After serving as Secretary of War in Washington’s cabinet for five years, Knox decided it was time to leave the political capital of Philadelphia and live out his dream of becoming a gentleman farmer like his dear friends George Washington at Mount Vernon, and Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.
On land inherited from Lucy’s maternal grandfather, the luxurious estate Montpelier was erected not only to live out his humble dream but also to give his dear wife the lavish home she deserved since she was constantly moving during the war. Knox named the house Montpelier in honor of France’s support during the Revolutionary War.
Today’s building is a 1929 re-creation of the original Montpelier, built in 1794, which fell into disrepair and was eventually demolished for the construction of the Thomaston Railroad in 1871.
The garden was a space of particular importance to the Founding Fathers, who stepped back into roles as dutiful citizens and gentlemen farmers after the Revolution.
After eight years of war followed by five years serving his country as Secretary of War, Henry Knox began to long for the life of a gentleman farmer, like those of his friends George Washington and Thomas Jefferson living on their country estates. Fortunately for him, Lucy had inherited a vast tract of land in the District of Maine through her mother, the daughter of Brigadier General Samuel Waldo. In 1795, newly retired, Knox bade farewell to Philadelphia and moved his family to his newly-built nineteen-room mansion Montpelier in Thomaston, Maine. There he was to dedicate his “all to the development of the District of Maine.”
Trading Uniforms for Shovels
To declare independence from Britain would require a self-sustaining nation, one that could feed itself. After their commanding duties were done, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Knox all patriotically planted and pruned at home to provide for their families and communities.
The garden as a symbol of a new culture. The Colonial American garden was infused with the cultivating spirit that had formed the nation, harnessing the wildness of the landscape while celebrating its unbounded beauty.
Tour the grand residence of Montpelier and its grounds. Enjoy a docent-led tour that takes you through the history and life of Henry Knox, his family life at Montpelier, and its collections.
Restoring the grounds will help tell the story. For almost a decade Knox Museum has been engaged in researching Knox’s papers and other primary sources to determine how best to develop the landscape and gardens surrounding Montpelier. In ways most mindful of, and appropriate to, the General’s era. Richardson & Associates landscape architects have prepared renderings and plant lists based on this historic research, and they have been approved by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.
Now the Museum is poised to begin to install these Knox-era Colonial gardens on its 10-acre site and erect a barn on the property for hosting community events and for rental as a venue for weddings and other gatherings. Eventually, the Museum plans to build a visitor’s center modeled after the original Meeting House that Henry Knox helped build, and which he attended, right here on our High Street Hill campus.
Knox Museum will continue the American tradition of building country and community while conserving the heritage of the original homegrown movement. Heirloom vegetable and fruit gardens will offer community members a “green classroom” in which to learn about Colonial plantings and methods, and through the building of its endowment, Knox Museum envisions the development of its campus into a regional and national destination greatly enhanced by its stunning, and uniquely historical, future landscape and gardens.
“Have you become a farmer? Is it not pleasanter than to be shut up within four walls and delving internally with the pen?”
–Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Henry Knox
Cole House, shown here with its one-time Victorian accouterments and barn, today serves as the administrative center for Knox Museum. It holds staff offices and meeting space, in addition to The Center for the Study of Early American History, and the Elias Adams and Lougee Family Library. Here, staff, scholars, volunteers, educators, students, and the public come together to conduct research and participate in lively discussions.
Built in 1824, the house is named after Captain William Cole, a Southerner who moved to Thomaston to trade on the Mill River.
Knox Museum acquired the building in 2007 to expand its resources and provide more space for visiting researchers and educational programs.
In season, Montpelier is closed for tours on Sundays and Mondays. Due to its historic nature, Montpelier is not handicap-accessible and can only be viewed by mounting stairs and taking a docent-led tour.
The Carriage Shop at Montpelier has often been called “the best museum gift shop in history!” It carries a wonderfully-eclectic mix of old and new treasures; a great collection of books, including many about Henry Knox, the Revolution, and local history; and plenty of good old-fashioned toys and children’s books to please many a grandchild. There are also some one-of-a-kind items like a gorgeous Society of Cincinnati-inspired brooch designed and created by a local goldsmith and a wonderful gardening and hostess gift department. Come spend some time shopping or just browsing the unique inventory. Not to be missed!
The Gift Shop is open from May to December, in conjunction with tour and special event hours.