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Virginia

Virginia, Mother of Presidents: Seven Historic Sites

Program No. 19969RJ
Immerse yourself in the wonders of Virginia, exploring seven presidential homes, visiting national landmarks and enjoying traditional colonial food at the historic Michie Tavern.

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Apr 7 - Apr 12, 2024
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1,699
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May 26 - May 31, 2024
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May 18 - May 23, 2025
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Aug 31 - Sep 5, 2025
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1,799
Sep 21 - Sep 26, 2025
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Oct 5 - Oct 10, 2025
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Oct 19 - Oct 24, 2025
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DATES & starting prices
PRICES
Apr 7 - Apr 12, 2024
Starting at
2,039
Filling Fast!
May 5 - May 10, 2024
Starting at
2,089
Filling Fast!
May 26 - May 31, 2024
Starting at
2,089
Sep 8 - Sep 13, 2024
Starting at
2,089
Filling Fast!
Sep 15 - Sep 20, 2024
Starting at
2,089
Filling Fast!
Oct 6 - Oct 11, 2024
Starting at
2,039
Filling Fast!
Oct 27 - Nov 1, 2024
Starting at
2,039
Apr 6 - Apr 11, 2025
Starting at
2,179
May 4 - May 9, 2025
Starting at
2,179
May 18 - May 23, 2025
Starting at
2,179
Aug 31 - Sep 5, 2025
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2,179
Sep 21 - Sep 26, 2025
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2,179
Oct 5 - Oct 10, 2025
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2,179
Oct 19 - Oct 24, 2025
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2,179

At a Glance

Truly the “Mother of Presidents,” the state of Virginia is the birthplace of eight of the country’s chief executives. Seven of these Old Dominion natives were among the first twelve holders of the nation’s highest office. Explore with experts how the homes of these men reflect their personalities and the social norms of each man’s own era.
Activity Level
Keep the Pace
Walking up to two miles a day over uneven terrain.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 13 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you’ll…

  • Visit the homes of seven former United States Presidents, including Washington’s beloved Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s masterpiece at Monticello.
  • Experience the beauty of the Virginia countryside from the mountains to the Tidewater region, and enjoy lunch at historic Michie Tavern.
  • Meet one of the Founding Fathers in a lively interaction where you can ask questions and gain insights from a convincing historical interpreter.

General Notes

This program visits eight different homes & locations over six days. We try our best to explore each individual area as best we can. Please be aware that bus time is crucial, and travel may take up to a few hours at a time.
Featured Expert
All Experts
Profile Image
Karen Warnecke
Karen Warnecke attended the University of Buffalo. After college, she made her way to San Diego, California, where she met her husband. His 30-year naval flight career led them to raise four sons all over the country. In Charlottesville, Karen continued her career with the University Of Virginia School Of Medicine as a course coordinator for first-year medical students. She retired several years ago to allow more opportunities to travel, visit family and friends, work in her garden, read, and enjoy the local area.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

Profile Image of Karen Warnecke
Karen Warnecke View biography
Karen Warnecke attended the University of Buffalo. After college, she made her way to San Diego, California, where she met her husband. His 30-year naval flight career led them to raise four sons all over the country. In Charlottesville, Karen continued her career with the University Of Virginia School Of Medicine as a course coordinator for first-year medical students. She retired several years ago to allow more opportunities to travel, visit family and friends, work in her garden, read, and enjoy the local area.
Profile Image of Dennis Bigelow
Dennis Bigelow View biography
For more than a decade, Dennis Bigelow has interpreted the character of President James Monroe for the College of William & Mary at Highland, Monroe's home in Albemarle County, Virginia. He has performed at the White House, Colonial Williamsburg, the Virginia State House, the National Archives, the Smithsonian, and other venues. He shares ancestral grandparents with Thomas Jefferson through the Randolph family as well as Chief Justice John Marshall, a great friend of Monroe and a maternal ancestral uncle.
Profile Image of Michael Dickens
Michael Dickens View biography
Michael Dickens, M.D., is an honors graduate of Princeton University and received his medical degree from Columbia University. In addition to a longtime career practicing medicine in Charlottesville, he has been employed on the interpretative staff at James Madison’s Montpelier and James Monroe’s Highland. He has served as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library. He also had five years' experience as a volunteer researcher for the staff of the Papers of George Washington.
Profile Image of Patrick Campbell
Patrick Campbell View biography
Patrick Campbell spent an exciting and challenging 21 years as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer and lawyer, then 13 years teaching government courses, coaching, and administration in independent schools. He joined the team at Montpelier in 2017 and appreciates the chance to partner with groups who want to expand their understanding and engagement as citizens. Patrick has a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame, and an M.Ed and J.D. from the University of Virginia.
Profile Image of John Ragosta
John Ragosta View biography
John Ragosta, an award-winning author, is currently a historian at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello and a fellow at Virginia Humanities. He has taught history and law at the University of Virginia, George Washington University, and Hamilton, Oberlin, and Randolph Colleges. Dr. Ragosta has published on a broad range of topics in historical, legal, and scientific journals and written several important books on the development of American religious freedom.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
James Madison the Founding Father
by Rutland, Robert A.
The Original Black Elite: Daniel Murray and the Story of a Forgotten Era
by Dowling, Elizabeth Taylor
Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II
by Blackmon, Douglas
Jefferson and Monroe: Constant Friendship and Respect
by Cunningham, Noble
The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism
by Baptist, Edward
John Tyler, the Accidental President
by Crapol, Edward P.
Madison and Jefferson.
by Burstein, Andrew and Nancy Isenberg
William Henry Harrison.
by Collins, Gail
Zachary Taylor
by Eisenhower, John D
John Tyler
by May, Gary
Thomas Jefferson and His Time
by Malone, Dumas
The Federalist Papers
by Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, and John Jay
“Those Who Labor for My Happiness”: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
by Stanton, Lucia C.
George Washington: Writings
by Rhodehamel, John H. (ed.)
James Madison: A Biography
by Ketcham, Ralph
The Educational Legacy of Woodrow Wilson: From College to Nation.
by Axtell, James (ed.)
Zachary Taylor
by Bauer, Jack K.
James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity
by Ammon, Harry
A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons
by Taylor, Elizabeth Dowling
Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
by Cooper, John Miton
American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson
by Ellis, Joseph J.
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6 days
5 nights
14 meals
5 B 5 L 4 D
DAY
1
Check-in, Registration, Orientation, VA's Eight Presidents
Charlottesville
D
Hyatt Place Charlottesville

