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Madison’s library finally comes home

The writings that inspired fourth President James Madison have come home to Montpelier after 160 years.

The curatorial team at Madison’s Orange County estate identified about 1,800 titles from his collection of more than 4,000 volumes, most of which were lost in the Rotunda fire at the University of Virginia in 1895. Period copies of the books now fill the library at Montpelier. It took the team about a year to collect the volumes.

Montpelier only has in its possession one original book from Madison’s extensive collection, which is not on display.

“This library was the place where Madison prepared for the Constitutional Convention by reading more than 400 books,” Michael Marvaso, mansion tour guide at Montpelier, said Monday. “He studied every political philosophy there is in this very room.”

About 30 people, from near and far, rolled in for the first “Father of the Constitution” tour of Montpelier and its newly refurnished Madison library.

“We thought, ‘What better way to spend Presidents Day than visiting the homes of the Founding Fathers,’” said Katrina Street, visiting from Atlanta, Ga., with her husband, Larry Street.

The library was modeled as it would have looked during Madison’s retirement years from 1817–1836.

“Unveiling the library seemed like a wonderful way to celebrate Presidents Day,” said Caroline Godfrey, communications associate at Montpelier.

Finding the books of Madison’s original collection was part of the “Presidential Detective Story.” The effort included finding books and other objects to help visitors envision the lives of the Madisons, Godfrey said.

“It is a fantastic display of the research that our curatorial department has done,” Godfrey said. “The library epitomizes Madison’s character.”

Diane Logan, a guide at Montpelier, said. “I was in awe when I first saw the refurnished library. You almost feel as if Madison is there.”

Myron Magnet, author of “The Founders at Home: The Building of America: 1735–1817,” was on hand signing copies of his novel for visitors as part of the grand opening. Magnet also gave a talk Sunday night for friends and donors of Montpelier.

“It is wonderful what they’ve done with the library,” said Ann Leahy, a resident of Orange County and a friend of Montpelier.

The library was open for visitors during tours this weekend, which pulled in about 170 guests despite the cold and 15 inches of snow.

“I’ve been visiting Montpelier through the whole process of the restoration,” said James Matz, a Culpeper resident. “I’m a big Madison fan. He did everything. He was America.”

Julie Reed, director at Montpelier’s visitor center, said the library will help tell America’s story. “That room is one of the most important in the country.”

Katelyn Leboff: 540/374-5417