, we can actually see the root systems of some of those plants," said Gary.

"At this point we can start to see the remains of root systems and planting beds.  Dark brown contrast against this bright red," said Gary as he carefully scraped back the dirt in the bottom of a square excavation site surrounding several boxwood stumps.

Eventually each stump will be removed to make way for more accurate plantings.

Gary estimates that there will be another 3 months of digging, and piecing together what they find, followed by about a year of planning and review.  Meaning that new plants won't go in the ground until 2015.

Only then will the front of the home begin to look like it did in Jefferson's day.

Additional Information:  Cuttings from the boxwoods have been saved, and are available for purchase at the Museum Shop at Poplar Forest.

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