Afternoon: Hotel check-in: Available from 3:00 p.m. Program Registration: After you have your room assignment, join us at the Road Scholar table to register with the program staff, get any updated information, and confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please locate your Group Leader and let them know you have arrived. Your program materials will be sent to you a few days before the program, digitally, through your roadscholar.org account. This includes your program itinerary, any related handouts, and restaurant/free time suggestions. Please plan to print them out and bring along to the program, utilize the hotel's business center to access them, or view them on your own personal electronic device. Orientation. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. Travel will be by bus unless noted otherwise. Periods in the daily schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful, rewarding, and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: In a private dining room at the hotel, enjoy a dinner buffet.

Evening: In our opening lecture, a local expert will give us a comparative focus on the eight U.S. presidents who were born in Virginia with a special emphasis on the five who were most consequential to our history. The personal strengths and weaknesses of each as a leader will be discussed as will the singular position each holds in our history. The importance of the interactions between the men will also be emphasized.” Continue getting to know your fellow participants, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

DAY
2
Mount Vernon Full Day Field Trip
Charlottesville
B,L,D
Hyatt Place Charlottesville

Activity note: The bus transfer is approximately 2.5 hours each way with a rest stop. Walking at Mount Vernon is about a mile with some uneven, hilly paths including the walk to the mansion that is approximately 1/4 mile uphill on crushed stone (no shuttle); only the first floor of mansion is wheelchair accessible. Those who prefer something less physically demanding can explore extensive exhibits in the Reynolds Museum and Education Center.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: We board our bus for the 2.5-hour trip to Mount Vernon. En route, we will view “Pursuit of Honor” — a film that follows Washington as he matures from volatile young man through his military career in two wars to becoming the first President of the United States, stature as Father of His Country, and back home to his beloved Mount Vernon. Consider the many enterprises in which Washington engaged, including the crops he grew, the livestock he raised, the grain that was milled and the whiskey that was distilled, even the very profitable fishery he ran. Learn what this riverside enterprise tells us about the determined Virginian who became “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Upon arrival, we will explore the Reynolds Museum and Education Center, a new Museum that contains 25 theaters and galleries and more than 500 original artifacts that detail the storied life of our nation's first great hero. The Museum includes interactive displays, a major movie, short films produced by The History Channel, and high-tech, immersive experiences. Three life-size models created by a forensic anthropologist present Washington from his teen year to maturity.

Lunch: The Group Leader will provide vouchers for the Mount Vernon food court where you can choose what you like from fare such as salads, sandwiches, wraps, burgers, pizza, a variety of drinks, and sweet treats.

Afternoon: We will explore the mansion with a knowledgeable Mount Vernon expert to gain an understanding and appreciation of the family's wealth and status evidenced in the decoration, furnishings, and numerous original possessions. We will also have a special private tour with an expert guide to learn about the enslaved people of Mount Vernon. You will then have some free time for personal independent exploration through the grounds. Washington's beloved estate includes four different gardens, the tombs of George and Martha, and a working farm with a recreation of his famous 16-sided barn.

