Upcoming Events

Off-Campus Events:

On-Campus Events:


Alumni Day Class Dinner

Feb. 24,2024


55th Reunion!

  May 23-26, 2024


Erdman Center info




Charlottesville, VA, Mini-Reunion

October 11-14, 2012

Click here to see our entire Charlottesville Photo Album

From Thursday, October 11, through Sunday, October 14, about 80 classmates and companions participated in the sixth Class of 1969 mini-Reunion, held in Charlottesville, VA. The theme for the intellectual component of this year’s Mini-Reunion was The Virginia Dynasty, with a special emphasis on James Madison: Virginian; Princetonian; Founding Father; primary author of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; secretary of state; war president; planter and slave-owner, among many other roles. After all, 2012 is the bicentennial of the first year of the War of 1812.

There may be no "major war” in American history about which we understand so little as the War of 1812. Some called it the "Second American Revolution.” The opponents tended to call it "Mr. Madison’s War.” As middle-school history students we learned about Old Ironsides, Fort McHenry, the Battle of Lake Erie, Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans, and maybe the burning of the White House; but not about what it all meant in a larger context. What did President Madison and his war cabinet hope to achieve with this war? Who fought the war, who opposed it, and who would have preferred to sit it out? Did the young United States really prevail?

The obvious focus tour for a Madison-themed trip was his home, Montpelier, in Orange County, Virginia, not far from Charlottesville. The terrific idea of centering the Mini near Charlottesville, however, meant that it could be more broadly themed than just Montpelier. Many P’69ers with an interest in history and a bent for travel had been to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello already. Fewer had been to Montpelier, or to James Monroe’s Ash Lawn/Highland, and almost no one had been to Jefferson’s secret second home in Lynchburg, called Poplar Forest.

We were fortunate to have a beautifully scenic and comfortable venue to serve as Mini Headquarters: the Wintergreen Resort, where Rod and Martha Ferguson have a home as well as a renowned brew-pub, only about 45 minutes from Charlottesville by bus. Being nestled in chalet condos in the autumn-leaved hills of the Shenandoah Valley for a '69er Mini-Reunion, with three former presidential estates beckoning us, has come to feel routine for this great class. Virginia seems to have been an extremely fertile land for the emergence of idealists, revolutionaries and brilliant visionaries.

Following a Welcome Reception Thursday evening, the formal events began on Friday morning with our first estate visit, exquisitely-furnished Montpelier. Its restorative gardens and forests served as the backdrop for Madison's contemplations on the Constitution. He and Dolley appeared to have been the original "power couple" and their influence on the times seems palpable even today.

We picked up our mentor for the day, J.C.A. (John) Stagg, as we drove through Charlottesville. Professor Stagg—Princeton Ph.D. 1973—is the editor of The Papers of James Madison and a member of the history faculty at the University of Virginia. Many of us had read his new book, The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012) in preparation for the Mini.

During the bus rides to and from Montpelier, Professor Stagg took the microphone to give us a short course on a topic he assured us we would not hear about during the tours: the marriage of James and Dolley Madison. Seems neither of these remarkable individuals was quite the same person in private as in public. How’s that for a teaser!

The house itself is about 90% restored from its days in the DuPont family, and it is interesting from a number of different perspectives. After years of debate, the owners of the house (the National Trust for Historic Preservation) decided to convert the structure from a 100+ room mansion back to what it was when the Madisons were in residence: an 11-room country house.

At Montpelier, the professional staff met us at the bus doors and led us into the magnificent new visitor center. We had divided into four sub-groups so that two of the groups could proceed directly to their house tours and the other two could participate in what Montpelier calls "Expert Experiences.” Ninety minutes later the groups switched positions. Each Expert Experience featured a senior member of the professional staff—Restoration, Curatorial, Archaeological, Constitution—giving us an intensive and insightful look into the Madisons and their home. We learned later that it was the first time the staff had conducted all four experiences for the same group on the same day.

As for Monroe, the highlights of his more modest Ash Lawn Highland home were an apple pie baking demonstration (the old-fashioned way), an inspiring room of flags ... and the President himself.  It felt totally natural to be swept into meeting this welcoming president in a small, stately room of his house. His discourse on the responsibilities and burdens of the time and his hints about his relationships with his other friends in high places were enlightening.

