This new place of reflection at the end of Mulberry Row, the industrial hub of Thomas Jefferson’s 5,000-acre mountaintop plantation, honors the 607 enslaved men, women and children who lived and labored at Monticello, as well as offers an opportunity for greater understanding and healing.
Designed in collaboration with descendants of the enslaved community and Monticello staff, the Contemplative Site provides visitors a place to reflect on the realities of slavery at Monticello, the people entangled in it and its lasting impact on society.
“Throughout the design process our team read widely and worked closely with a diverse group of stakeholders. This site lies not only with history and memory but also with the opportunity to offer a fuller perspective on the story of Monticello,” says HGA Design Principal Peter D. Cook.
The subtly curved 60-foot-long wall of Corten steel traces a “path of labor” and holds the names of the people enslaved by Jefferson during his lifetime. The panels also contain open spaces that allow for new names to be added as they are discovered through additional research. The openings—inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise”—increase as the wall rises from the ground.
The landscape space held by the Contemplative Site at Monticello brings the visitor alongside the historic path used by enslaved people to bring water from the North Spring to the house. The footsteps on this path literally brought life to the mountaintop in the form of water. The long arcing form of the meditative space lies parallel to this historic path, revealing it once more and bringing visitors adjacent to the authentic line of energy in the site.
“Our collaborative team designed this space to bring comfort by connecting us with the authentic stories that are embedded in this land and to nature,” explains Thomas Woltz, principal of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. “We hope this space of reflection will allow for visitors and descendants and all the people that will encounter this site to consider the lives and the histories of those whose enslaved bodies created this bedrock of American history.”