Dinner: At a local restaurant en route back to Charlottesville

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
3
Jefferson & Leadership, Highland & Monticello
Charlottesville
B,L,D
Hyatt Place Charlottesville

Activity note: Walking up to a mile, uneven paths, limited access to some areas of the houses. Some interior steps at Highland can be avoided by going back outside, around the house, and rejoining the group below. At Michie Tavern, only the dining room is handicapped accessible. At Monticello, we take a shuttle ride from the Visitor Center to the house. The grounds include steep paths and steps. The Visitor Center exhibits at Monticello provide an alternative for the less mobile.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Thomas Jefferson had long been seen as one of America’s most important Founders and the very author of American independence. He wrote the “mission statement” for America when he declared that “all men are created equal.” Cities, counties, schools, and universities have all been named “Jefferson” to honor his contributions to our nation. In recent years, however, his legacy has been seriously questioned in large part because he participated in the foul institution of American slavery, owning over 600 people during his lifetime. With a an expert, we'll take a serious look at the contradiction between Jefferson's political philosophy and his personal life and together we'll answer the question, what does a wealthy, white, slave-owning aristocrat have to teach us about the nature of American leadership, especially political leadership? Afterward, we'll board our motorcoach for a field trip to Highland, once the home of James Monroe. This is a small, homey dwelling in contrast to the stately mansions of Monroe's friends and neighbors. Recent archaeology has determined that the current structure was a guest residence and that Monroe's home was a much larger nearby building that no longer exists. Information on these finds will be provided during the visit. Learn how the existing house has evolved through the centuries with different owners. Imagine participating in the Monroe tradition of welcoming friends, neighbors, and dignitaries. Stroll the grounds to see the gardens and ash tree-lined entrance while taking in spectacular views of the surrounding mountains

Lunch: At historic Michie Tavern, journey back to the 18th century with a traditional Bill of Fare including fried chicken, black eyed peas, cornbread, and much more (good Southern cooking!) . This tavern founded in 1784 by Scotsman William Michie (rhymes with sticky) was a social center of the community.

Afternoon: Our motor coach next takes us to Jefferson’s amazing home, Monticello, a UNESCO World Heritage site. If you knew nothing else about Jefferson and then visited Monticello, you would recognize the man as a genius. The house and gardens were designed, redesigned, built, and rebuilt over more than 40 years. Today, it is considered an “autobiographical masterpiece.” Led by an expert, we will walk through this exceptional mansion and see the architecture Jefferson favored as well as some of the many innovative contrivances he devised. The furnishings, art, books, gadgets, and objects such as the 7-day clock and the alcove bed, reveal Jefferson’s unique and inquiring mind. It is astonishing to comprehend that one man conceived all of this. Leaving the house, we will have some time for independent exploration to walk through the extensive kitchen and ornamental gardens as well as experience the Mulberry Row tour where you can hear about the lives of some of the enslaved peoples and families. On the way back down from the hilltop, you will be able to observe the Jefferson family cemetery where we can see what he had carved onto his memorial stone.

Dinner: In our private dining room at the hotel.

Evening: Having visited his home, what could be a better way to end the day than with a conversation with one of the Founding Fathers? A very convincing historical interpreter gives you a first person perspective on James Monroe and his celebrated friends of the Virginia Piedmont in “A Visit with Colonel Monroe.”

DAY
4
Madison, Montpelier, Montebello, Free Evening
Charlottesville
B,L
Hyatt Place Charlottesville

Activity note: Considerable walking and standing indoors and out; the round-trip walk between the Visitor Center and the mansion is approximately 2/3 mile on a pebble walkway that slopes (no shuttle). The second floor is reachable only by stairs; there are exhibits and videos on the first floor. Exhibits in the Education Center provide an alternative for those who prefer something less physically demanding.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Engage in a detailed study of James Madison, revered as the Father of the Constitution, including his co-authorship of the Federalist Papers and career of public service. Connect the President to his magnificent home as it grew and changed with the needs of his family. Learn the details of the life enjoyed by him and his delightful wife Dolley, heroine of the burning of the White House during the War of 1812. We will then head out via motorcoach to Madison's home, Montpelier. Our visit includes a special presentation, "Highlights of Montpelier"; guided walk of about an hour with a lot of standing time through select rooms of the restored mansion & grounds. The home was owned for over 120 years by the Madison family and you will learn of the three stages of construction during their tenure as well as the various renovations completed by succeeding owners, including the famous DuPont family. The restoration of the house itself took place from 2003-2008 and efforts are now underway to furnish it to reflect its occupation by James and Dolley Madison after his retirement from the Presidency. During our travels today, we will also have an opportunity to see the site of Montebello, birthplace of President Zachary Taylor. While there is no place for the bus to stop, we will drive by as slowly as we can and thereby encounter all eight home sites of Virginia Presidents!