What impressed all of us about Ash Lawn/Highland was its near-complete contrast to Montpelier. It presents today, and it must have presented in Monroe’s day, as a functioning family farm. It is practically adjacent to Monticello, which was not an accident because Jefferson recruited Monroe (among others) to move from other parts of Virginia to the Piedmont so he could maintain his circle of enlightened friends in his retirement.

The bus trip back to Wintergreen gave us some rest time before we convened for a grand reception and dinner featuring much P’69 regalia. After dinner, Professor Stagg gave our keynote address for the Mini, presenting the latest research about Madison and the War of 1812. Among his other conclusions, he said we should ignore what we may have heard about "the War Hawks” (Henry Clay, John Calhoun and the like) pushing the young nation into war. This was Mr. Madison’s War all right.

Jefferson's Monticello, the image of which we've all carried in our pockets since childhood, is a remarkable edifice. Here was a man who slept partially propped up (because it's good for you) and seemed to micro-organize every detail of his life -- from intricate artifacts from around the globe (animal bones and skins, and up-to-the-moment inventions) to a 2-story,pulley-operated wall calendar -- all displayed in a splendid hall. He kept records of meals, visitors, the minutest of expenditures. Science and nature equally intrigued him with his letter-copying machine vying for attention with his extensive fruit, vegetable and flower gardens. Here certainly was a man who, while forming and guiding a new country, was also side-by-side with enslaved peoples. We hope, assume, and have been told he struggled with the issue of liberty and fairness and supposed economic necessity. The tour of the slave quarters and the stories of the people were riveting and weighed heavily on the heart.

Many of us posed with a Princeton-capped Jefferson statue (most of us were taller -- though not the two in this photo!). Maybe he, and not Burr, went to P.U.

Poplar Forest was an unexpected treat, in the great tradition of P’69 Minis. Viewed first from a long lane that approaches the house through the woods, it is immediately clear that only Thomas Jefferson could have designed the house. This octagonal house (likely the first in the country) was presided over by heaven-high tulip poplars. Its restoration is far from complete, and is likely to take another couple of decades because of funding shortages, making it all the more interesting as a living museum of the restoration process in which many elements of the underlying structure are visible. Jefferson's awareness of the interplay of light, glass and furniture placement was again apparent.

Poplar Forest is 90 minutes south of Monticello by bus, but it was two or three days by wagon in the early 1800s. Jefferson liked to spend at least a month or two at Poplar Forest each year in his retirement, but he famously also "holed up” there in 1814 during the British invasion of Maryland when he was advised he would not be safe at Monticello.

The Presidents were charismatic personages, but bankruptcy awaited their estates upon their deaths. Thankfully, in the present time, their homes continue to be recreated and revitalized in painstaking fashion.

Our mentor for the Jefferson tours on Saturday, J. Jefferson (Jeff) Looney—Princeton Ph.D. 1983—is the editor of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Retirement Series at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Dr. Looney met us at the Monticello visitor center, gave us a presentation about Jefferson (allowing for plentiful and provocative Q&A) over box lunches, and accompanied us on the bus rides to and from Poplar Forest that afternoon. Jeff proudly displayed one of his collection of Princeton class ties, and President Bill Charrier presented him with a ‘69 tie to add to the collection.

The fine conversations on the bus rides were, as always, a given and the beer (nationally award-winning, just days before in Denver) flowed as freely as of old, backed by the sausage-inspired fare at hosts Rod and Martha Ferguson's Devil's Backbone Brewery.

Those who ventured out in the mornings were treated to expansive Shenandoah sunrises. Those who hiked and crossed the Appalachian Trail on Sunday through golden-leaved, shaggy-treed woods with two so informative, so pleasant guides capped off a very fine long weekend with a peaceful flair.

We stood on ancient rocks musing about past eons and imagined this robust valley 200 years ago (almost making out the 3-day-horse-ride rest stops between Jefferson's homes).

Maybe it's true:

Virginia is for Lovers, for Presidents and for Princeton adventurers.

Text: Claus Frank, Bruce DeBolt, Jeff Kaplan

Photos: Bill Charrier, Claus Frank, Jeff Kaplan, Curt Kehr, Niel Lewis

Home  |  FAQs  |  Sitemap  |  Contact Us
© 2016 Princeton University Class of 1969 All rights reserved.
Powered by Bonfire™ - a Reunion Technologies Solution.