Lunch: Boxed lunches at James Madison's Montpelier.

Afternoon: After lunch, we will have the opportunity to visit the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, founded by Jefferson in 1819. He considered the creation of this “academical village” one of his greatest achievements. Led by our group leader, we’ll walk through the grounds to observe the impressive Rotunda and Lawn, both designed by Jefferson. After returning to the hotel following our field trip to Montpelier, take this opportunity for personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you most. Please refer to the list of Free Time Opportunities. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions and give directions.

Dinner: Tonight's meal has been excluded from the cost of your program tuition. Your group leader will be happy to provide suggestions nearby.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
5
Sherwood Forest Plantation, Berkeley Plantation
Charlottesville
B,L,D
Hyatt Place Charlottesville

Activity note: The bus transfer is approximately 2 hours each way with a rest stop. Sherwood Forest Plantation is accessible by 4-5 steps. Berkeley is accessible by about 6-8 steps up to the house and down to the basement where the introductory film is shown. Uneven pathways at both houses.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Aboard our motorcoach en route to Sherwood Forest Plantation, we will see a film titled, “The Presidents” focusing on the antebellum Presidents and in particular the two Virginia Whigs: Indian fighter William Henry Harrison and running mate John Tyler, who utilized the nation's first campaign song in their quest for the White House. Consider what today seems to us almost impossible: the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates of 1840 being from the same state. Learn about the lives of these Virginia patricians who were Charles City County neighbors. During our field trip, we will see how landed gentry of Tidewater Virginia in this era lived at the home of John Tyler, the first “accidental” President. Tyler called it Sherwood Forest as an inside joke in recognition of his “outlaw” status as a Whig politician. It grew to become the longest frame house in America, more than 300 feet, and has remained in the Tyler family ever since. There are 12 original outbuildings or dependencies on the beautifully wooded landscape.

Lunch: At a local restaurant.

Afternoon: Berkeley Plantation was the home of William Henry Harrison, the first Whig President and the first to die in office a month after his inauguration. Born into a wealthy slave-holding family, he moved to what was then the Northwest Territory before the end of the 18th century. He eventually ran for President as the candidate of “the common man” — the most egregious instance of political spin in early U.S. campaign history. We will stroll through the gorgeous tree-lined lawn and 10 acres of formal gardens before participating in an expert led walk through one of Virginia's oldest three story brick homes. Berkeley claims prominence as the site of America's first Thanksgiving in 1619. This was also the place where "Taps" was composed when the Union Army camped here during the Civil War. On our return ride, we will see the film “Woodrow Wilson” to learn about the exceptional career of Virginia's only 20th century President.

Dinner: At a restaurant a short walk from the hotel, enjoy a farewell dinner with your new Road Scholar friends. Return to hotel after dinner.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
6
Woodrow Wilson Birthplace, Program Concludes
Charlottesville
B,L

Activity note: The family home, known as the Manse, is in Staunton’s Gospel Hill Historic District; uneven brick sidewalks. The Museum galleries are on the first floor; the World War I trench exhibit on the ground floor is not handicapped accessible, however, visitors can see a video presentation. After the field trip, we will return to the hotel by approximately 11:30 a.m. Check-out is by 12:00 Noon and a box lunch is provided. Please try to schedule flights so as not to miss this fascinating field trip.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Woodrow Wilson was educated at Princeton, the University of Virginia, and Johns Hopkins, where he earned a doctorate with his dissertation “Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics.” He served as a professor at Columbia, Bryn Mawr, and Wesleyan before joining the faculty of Princeton and was eventually chosen as its President. Learn about Wilson’s views on government, politics, Constitutional law, and follow his progress to Governor of New Jersey and finally the Presidency, where he managed the most progressive legislative agenda until Franklin D. Roosevelt, followed by U.S. involvement in World War I and his efforts on behalf of the League of Nations. At the Woodrow Wilson Museum and Birthplace, we will explore the museum and its galleries dedicated to President Wilson's life. Then enjoy an expert-led walk through the house with its period furnishings and Wilson family belongings. Finish with a stroll through the charming boxwood garden, a restoration project of the Garden Club of Virginia.

Lunch: We return to the hotel where you can pick up a box lunch to take away with you. This concludes our program. We hope you enjoy all your Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. We encourage you to join our Facebook page and share photos of your program. Visit us at www.facebook.com/rsadventures. Best wishes for all your journeys!






Important registration tip:
If you want to attend the live lecture, please do not wait until the last minute to enroll.
If you enroll after a lecture is complete, we’ll send you a recording of the event.